See our list of organizational communication research paper topics. Because investigations of organizational communication involve the intersection of two complex concepts – organization and communication – the discipline involves a number of diverse topical interests. The scholarly intersection of these two concepts considers the processes through which organizations are constituted through communication process and the ways in which that constituted organization influences ongoing discourse.
Organizational Communication Research Paper Topics
- Bona Fide Groups
- Bureaucracy and Communication
- Communication in Organizational Crises
- Communication Networks
- Control and Authority in Organizations
- Critical Approaches to Organizational Communication
- Cultural Diversity in Organizations
- Decision-Making Processes in Organizations
- Dialogic Perspectives
- Dissent in Organizations
- Emotion and Communication in Organizations
- Feedback Processes in Organizations
- Functional Theory of Group Decision-Making
- Globalization of Organizations
- Group Communication
- Group Communication and Problem-Solving
- Group Communication and Social Influence
- Institutional Theory
- Interorganizational Communication
- Knowledge Management
- Leadership in Organizations
- Learning Organizations
- Meeting Technologies
- Organizational Assimilation
- Organizational Change Processes
- Organizational Conflict
- Organizational Culture
- Organizational Discourse
- Organizational Ethics
- Organizational Identification
- Organizational Metaphors
- Organizational Structure
- Participative Processes in Organizations
- Postmodern Approaches Organizational Communication
- Structuration Theory
- Supervisor–Subordinate Relationships
- Symbolic Convergence Theory
Most historians of the field place the beginning of the modern discipline in the middle of the twentieth century. Redding and Tompkins (1988) provide a typical recounting of this history in discussing three overlapping formative phases. The first, from 1900 and 1950, is the “era of preparation.” During this period, concerns revolved around skills-based training that would achieve “effective” communication in organizations. The second phase (1940–1970), the “era of identification and consolidation,” was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method. with empirical attention focused on supervisor–subordinate relationships, employee satisfaction, and group decision-making. Redding and Tompkins argue that organizational communication reached the third era (“era of maturity and innovation”) in the 1970s. At this point, organizational communication was recognized as an established discipline with large divisions in the ICA (International Communication Association) and the National Communication Association (NCA) in the US, graduate programs across the globe, and scholarship represented in disciplinary and interdisciplinary outlets, as well as specialized journals such as Management Communication Quarterly.
Theoretical and Methodological Approaches
In recent decades, the discipline has been marked by several major intellectual shifts and conceptual debates. Thus, organizational communication is now an eclectic discipline in terms of theory and method. Three important metatheoretical strands are now prevalent in organizational communication. Following Corman and Poole (2000), these strands are labeled ‘post-positivist,’ ‘interpretive,’ and ‘critical.’
The post-positivist approach was dominant as organizational communication reached maturity in the 1970s. The ontological focus was a realist conception of both ‘organization’ and ‘communication’ – organizations were seen as ‘containers’ within which people worked and communication followed prescribed routes and included defined content. Early examples of post-positivist research included topics such as supervisor–subordinate communication, information flow, feedback, communication climate, and communication networks. Post-positivist scholars today consider crucial questions of organizing in the late modern and postmodern world, including communication and decision-making technologies, globalization, nonprofit organizations, and self-organizing systems.
During the 1970s and 1980s, many organizational communication scholars began to reject realist conceptions of organizations and communication and turn away from positivistic epistemological assumptions and scientific research methods. Within organizational communication, the interpretive turn (Putnam and Pacanowsky 1983). The intellectual roots of the interpretive turn in organizational communication can be found in movements such as symbolic interactionism, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and ethnomethodology. This approach is marked by a social constructionist ontology and epistemologies that emphasize the relationship between the knower and the known and the value of emergent forms of knowledge. Instead of following the ‘container’ metaphor, interpretive scholars considered the role of communication in processes of organizing and sense-making (Weick 1979); scholars shifted from a mechanistic view to a constitutive view of oganizing and communicating (Putnam & Nicotera 2009).
During the same time period as the interpretive turn, many scholars were also moving toward a critical approach in which organizations were viewed as systems of power and control. In organizational communication, critical scholarship can be traced to formative influences including Karl Marx, Frankfurt School critics, Louis Althusser, Antonio Gramsci, Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Anthony Giddens. The turn to critical scholarship involved analyzing organizations as ‘sites of oppression,’ considering the discursive construction of managerial interests, examining how workers are complicit in processes of alienation, and highlighting processes of resistance. Critical organizational communication scholars’ concern with praxis has led to the scholarship considering alternative organizational forms, participatory practices, and opportunities for employee dissent.
With the critical turn also came a move to feminist scholarship (Ashcraft & Mumby 2004). This research has roots in both the critical theory and the political activism at the heart of feminism. Feminist scholarship did not gain a foothold in the discipline until the 1990s, though there had been earlier studies of gender and biological sex in organizational communication processes. In recent decades, feminist scholarship has included the public/private divide, feminist ways of organizing, emotionality in the workplace, feminist approaches to conflict, and embodied organizational experience with the late twentieth century also marked the emergence of postmodern theorizing that differentiates organizations and communication in the modern epoch (e.g., centralized authority, rationality, standardization) from the postmodern epoch (e.g., lateral relationships, consensus-based control, interactivity, and change).
Contemporary Frames and Research Topics
Putnam et al. (1996) provide a helpful framework that considers the metaphors of communication and organization. In the ‘conduit metaphor’ communication is seen as transmission that occurs within the container of the organization. Research in this tradition considers formal and informal communication flow, adoption of communication technology, and information load.In the ‘lens metaphor’ approach, communication is a filtering process and the organization is the eye. This metaphor highlights the possibility of distortion and the importance of message reception. The ‘linkage metaphor’ shifts emphasis to the connections among individuals and organizations including communication networks, patterns, and structures. The ‘performance metaphor’ considers organizations as emerging from coordinated actions (processes including storytelling and organizational image). The ‘symbol metaphor’ sees communication as a process of representation through which the organizational world is made meaningful and includes scholarship in organizational culture and socialization. The ‘voice metaphor’ considers how organizational voices are expressed or suppressed through processes including ideology, hegemony, democratization, and cultural difference. Finally, ‘discourse metaphor’ sees communication as a conversation, as collective action, and as dialogue.
- Ashcraft, K. L. & Mumby, D. K. (2004). Reworking gender: A feminist communicology of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Corman, S. R. & Poole, M. S. (2000). Perspectives on organizational communication: Finding common ground. New York: Guilford.
- May, S. & Mumby, D. K. (2005). Engaging organizational communication theory and research: Multiple perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Mumby, D. K. & Stohl, C. (1996). Disciplining organizational communication studies. Management Communication Quarterly, 10, 50–72.
- Putnam, L. L. & Mumby, D. K. (eds.) (2013). The Sage handbook of organizational communication, 3rd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Putnam, L. L. & Nicotera, A. (eds.) (2009). Building theories of organization: The constitutive role of communication. London: Routledge.
- Putnam, L. L. & Pacanowsky, M. E. (eds.) (1983). Communication in organizations: An interpretive approach. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Putnam, L. L., Phillips, N., & Chapman, P. (1996). Metaphors of communication and organization. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (eds.), Handbook of organization studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 375–408.
- Redding, W. C. & Tompkins, P. K. (1988). Organizational communication: Past and present tenses. In G. Goldhaber & G. Barnett (eds.), Handbook of organizational communication. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, pp. 5–34.
- Weick, K. E. (1979). The social psychology of organizing, 2nd edn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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