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«University of Colorado, Boulder CU Scholar Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations Communication Spring 5-28-2014 Form, Function, and Figure: ...»

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University of Colorado, Boulder

CU Scholar

Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations Communication

Spring 5-28-2014

Form, Function, and Figure: The Case of Meetings

in Suicide Prevention Campaign

Katherine R. Peters

University of Colorado Boulder, Katherine.R.Peters@colorado.edu

Follow this and additional works at: http://scholar.colorado.edu/comm_gradetds

Part of the Communication Commons

Recommended Citation Peters, Katherine R., "Form, Function, and Figure: The Case of Meetings in Suicide Prevention Campaign" (2014). Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations. Paper 2.

This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by Communication at CU Scholar. It has been accepted for inclusion in Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations by an authorized administrator of CU Scholar. For more information, please contact cuscholaradmin@colorado.edu.

Running Head: MEETING FORM, FUNCTION, AND FIGURE Form, Function, and Figure: The Case of Meetings in Suicide Prevention Campaign Katherine R. Peters B.A., Juniata College, 2012 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Communication


This thesis entitled:

Form, Function, and Figure: The Case of Meetings in Suicide Prevention Campaign written by Katherine R. Peters has been approved for the Department of Communication David Boromisza-Habashi Karen Lee Ashcraft Leah Sprain Date The final copy of this thesis has been examined by the signatories, and we Find that both the content and the form meet acceptable presentation standards Of scholarly work in the above mentioned discipline.

IRB Protocol # 12-0689 MEETING FORM, FUNCTION, AND FIGURE iii Peters, Katherine R. (M.A., Communication) Form, Function, and Figure: The Case of Meetings in Suicide Prevention Campaign Thesis directed by Assistant Professor David Boromisza-Habashi Scholars from different perspectives in communication and related fields have prolifically studied meetings. Since Schwartzman’s (1989) seminal research on meetings, scholars have studied this communicative form to find insight on how this form is conducted and how identities, communities, and cultures are constituted through meetings. In my study I take two perspectives to examine meetings: the ethnography of communication and ventriloquism. I use each perspective to view the meetings of Suicide Prevention Campaign, a small nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania. With the ethnography of communication, I examine the cultural form and function of these meetings, with particular attention on how metacommunication reflects changing norms of interpretation. Then, using ventriloquism, I examine how meetings serve as a gatekeeping figure for the organization. The study contributes to both perspectives a new way of viewing meetings, suggests recommendations to practitioners, and proposes a potential combination between the ethnography of communication and ventriloquism.

Keywords: meetings, ethnography of communication, communicative constitution of

–  –  –


Ethnography of Communication


Chapter Conclusion



Participant Observation


Document Collection

Considerations of Reflexivity

IRB Approval

Data Analysis



Channels and Codes


Meeting Talk

Goals and Outcomes

–  –  –

Norms of Interpretation

Chapter Conclusion


The Meeting Usurper

A Meeting About Meetings

(Inter)views of Meetings


Chapter Conclusion


Form, Function, and Figure

Compatible Perspectives


Limitations of the Present Study

Future Directions




Appendix I: Meeting timeline by date, group, participants, and data included...............119 Appendix II: Participants by name, age, organizational roles, and meetings attended...120

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In February 2013 my best friend, Mary, and I got into an argument. This wasn’t your typical best friend argument over whether or not she looks good in the new outfit she just bought, what movie to watch next, or what food we should cook for dinner. Instead we got into an argument about meetings.

For the past year, Mary and I have worked together for the organization Suicide Prevention Campaign (SPC). We originally worked together as teenagers in a coffee shop located in a grocery store chain, but this organization is different. SPC is Mary’s organizational child. In 2010 she was devastated by the news of five local teenagers’ suicides and she decided to do something about it. That something turned into the “startup nonprofit” organization SPC.

As founder and president, Mary invited her friends and acquaintances to join her in helping hurting teenagers in central Pennsylvania in 2012. As one of the invitees, I found the organization to be a place where I could use my knowledge of communication to at least help others organize, if not also to help potentially suicidal teenagers in my hometown. I joined initially in March 2012 as a member of the Fundraising and Community Resources committees, and quickly volunteered to chair the Community Resources committee. In June of 2012, Mary invited me to join the Board of Directors, working alongside her and eight other individuals.

In the summer of 2012, it had already been well established in the organizing documents that each committee would have a meeting once a month and the Board of Directors would meet once a year. In the fall of 2012 when I needed a research site for my qualitative research methods class, SPC seemed like the perfect fit. As a result of my research, I became engrossed

–  –  –

which centered largely around Schwartzman’s (1989) book The Meeting. Theoretically, as a scholar, I found meetings to be fascinating. In SPC, as a participant, I found meetings to be lacking – both in frequency and in discussion.

Fast forward to February 2013 again. Mary and I were arguing about meetings. Not whether meetings should occur or not, their inevitability seemed to be paired with organizational life. Mary was arguing that we did not need to meet as often because meetings were only about making sure everyone knew the same information. This could be just as easily accomplished through the social networking site Wiggio that members of SPC were supposed to check for updates. By contrast, I advocated for meetings. Meetings, in my theoretically-informed opinion, are where discussion, brainstorming, and bonding between organizational members occur.

While meetings are certainly informative for their members, they should also be used to hold lively discussions. We left the matter unresolved, and this argument raised questions for me related to my research in this organization. Was the theory only focusing on the “interesting” discussion-based meetings, rather than the “boring” informative ones? Do organizations have to evolve into such discussion-based meetings, or if meetings start off with a purely informative bent, will they remain that way for much of the life of the organization? Why were meetings such a contested topic between my best friend, armed with her common sense understanding, and me, armed with my theoretically based understanding of this practice?

*** This story describes the point where my thesis project became interesting to me. Not only did these two forms of meetings map somewhat neatly onto the metatheoretical views of communication as information and communication as constitutive (Deetz, 1994), I also realized

–  –  –

understanding of meetings that at times wildly contradicted what I was actually seeing in some of SPC’s early meetings, how could I begin to understand what meetings are “supposed” to be, both for SPC and in general? Meetings, as contested communicative practices for at least two of SPC’s members, are shaped by members, other ways of speaking, and by the meetings themselves. With a peek into the organizational communication literature, I quickly became interested in how these communicative practices actually shape the organization itself, while the organization and its members simultaneously shape the communicative practices. Although there are other forms of communicative practices used by the members of SPC, such as Wiggio posts, Facebook chat, and informal conversation, meetings seem to be a point of contestation, for at least two members, and meetings also served as a point of discussion for the entire board of directors.

In conceiving this study, it seemed to me that meetings were an optimal site to join the concerns of a cultural perspective, informed by the ethnography of communication, and an organizing perspective, informed by ventriloquism, in order to examine this phenomenon.

Scholars out of discursive, cultural, and organizing traditions have all turned their eyes toward meetings as a site for study and a phenomenon worth study itself. Meetings are comprised of communication, which Taylor and Van Every (2000) call the "site and surface" of organizing and organizations. Meetings also take on culturally particular forms and functions, as Schwartzman (1989) noted. With meetings as the object of my study, how would these two traditions face off on the same data set? What can using two perspectives to inform my research help me to understand better about meetings? Using theory as a lens, each perspective would illuminate and obscure different aspects of meetings, so presumably by using both my research would gain in

–  –  –

productive working relationship between these two traditions. However, there is much ground to cover between this introduction and the final chapter of this thesis. First, in this chapter, I will examine the research that has been done on meetings of all varieties. Then I will explicate the background of each tradition that I use in this thesis, the ethnography of communication and ventriloquism, and the kinds of questions or concepts that they orient toward. Each perspective informs one of the research questions that I will examine. In the second chapter I will explain my methods in this study related to data construction and analysis. In chapter three I use the ethnography of communication to analyze the culturally particular form and function of meetings in SPC. Chapter four analyzes the same meetings through a ventriloqual perspective for the figures that are voiced in metacommunication about meetings. After covering this ground, I discuss the similarities, differences, and possibly productive sites for using these two methodological frames together to study the various cultural processes of organizing, such as meetings.

–  –  –

Meetings seem to be a fact of organizational life. As a ubiquitous feature of organizations, meetings have been used to study a variety of phenomena within organizations and community groups. Meetings have also been featured as the object of research as well.

Much of the existing literature on meetings finds a home in institutional conversation analysis (Drew & Heritage, 1992), business communication, or organizational communication.

Ethnographers of communication have also taken meetings as sites and objects for research to examine the cultural forms and functions of this speech event. I review many of these studies in the following chapter, as well as previous directions of research and findings. Before beginning

–  –  –

differences, and how I will refer to meetings throughout this study. Then I will continue to examine the use of the term, differentiate between organizational and public meetings, and discuss the features of a meeting as defined by Schwartzman (1989). In the next section, I discuss the differences between using a meeting as a site or tool for research and using a meeting as an object for research. Finally, I examine several of the findings of prior researchers, and situate my study among these topics.

Defining a Meeting What is a meeting? Perhaps not an oft-asked question for organizational members, even in SPC, this is the question where my research begins. Throughout the analytic chapters, I will examine the particular meaning of “meeting” shared by participants in SPC, but I will start here with the meanings provided by prior literature. By doing so, I will examine what a meeting involves, and what a meeting precludes.

Schwartzman’s (1989) tome on meetings is one of the earliest treatments of the meeting

as a phenomenon worthy of research. She defines a meeting as:

A communicative event involving three or more people who agree to assemble for a purpose ostensibly related to the functioning of an organization or a group, for example, to exchange ideas or opinions, to solve a problem, to make a decision or negotiate an agreement, to develop policy and procedures, to formulate recommendations, and so forth. A meeting is characterized by multiparty talk that is episodic in nature, and participants either develop or use specific conventions...

for regulating this talk. Participants assume that this talk in some way relates to

–  –  –

A meeting, thus, for Schwartzman, requires at least three people who meet for a purpose related to a group or organization. As a communicative event, it can be compared to other communicative events studied by ethnographers of communication. She cites a few different purposes that a meeting could have, and a meeting seems to be required to have some kind of purpose. Talk in a meeting is not only from one person to an audience of at least two people, but rather talk between these people that is guided by some kind of convention, such as Robert’s Rules of Order. Finally, the meeting provides a frame for the ensuing talk as accomplishing some kind of “business”.

Boden (1994) studied workplace interactions, including meetings. Her definition of

meetings varies slightly from the above, stating that a meeting is:

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