by Francesco Lurati, Prof., Università della Svizzera italiana
Compared to the traditional functionalist view of communication, that assumes that reality exists as such and communication has the function of conveying it in a controlled way (Christensen et al., 2005), the Organizational Communication paradigm provides a better equipment to fully comprehend the role of communication in defining corporate strategy (Lurati and Eppler, 2006). By foregrounding how “communication organizes rather than the traditional focus on the organization of communication” (Christensen and Cornelissen, 2010: 1), Organizational Communication considers, following Karl Weick view, communication as “an active “driver” in the definition of organizational reality” (Christensen et al., 2008: 27), which is co-created by actors through discourse. In socio-constructivist terms (Weick, 2004), reality emerges from conversations through interpretation and joint-authorship (Putnam et al., 1996).
However, the socio-constructivist view should not be interpreted as prevailing over traditional functionalism. This is particularly clear in Cooren (1999) and in his account of the role non-human agents play in the narrative process leading to organizational structures. The Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO) school(s) acknowledges in fact that “figures” such existing identities, expertise, responsibilities, material artefacts, etc. matter not because they are conveyed by communication, but because they act in communication and as such they become part of the co-creation of reality. “What this means is that organizations are constantly (re)produced, (re)incarnated, and (re)embodied in local interactions, and thus subject to change and renewal” (Cooren et al., 2011: 1158). Communication is at the heart of this process.
But what are the implications for the corporate communication practice and scholarship of moving from a functionalist approach to a socio-constructivist one? The first consequence is methodological: observing conversations requires to relay mainly on inductive, interpretativist, and qualitative methods. The second one concerns the strategic focus of corporate communication. Corporate communication objectives are not anymore only cognitive, i.e. the constituency’s expected response (Argenti, 1996), but also corporate and business, i.e. the production of organizations in communication (Cooren et al., 2011), and organizational, i.e. the agency of individuals, in particular associated to “political, cultural and structural aspects related to the practice of CC” (Cornelissen at al., 2006: 117). Finally, an organizational approach to corporate communication foregrounds interpersonal communication among the tactical repertoire: for instance dialogic communication for making “the world come alive” by having people think together (Isaac, 1999: 3) and storytelling as the method that acknowledges the “discursive, social nature of the strategy project” (Barry and Elmes, 1997: 430).