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The Organization of Organizational Discourse
Craig Prichard
Management Communication Quarterly 2006; 20; 213
DOI: 10.1177/0893318906291979
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4).sagepub. Westport. (2003).g. R. G. I conclude by arguing that this. Hardy. rather than forms of language analysis. In this review essay I sketch out the key direction that discourse has been pushed or pulled in organization studies (see also Alvesson & Karreman. London: Sage. academic. In other words. 2004. as Fairclough. CT: Praeger. Oswick.sagepub.. Each has its strengths.sagepub. and among the most cited (see Table 2. Palmerston North. 2000. but both are relatively disengaged from the journal literature in the same field. below) are 213 Downloaded from http://mcq. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. . we find significant differences as to what discourse and discourse analysis refer. Various forms of language analysis do feature among these. and cultural traditions and how these traditions “push discourse in different directions” (p. (2004). is the distinctive form of discourse analysis in organization studies. is now well established as a category in social sciences. because of different theoretical. 2004. Graham. Fairhurst & Putnam... 2004). New Zealand Fox. S.Review Essay The Organization of Organizational Discourse Craig Prichard Management Communication Quarterly Volume 20 Number 2 November 2006 213-226 © 2006 Sage Publications 10. I review two books that seek to advance our understanding of discourse and language analysis in organization studies. they argue. In response to this weakness. 2003). Cohen. Tietze. & Putnam. Westwood & Clegg. below). and following on from the point by Fairclough and his colleagues (2004). as they also note.com Massey University. Jones. J. To set the scene. But the most prominent form concerns the analysis of knowledge and practice (particularly the distribution and character of various forms of management knowledge). 2000. We see many examples of such work (e.1177/0893318906291979 http://mcq. Lemke.com by on November 14. Understanding Organizations through Language. & Fox. Grant. and Wodak (2004) noted in the introduction to their new journal. I will present a brief. These differences are. And yet. Organizational Discourse: A Language-IdeologyPower Perspective. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.com hosted at http://online. citation-based examination of discourse analysis in the management and organization studies field. the dominant approach to discourse in organization studies takes a distinctive form. Chia. & Stablein. All rights reserved.. Critical Discourse Studies. D iscourse. Prichard. & Musson. This analysis brings to light eight different streams of work that are underway (see Table 2. L.

they travel to Frankfurt together.” “What about this?” he says. 1988) is an affair between British factory manager Vic Wilcox and university English lecturer Robyn Penrose. But the discourse of romantic love pretends that your finger and my clitoris are extensions of two unique individual selves who Downloaded from http://mcq. “Language and biology. 1993). Vic.” she says. “And that’s nice. and behavior.com by on November 14. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. “Of course we have bodies. then?” “When I was younger. “No. 1993. In David Lodge’s (1988) campus novel Nice Work.” he says. p.214 Management Communication Quarterly those that provide critical analysis of management discourse (Dugay.” she says.” “Haven’t you ever been in love. Vic. Here Vic declares he is in love with Robyn. There is only language. Discourse as a concept explores the ordering or organization of speech. Doing Discourse Analysis At the center of Nice Work (Lodge.sagepub. All rights reserved. or inscribed. “I allowed myself to be constructed by the discourse of romantic love for a while yes. meanings. “It’s ‘a rhetorical device’ and a ‘bourgeoisie fantasy’. .” “I’ve been in love with you for weeks. you don’t. We aren’t unique individual essences existing prior to language. Kerfoot & Knights. Robyn introduces Vic to semiotics and discourse analysis. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. I cite this here as an opening illustration of discourse analysis. As their relationship develops. 1994. She illustrates the theory with examples that challenge Vic’s assumptions about his life and world. sliding his hand between her legs.” There’s no such thing. Townley. opening her legs wider.” she says. and she replies (this excerpt contains explicit material that some readers might find uncomfortable. sensitive readers may wish to move to the next section of the article). Discourse is.” “What the hell does that mean?” “We aren’t essences. performed. At the height of their affair. 217) wrote. The approach has some distinctive features including ambivalence over the particular media in which (by which) discourse is articulated. as material as a surgeon’s knife and the walls of the prison cell. this approach to discourse is neatly presented by one of the main characters. My muscles contract when you touch me there—feel?” “I feel. physical needs and appetites. as the noted communication theorist John Fiske (1996.

Eventually. brings together the practices of romantic love. finds some exhilaration and challenge in the confrontation with Vic’s world (Lodge. In some respects. plays. Laurie Cohen. but my general concern with Downloaded from http://mcq. though. meanwhile (like many academics. discourse involves very real forms of knowledge and practice.com by on November 14. . Each is thus worth considering as a supportive text for public relations and organizational communication courses. All rights reserved. the meanings. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. Like Robyn. the book ends with Vic reciting Tennyson and challenging Robyn on the slippage between the signifier and signified (Lodge. She is shocked and appalled by the conditions and practices of the engineering factory Vic manages. As her analysis of romantic love shows. Vic and Robyn’s relationship is a metaphor for the pleasures and difficulties of this form of discourse analysis. narrative. 362). figures of speech. and in a kind of gender-appropriate reversal of the Pygmalion plot. Like many students of business and management. p. p.” (Lodge. I would suggest). 1988. as a concept. 293) Put differently.sagepub. Susanne Tietze. They are also distinctive in terms of empirical focus and analytical approaches. the two books I review here are passionate about the theories and methodologies they use to unpack business and organizational topics. and Gill Musson’s Understanding Organizations through Language is concerned with “internal” organizational communication (if I can put it that way) and uses different methods of language analysis (semiotics. Both books are student focused and offer lively and rich discussions of illustrative case materials. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. and discourse). Vic initially finds discourse analysis bewildering. He is defensive and irritated by its bizarre claims. discourse connects certain forms of knowledge and particular practices. Robyn. Renata and John Fox’s Organizational Discourse: A Language-Ideology-Power Perspective deals with corporate public relations and takes a form of critical discourse analysis as its method of inquiry. he begins to embrace Robyn’s body of knowledge (it seems unlikely that he would have stuck with it without the promise of a return on his affections). 1988. Each book has some internal weaknesses (that I will discuss briefly below). p. 130).Prichard / Review Essay 215 need each other and only each other and cannot be happy without each other for ever and ever. 1988. They also share Robyn’s pedagogical commitments at bringing discourse analysis to students of business and management (including practicing managers). but she also takes some pleasure in putting her theoretical skills to work in more visceral and embodied settings as compared with the books. and poems that are her usual targets. Discourse. and the texts (spoken and written words).

key conferences. Chia. Another way is to identify the diversity of approaches. and accept streams of activity as different entry points on a common phenomenon. We have no way to resolve these differences. sway. and Downloaded from http://mcq. One way to do this. 2004).” so to speak. most would agree they are an important part of ensuring the development of the field.com by on November 14. . Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. 2003. Before I discuss this. 2003). Languaging in Organizations The text Understanding Organizations through Language includes four different forms of language analysis: semiotic. metaphorical. try to map these out. is a relatively new research field (Alvesson & Karreman. 2000. Ball & Hodgeson. The analysis highlights the discontinuity between the approaches to discourse the books champion and those highly supported in the journal literature. New academic fields are like political movements (Westwood & Clegg. 2006. All books and journal articles are to varying extents efforts to direct. Before I proceed with this. All rights reserved. in a broad sense. Prichard et al. 2005. Prichard et al. is to explore citation patterns of works on discourse analysis in organization studies. let me now offer some notes on the strengths and weaknesses of each book. indeed. The approach that each text presents is not inaccurate. states. and the institutional support for these provided by universities. rather some of the claims made about the journal literature are erroneous—particularly in the Fox and Fox text. One way is to join a particular faction of the “movement. and economies.. 2004..sagepub. 2000. 2001. or shape a field in a particular direction. The result is that what counts as discourse analysis depends a lot on one’s academic biography and the particular location in which one works (Prichard. authoritative figures. important texts. 2004) with a consequent lack of agreement over just what discourse analysis in organizations might be about and how one might go about investigating it. This is perhaps inevitable. Just what “counts” is a result of internal struggles played out through core journals. One must instead work out how to engage with them.216 Management Communication Quarterly them is their uneven and rather uncomfortable relationships with the journalbased research literature on discourse and language analysis in organization studies. This is the approach I present below. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. Lok & Willmott. narrative. and promote and defend your “village’s” favored approach (Phillips. a small qualification is needed. and certainly not the only way. Phillips & Hardy. Organizational discourse. 2002). Grant. One way to strengthen the field as a whole is to recognize the distinctive contribution of a range of approaches as different entry points to a particular field.

1999) might have been helpful to weave the different analytical approaches into a loose interpretive framework. metaphors. We have seen how the process of encoding and decoding work to generate particular meanings through a variety of symbolic codes [italics added]. but do they talk to each other? Does the syntagmatic character of organizational signs relate to figures of organizational speech? Does Barthes’s myth function underpin organizational story telling? Are discourses (i. Alternatively. All rights reserved. side by side. Each is neatly presented in engaging. you may recall. perhaps the notion of “semiosis” (Chouliaraki & Fairclough. and communication technology. This relates to what I see as a second weakness with the text. Consequently. on leadership. In Nice Work (Lodge. discourse. The only hint I found of a framework that might relate signs. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. .com by on November 14. 131) Much more could have been made of the notion of symbolic code to draw together the book as a whole. the authors would be better served by clarifying some assumptions about the realities of the world that these interpretive forms were attempting to unravel. 1988). narratives. (p. narratives. or if. Each perspective rests in the interpretive tradition. particularly the first four conceptually orientated chapters and the latter four thematic chapters on culture. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Usefully the authors include some of their own empirical research as cases.sagepub. discourses. metaphors.1 Stepping back a bit. Robyn. Each chapter on different forms of language analysis works well as a single offering. At the beginning of chapter 8.e. and combinations of codes.. We might assume that what we confront in organizations are overdetermined relations among many different meaningmaking practices. There is precious little cross-referencing among them. Thus.Prichard / Review Essay 217 discourse analysis (both genre and knowledge forms are discussed). and signs are interrelated. including metaphors. readers may well wonder how. 131). forms of knowledge and practice) also narratives? Do they differ or can they be interconnected? Perhaps the authors could not agree among themselves on a common approach. leadership. I found them difficult. culture and gendering through language. the authors write. and discourse together is the notion of “symbolic code” (p. But as a group. each type of analysis is a different entry point on this inevitably messy world. gender. student-focused chapters with illustrative cases and student discussion questions. takes a seemingly reductionist position with respect to the relation between discourse and the Downloaded from http://mcq. storytelling.

g. The question they ask is how corporations use communication processes to secure consent from stakeholders. media events. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. The book then offers us an analysis of the ideological processes in which corporations are engaged. and Web sites). All rights reserved. . 10) Here. although (like the Tietze et al. (p.) of the relations between symbolic and nonsymbolic (political and economic) processes can be put aside. The middle section of the book presents an elaborate quantitative analysis of corporate texts. discuss are different ways of understanding meaning making in organizations. text have no application in Fox and Fox’s book. The book begins with the following: We see organizations. but as dynamic processes. for me. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications.sagepub. In brief. being woven in and through language and talk. risks undermining its admirable features with a lack of internal connectedness and a lack of discussion of how the analysis of interpretive or symbolic processes they promote bear on and are shaped by political and economic relations in organizations. Most chapters contribute to this argument by presenting discussions of different communicative events (e. the book explores corporate public discourse via analysis of communication events. The four analytical frameworks Tietze et al. She claims that all that exists is language and biology. Their book assumes some kind of dialectical relations among discursive. Delving in Corporate Discourse My concerns with the Tietze et al.com by on November 14. and economic processes. share this assumption—to a point.218 Management Communication Quarterly world. This work could help confirm. Tietze et al. But how is meaning making interwoven with the practices and activities that organize political or economic relations? In summary.. not as static entities. and thus the problem (as found in Tietze et al. text) the authors struggle in the final four chapters to apply their perspective to generic topics such as gender and globalization without importing still further analytical ideas. Also. via analysis of a wider Downloaded from http://mcq. and thus the problem of coherence across the text is not quite so acute. constructed and reconstructed through activities and practices. But how do we deal with these other practices? Do they shape talk and language at all? What is missing here is some recognition or exploration of the relation among the symbolic or cultural or interpretive and other dimensions or processes. CEO interview. language and talk are said to weave activities and practices together. political. they use one analytical framework directed at one (broad) problem. the book.

All rights reserved. To demonstrate this. concerns.com by on November 14.” (p. Although the content of the book may well be such a contribution. . . My main issue with them both is that they lack a well-grounded connection to the journal research literature Downloaded from http://mcq. . I now present a brief. frankly. Others. .sagepub. On the second point. such as the quantitative analysis of corporate communication genres. in my view. the book claims to make a contribution to organization studies. The text. The book makes few concessions to novice learners and is thus more suited to research-orientated postgraduates over undergraduate communication or management students.Prichard / Review Essay 219 sample. linguistics-related topics. the book is a maze of chapters of varying lengths. Early in the book. as the citation-based analysis below shows. has changed in organization studies since Holden’s (1987) survey of mentions of language topics in a corpus of 463 English-language texts on international management. 21) Supporting the claims of a 1987 survey suggests. On the first point. the findings from close qualitative analysis of key texts. so it seems. language topics were handled with “perfunctory brevity and frequent ignorance of linguistic fact. citation-based analysis of the major streams of work. The chapter on the notion of the management discourse community is barely two and a half pages in length. are a little out of step with the mode of presentation found in the earlier and later chapters. Getting With the Program Both books have some fine qualities. issues. that either the authors do not get out much or that their library’s subscription to all the major organization studies and management journals ceased somewhere around 1990 (and/or someone forgot to connect them to the Internet). little. and also to bring to light what I would regard as a map of the field of organizational discourse. has two main weaknesses: poor chapter organization and a penchant for rather grand and vacuous claims about organization studies that. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. prove to be rather dubious. and methodologies have been the consistent (some might say dominant) focus of (particularly European) organization studies since the early 1990s. Quite simply. are closer to 17 pages. When mentioned. business and marketing. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. the way it attempts to establish this claim is rather questionable. But the particular chapters here are strongly methodological and. the authors point out that as regards the status of language in organization studies. thus. The book’s editors might have been more assertive here and helped the authors combine chapters into more coherent and satisfying segments of text and illustration.

title.com by on November 14. the largest numbers are found in European-based management and organization studies journals: Journal of Management Studies (42). Six of the 10 most-cited papers in the sample are in U. and other disciplines. Perhaps what we are confronting here is. certain journals are consistently cited more than other journals).-based journals (Administrative Science Quarterly. None of these authors is a linguist by training. . If we then look at the distribution of these papers across journals. and Organization Science).220 Management Communication Quarterly in the field. None was published prior to 1988. or possibly prevailing ways in which the organization studies community has come to know the term discourse. the analysis they present is not strongly linguistic in character. and thus citation rates might not be a particularly strong way to identify a preferred form of discourse analysis. Organization Studies (37). The problem here may well be one of disciplinary background and location. Nevertheless. We cite each other’s published work for various reasons. this is not true of the most highly cited in the list. formal language analysis. So Just What Is Going On? One way to explore what counts as discourse and discourse analysis is to look to those works that have been cited by others in the field and thus could be said to have the community’s support.g. Organization (36). as Fairclough and his colleagues (2004) suggest. organization. If we query ISI’s Web of Science database (social science citation index) for articles that use the terms discourse. common. to linguists. Downloaded from http://mcq. Academy of Management Review.sagepub.2 we find 444 papers (to the end of 2005). and.S.K. If we map this. The two most-cited works in the field that use the notion of discourse are Barley and Kunda’s (1992) analysis of 20th-century changes to management knowledge and Dugay and Salaman’s (1992) discourse analysis of the customer service movement in U. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. the field’s distinctive form of discourse analysis that has ambivalent relations with linguistics. we might then be able to identify the community’s various approaches to discourse. businesses. one might fail to see language or discourse analysis at all. with a relatively smooth increasing number across those years (see Table 1). or keywords). highly cited works that use the term discourse in an illustrative sense show us the accepted. The yearly publication count runs from 3 in 1988 to 79 in 2005. and management (found in the abstract. and Human Relations (23). However. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. When one reads organization studies from a linguistics background or from a location embedded in the humanities. All rights reserved.3 This suggests a journalbased effect on the most-cited examples in the total number (e. I have some problems with this approach..

For my analysis.sagepub. forms a second significant focus of highly cited discourse analyses. All rights reserved. and discourse as general or public debate. on Foucault’s approach to discourse. or Organization Papers over Time 1988 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total 3 10 5 11 14 22 22 24 27 38 28 48 52 61 79 444 Source: ISI Web of Science. Rhetoric. To sketch the various forms of organizational discourse analysis supported by the broader community via citation. we note that the largest and most significant group of papers use discourse analysis as a synonym for analysis of forms of knowledge and practice—particularly forms of management knowledge and practice. language use. This group draws primarily. which left me with the 40 mostcited papers.4 So What Does This Tell Us? The two books reviewed here make useful attempts to present discourse and language analysis as it relates to the study of organizations. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. but not exclusively. The Fox Downloaded from http://mcq.com by on November 14. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. I selected papers cited more than 16 times. From the table. and rhetorical practices. Management. we need to look more closely at these works and thus need a more convenient sample. text. I present the groupings in Table 2. .Prichard / Review Essay 221 Table 1 Discourse. The remainder of the papers address discourse as narrative. I then read these papers and grouped them on the basis of the methodological approach they take with respect to discourse.

1992 (107). and Samuel. 2000 (18). 1996 (40). Abrahamson and Fairchild. 1997 (41). 1997 (36). Grint and Case. 1993 (28). rhetoric. 1997 (27) Astley and Zammuto.sagepub. 1999 (25). 1996 (35).222 Management Communication Quarterly Table 2 Groupings of 40 Most Cited Discourse. Newton. 1999 (23). 1999 (25). 1998 (55) Covaleski. Fairhurst. Kerfoot and Knights. Sturdy. Salaman. Gefen and Straub. communication. 1992 (22). Management. 1992 (18) Barry and Elmes. 2000 1 18 Hardy and Phillips. 1998 (18). 1995 (100). 1997 (26). All rights reserved. 1994 (27). Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. 1999 (49). Fournier and Grey. 1998 (33). 1998 (39). Gherardi. Dugay. talk. and texts (literary analysis) Public debate (general discourse) Rhetorical forms of knowledge Knowledge and practice Total Papers Total Cites Heracleous and Hendry. Jewkes. 1992 (150). Hinings. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. 1998 (34). 1997 (82). 1998 (19). 1994 (40) Abrahamson. 1996 (26) Cooper. 1995 (18). 1997 (36). and Rees. 1995 (64). 1993 (17). Davis and Stout. Phillips and Hardy. and Brown. Fondas. 1994 (23). Palmer and Dunford. 1997 (20). 1998 (21). O’Neill and Gibson-Graham. Downloaded from http://mcq. Gill. Greenwood. Dugay. 1999 (27) Alvesson. Abrahams. Gubrium and Holstein. Barley and Kunda. 1992 (75). 1993 (51). Zbaracki. 1992 (64). . DeCock and Hipkin. Jessop. Heian. 1993 (14) 2 52 4 128 3 130 6 223 5 261 6 377 14 386 Source: ISI Web of Science. 1997 (84). Dugay and Salaman. Watson. Hatch. Knights and Morgan. Fondas. Denhardt and Denhardt. Zajac and Westphal. Clark and Salaman. Townley. of Organization Papers Type Studies Structurationist approach (rhetoric and structures) Texts and discursive processes Language games and discourse communities Narrative or narratives Language use. Dirsmith. Tsoukas.com by on November 14. and Mvo.

150 cites. organizations. This analysis is purely illustrative and highlights a distinction between discourse as forms of knowledge and practice and discourse as attending to language use in organizations. 107 cites. The Tietze et al. This mode uses the notion of discourse in a particular way to unravel the character and distribution of forms of organizational knowledge and practice (texts. 2. Barry and Elmes (1997). 59 cites. organizing. I would suggest. This includes derivatives such as managers. the distribution and elaboration of management knowledge and practice) and then work through the various modes of analysis. and so on. a more compelling way to present discourse and/or language analysis as it relates to the study of organizations and organizing is to first sketch out the field’s empirical and analytical targets or “problems” (e. and behaviors). Davis and Stout (1992). The Tietze et al. 82 cites. . text is a more reliable source when it comes to the presentation of language and discourse analysis in organization studies. What we find in highly cited journal literature are eight possible entry points for analysis and one distinctive and currently dominant mode of organizational discourse analysis. Townley (1993). This needs to be teased out a little more if the book goes to a second edition. Dugay and Salaman (1992). 55 cites. 3. 64 cites. 58 cites.com by on November 14. 84 cites. an important empirical and analytical issue in the field (there are others of course). 75 cites. This may well provide a more engaging way of showing students just how discourse analysis helps us understand the problematics of organizing and the strengths and weaknesses of each mode of discourse or language analysis. Astley and Zammuto (1992). story telling. the note on page 131 suggests that culture and gender are symbolic codes akin to metaphors.. Watson (1995). The 10 most cited articles were Barley and Kunda (1992). book is then a much better overview of the field if we set it alongside our illustrative citation analysis above. 2007 © 2006 SAGE Publications. 100 cites. 4. 71-90). Gefen and Straub (1997). The illustrative citation analysis above suggests this is at best misleading. It includes discourse analysis as a separate form of analysis and includes both genre analysis and analysis of knowledge and practice (pp.5 Notes 1. Jessop (1995). such books should be more problem focused and engaged in the current research literature. In other words.sagepub. and Zbaracki (1998). Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Also.Prichard / Review Essay 223 and Fox book is premised on the claim that organization studies has changed little since 1987 with respect to discourse analysis. and discourse. All rights reserved.g. I would suggest the need to go further. The form and character of organizational knowledge and practice is. meanings. Downloaded from http://mcq. Their book is based around a semiotic or symbolic code approach. Perhaps then. However.

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