Communicative Coworkership

Part IV: What has been told?

If we are to develop a thorough understanding of how communication generates organization we must know more about the unexplored communication of coworkers – not only in relation to leadership, but also in relation to other organizational processes.

(Heide & Simonsson, 2011, p. 202)

Within organizational research, communication is no longer seen as just another of several factors in service of organizing. A perspective that it is through communication which organizations are composed, designed and maintained has evolved, and has been termed Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO) (Coreen et al, 2011; Putnam & Nicotera, 2009; McPhee & Zaug, 2000). Associated scholars encourage a constructive dialogue between communication and organizational literature to create a more integrated understanding of the role of communication, in order to create meaning, form, and even the possibility of organizational life (Coreen et al, 2011). It is from this approach that we can understand a research project such as Communicative Organizations, which creates an opportunity to change the epistemological and ontological positions on organizing (Nothhaft & von Platen, 2015).

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The notion of a communicative leadership exists both in academia and in practice (Simonsson, 2002; Axäll, 2004). The concept is based on the idea that modern organizations tend to be less hierarchical, with a view of the leader as a person who cannot make sense on their own or impose their interpretation on employees. In its place, this is seen as a social mutual process, dependent on dialogue between managers (understood as the official position) and coworkers (Simonsson, 2002).

On the other hand, leadership researchers recognize that leadership is about influence, and therefore there is always an unequal balance of power between a leader and a coworker, as for example manifested in that the manager’s superior position offers interpretive prerogative (Axäll, 2004). Although organizations are dependent on coworkers who are motivated, productive and healthy, research from a coworker perspective is underrepresented in organizational research and in the field of strategic communication (Heide & Simonsson, 2011).

Tengblad (2007) however, argues the viewpoint of coworkership as a field of knowledge itself, more than as an appendage to the leadership – and organizational development literature. The idea of coworkership can be linked to the organization being post-bureaucratic where the manager is stressed as a facilitator for independent employees, which places new demands on both the coworker and the employer; coworkers expect more than a salary out of the employment organization such as development of their professional skills and expertise, while the coworker on the other hand is expected from organizational management to be participative and socially competent (Tengblad, 2007).

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Ciulla (2004) on the other hand, argues how this form of demands on employees are not realistic, since they are not given the conditions required in order to comply with the demands. The participation and engagement of the coworker thus becomes a notion that has poor value, in that it falls in priority when the traditional instrumental values, such as time and money, in effect are the most valued in the organization (Simonsson, 2002). The concept of participation entails ironies, contradictions and paradoxes when coworkers on the one hand are expected to show commitment and involvement, but on the other hand rarely have a decision-making mandate (Ciulla, 2004; Stohl & Cheney, 2001). These strains clarify how the power aspect is important to highlight in order to understand tensions that exist within the organizational life of the coworker, as well as their consequences.

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Communicative Coworkership

Part III: Communication as Constitutive of Organizing

A perspective acknowledging this central role of communication, is the viewpoint regarding communication as constitutive of organizing (CCO), which has evolved within the field of organizational communication (Putnam & Nicotera, 2009). This perspective offers a significant value to organizational research since it recognizes organizations as continuous products of sense-making practice, which is always political in the sense that they could have been produced differently (Coreen et al, 2011).

CCO is especially valuable in looking at the understudied perspective of coworkers, since it highlights how their sense making processes and communication is fundamental in constituting the organization (Heide & Simonsson, 2011), and has emphasized how discourse is an essence of organizational life (Coreen et al, 2011). Despite this however, the aspect of power is placed in the background of the CCO-perspective (Rose, O’Malley & Valverde, 2006; Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, 2011) and is therefore something that should be developed in order to further a significant contribution to organizational communication research.

Mikhail Pavstyuk

There is thus a need of a study with aim to analyse power relations in the communicative organization, where the focus is on the coworker. With a critical approach it should be examined how this communicative coworkership is described, practiced and experienced, what conditions this entails for the coworker and what the consequences are.

The purpose is two-fold: 1) to develop the CCO perspective in organizational studies by adding a power perspective, 2) to address a deficit of research in strategic communication regarding coworkership. A study should wish to shed light on the power aspects of organizational communication in studying the organizational tensions a communicative coworkership entails for the employee, and what the consequences are. It should acknowledge but also problematize the coworker as an active communicator and creator of meaning.

The aim is to further a development of constitutive communication models for organizational research. A study could do so by developing the analysis of organizational communication from the Montreal School’s CCO-argument by adding a Foucauldian perspective where power relations are in focus, highlighting the tensions that arise for the coworker when communication is considered essential. The study could do this through case studies in which the framework is formed by a concept model based on Foucault’s ideas (see Figure 1 above). The cases will exemplify how organizations are constituted by dynamic power-knowledge relationships, which mobilize discourse, structures and subjectivity.

 

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Communicative Coworkership

Part II: Organizational Tensions

There is currently not much written about the communicative coworker, and therefore we do not grasp the consequences of these mounting expectations on the employee to be communicative in everyday organizational life; not only actively engaged in his or her work assignments, but also expected to participate in overall organizational dialogue. The lack of research means that we do not grasp how the coworker perceives, experiences and enacts these expectations. The concept of a communicative coworker is not unproblematic since it places high demands on employees in addition to skills in their professional roles, where they are also expected to be skilled communicators both in relation to colleagues and managers, and also to external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and media.

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Simonsson (n.d.) describes how managers often get training, support and coaching in creating their identity as a leader, something coworkers on the other hand seldom receive in creating their identities as communicative coworkers. Ciulla (2004, p. 5) argues how employees in today’s organizations perhaps get more responsibility however not the tools required, such as time or knowledge, which she calls ”bogus empowerment”. The importance of employee participation is thus constantly put in the background when instrumental values ​​such as time and money, based on short-term goals, in the end is what is valued most for the organization (Cheney, Christensen, Zorn & Ganesh, 2010; Simonsson, 2002).

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This form of organizational tension between the expectations put on the coworker and the perceived work situation, looking at the employee’s perspective of the tensions, is understudied in organizational communication research (Trethway & Ashcraft, 2004) and the understanding of the coworker’s perspective is generally underrepresented in a management and leadership oriented research field (Heide & Simonsson, 2011; Tengblad, 2007). Despite a trend towards the post-bureaucratic organization, where hierarchy is flattened and the coworker is considered to have a more active role in relation to managers and directors as well as ambassador of the organization externally (Tengblad, 2007), there is always an unequal balance of power between employee and manager. Leadership in itself is about influence, which inherently entails an asymmetric power relationship (Axäll, 2004).

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Communicative Coworkership, Organizational studies

Part I: Communicative Coworkership – What is expected from us as coworkers?

The field of strategic communication is imbued with concept such as dialogue, participation and employee engagement, with communication policies and strategic documents employing this vocabulary (Heide and Simonsson, 2011). The communicative empowerment of a growingly self-dependent coworker, is based on the idea that employees should actively participate in dialogue and meaning creation, give and receive feedback on their actions and achievement, share knowledge and ideas, ask for support and listen to others, as well as act as ambassadors for the organization at large (Simonsson, n.d.).

Illustration by Anna Handell

Today in organizations as well as organization studies, we find increased expectations on the coworker to be engaged and participate in decision-making, presumably due to less hierarchical organizations which raises the status of the coworker in regards to management (Alvesson, 2004). The communicative organization is often cited as the modern organization that gives employees more agency and power, making he or she more participative and engaged, which in turn will create a successful business (Coreen, Kuhn, Cornelissen & Clark, 2011).

Illustration by Chris Gregori

This engaged employee requires more communication with and between all organizational members (Stohl and Cheney, 2001) since being able to interpret information and engage in creative dialogues are seen as capacities closely related to learning and innovation processes (Heide & Simonsson, 2011). The communicative organization is therefore considered to require communicative leadership, where the leader develops and controls the operations with communicative methods (Simonsson, 2002). In this organization where the central social practice is communication, it is not only common to talt about communicative leadership, but also communicative coworkership (Axäll, 2004; Hedman Monstad, 2015; Simonsson, n.d., Sveriges kommunikatörer, 2015), with the term communicative coworkership derived primarily from a practitioner’s area.Illustration by Jack & Wolf

The communicative leadership is considered to be dependent on communicative coworkership for dialogue to be conducted on all operational levels, since participation and communicative employees are seen as essential for the creation of value dialogue (Axäll, 2004) and considered to create effective organizations.

But what does this really mean from a coworker’s perspective?

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Marketing communications

A pink underdog

Joint research with Mimmie Bergvall and Katrin Svensson

May’s elections to the European Parliament created history! Feminist Initiative is the first political party with a pronounced feminist ideology due to take place in Parliament. The party has in a short time during its election campaign succeeded in attracting rapidly growing voter sympathies, and the campaign went to take on the fall’s general election. Overall, marketing tactics to achieve strategic objectives have risen in politics; to compete in the increasingly competitive political arenas, with complex regulations, but also to meet knowledgeable and demanding audiences (Thrassou, Vrontis & McDonald, 2009). Before the parliamentary elections in 2010, the Swedish political parties invested SEK 280 million on their campaigns (Brännström, 2010 reference in Stömbäck & Shehata, 2013).

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What were the factors that created F!’s successful campaign? We see three things that helped F! to meet the four percent threshold:

1) F!’s core issues were trending
F! have had a problem privilege (Strömbäck & Shehata, 2013) in the political debate since the feminist question is current in society, including appearing in Belinda Olsson’s controversial program Fittstim – my struggle, which resulted in a variety of articles and public posts in social media. When a SVT debate was held between the Left Party Malin Björk and the Christian Democrats Lars Adaktusson before the European elections in their morning show, and they choose to focus a greater share of TV-appearance on discussing gender, we can understand this with the help of the problem privilege.

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2) F! used coproduction
F! received no state party support and relied therefore largely on volunteer work, which means that the party must be effective in recruiting volunteers and relate to a limited framework regarding marketing resources. Anyone who wanted to work for the F! may do so, and so without compensation. This is a way to open up to co-produce, or what is often called co-creation (Arvidsson, 2005; Cova & Dalli, 2009). When users themselves are involved in the production of the service they want to participate, they find that the brand value increases. Feminists Initiative get with the help of their voters a kind of free promotion and establishment in the community, by for example home partys shared on Facebook, or pink chairs which began to circulate on Instagram. It’s not the brand itself that matters but what you do and what you can get by using the brand.

Co-creation might give the co-creator power and influence, which in F!’s case can be seen as a strengthening of democratic possibility, when participants of a home party will be able to ask critical questions to the politician in a safe home environment. On the other hand, the co-creation ”steal” time from the individual, which becomes an interesting question of values ​​in a political context, for example, is unpaid political campaigning necessarily valuable to the individual, or more valuable than activities such as being with their family and devoting themselves to artistic work? Co-production is also an opportunity for the organization to put the responsibility on the individual. If F! fails a four per cent barrier and does not come into parliament, will volunteer workers then have to take responsibility for this, and what might it mean for individuals and companies associated with the campaign work?

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3) F! tells a cultural narrative
F! is playing on a backlash against the Swedish Democrats’ success, a social trend of egalitarian values, as well as more agile voters are seeking identification which does not necessarily aline with class or political block belonging (Paharia, Keinan, Avery & Schor, 2010). The party focuses on ideology in their marketing, with concepts such as feminism, anti-racism and social justice. They also addresses the heterogeneous, multicultural society, including pictures of their candidates to the European Parliament, which consists of a group of old, young, men, women, blacks, whites, and so on. Through its marketing focus on the major forgotten ideological issues, the party appears a bit like the missing heroine, an underdog, in today’s neo-liberal, economy-centered society.

F! also highlighted what they call the myth of Sweden; Sweden is not a tolerant country with a focus on equality, human rights and anti-discrimination. This story of Sweden can be seen as the country’s national identity, something that frequently is used in marketing. When we are no longer to the same extent identify with religious and ethnic groups, we need to find new sources of a common identity and organizations exploit the anxiety that occurs when increased globalization collides with national identity. When F! talks about the ”new” Swedish myth it can be seen as the opposite of what the Sweden Democrats tells of Sweden. It is a form of cultural branding, where a strong brand built by the organization uses the myths that ties in with the most tangible social tensions in society.

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The parties’ tales meets two ”underdog”-narrativ, a story that has been used successfully in marketing (Holt; Moor, 2007), among others, Apple and Google, but also in a political context in the form of Barack Obama. Both parties offer an alternative to the established neo-liberal politicians who generally are based on ”hard facts”, rationality and figures rather than emotion, ideology and stories. The strategy is clear in the response that Schyman gave to an Expressen reporter when the newspaper examined Feminist Initiatives’ proposals. According to the reporter two economical proposals are not financially realistic. In response to this Schyman (2014, May 15th) states:

We’re about to have a debate where you can not open your mouth without a receipt first comes out. It is absurd that we should not talk visions and ideas. A economism have insinuated itself into politics.

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There are of course dangers in every marketing strategy. Co-production can create a feeling of resignation and exploitation, and the underdog narrative can fall flat if the party becomes established. Only time, and strategy, will show the way!

Also, the use of marketing terms regarding political campaigns are not unproblematic, but reflects a general neo-liberal discourse in society where the emphasis is on economics and markets (Savigny, 2008). Seeing an election campaign as marketing instead of, say, community information, is not without consequences for how phenomena are perceived.

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Philosophy of Science

Part VIII: Conclusion – Are the Social Sciences Sciences?

A world without science would be filled with cynical, self-absorbed humans, disoriented in the social sphere. Nevertheless, naturalistic method applied to the social sciences will not be able to give full explanations of what it means to be human or the reflexive ability humans have, taking part of the scientific research in comparison to an object that does not have such a capability. Causal explanations fall flat when taking on intent, and natural selection does not cover the social forces shaping human behaviour. Naturalistic form of explaining does not cover a contextual and social dimension, and without this ability we are not able to fully understand and so cannot call it knowledge about human behavior. The concept of science must then be widened to include context and thought-processes behind actions, whereas the Aristotelian three-folded definition of science or concept of phronesis, are two of the suggested approaches.

In history, we have seen how old and new elites struggle over power, as are the naturalists in the scientific sphere, trying to hold on to their right to the concept of science. Still, this is not in favor of a powerful science, which needs creativity and challenge to stay relevant to humans and society of whom without it seizes to exist.

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Philosophy of Science

Part VII: Science 2.0

All scientific knowledge is based on a process that involves certain ways of thinking about the world, being interested in the environment and sensitive to topics relevant for study. The base for social scientific inquiry is philosophical reflection on what can and should be studied, systematic procedures in data collection and tentative interpretation carefully expressed and counter-argued. A meaningful and relevant science of the 21th century needs to include context and the thought-process behind as well as experience and experiment.

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An approach would be to use the Aristotelian three-folded definition of science, where naturalism would stem from a theoretical science meaning physics, metaphysics and mathematics, though missing the ethics and politics of practical science, as well as the rhetoric and art of poetical science. Aristotle’s definition allows for an epistemology where knowledge includes reasoning, context and moral: foundations for the study of human behaviour as explored above.

Adding to this is Flyvbjerg’s (2001) route which suggests that social science should look to the framework in the Aristotelian concept of phronesis, translated as practical wisdom or prudence. It goes beyond analytical knowledge, episteme, and technical know-how, techne, in that it is involved in social and political practice. Phronesis cannot be reduced to or comprehended by episteme or techne, which underwrites the weaknesses of naturalistic method applied to social sciences.

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Pointing to the absurdity of using intentional explanations of physical matters is not an argument against the social sciences being sciences. There are of course limits to the disciplines and their methods, and no serious social scientist would argue against such a claim: there are no beliefs and desires by a stone on the beach, or a swing in the playing ground. But that is not an argument against the social sciences, since these objects are not the subject matter, however human action is. There are as in the natural science limits to the appropriate epistemology and method, at times overlapping and at times not. A sound science will approach every inquiry with open and analytical eyes, not with prejudgment on method and results.

However in the end, any theory of knowledge should include the element that knowledge cannot be separated from the knower, in addition to data and facts being the constructions or results of interpretation. The fact that social sciences are able to study the natural sciences, their actions and why they work in certain ways, should benefit the natural disciplines and work.

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Science will always be a complex business, and today’s social science could appear more vulnerable to different interests since it is intertwined with subjective sense making. Therefor social scientists must be open to and reflect on the criticism, realizing that the naturalists make a strong case. However as seen above, when challenged with strong naturalistic arguments, the non-naturalists will need to take them on, find the problems, and formulate good reasons for why their approach still make the strongest case. In addition it would be beneficial for the naturalists not to repress the criticism on their approach to the study of human behavior. In the end, all the scrutiny of scientific method will be useful to social science, in that it will be challenged and thus continue to develop and be current, valuable and strong.

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