«University of Colorado, Boulder CU Scholar Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations Communication Spring 5-28-2014 Form, Function, and Figure: ...»
Although this organization-as-object perspective enables me to make certain kinds of claims, it constrains me from others, and particularly constrains me from providing a fuller description and analysis of meetings in SPC. The unidirectional, top-down analysis of an organization-as-object perspective reveals only how the organization contributes to the constitution of meetings, and does not account for the ways in which meetings and the organization are mutually constitutive of each other. Fairhurst and Putnam (2004) pose that holding different perspectives together in tension can enlighten a more nuanced view of the link between discourse and organizations. In this study I want to understand more than how the organization and its members constitute and use meetings; I would like to show how this could be a mutually constitutive relationship. This requires a “grounded-in-action” approach (Fairhust
organizational structure. Taylor and Van Every (2000), and their colleagues who make up the Montreal School of CCO, use this perspective to show how everyday interactions, or conversations, produce lasting structures, or texts, and also how these texts then influence future conversations. Thus a perspective from this school, such as ventriloquism, might provide a more comprehensive lens through which to view meetings in SPC, and may complement the organization-as-object perspective that the ethnography of communication tends to take.
Analyses from this CCO perspective, including ventriloquism, take sentence grammars and other micro-discursive constructions in everyday conversation to be constitutive of and constituted by larger texts, in both literal and figurative forms. In Schwartzman’s (1989) terms, these scholars would ask not only how the organization and organizational members “use” meetings, but would also ask how the organization and organizational members are “used by meetings” (p. 39). In this study, a perspective informed by ventriloquism would allow me to look deeper into the implications of organizational agency when I see members point out that meetings “put us back on track” (line 68, excerpt 13). How does a statement like this, giving the meeting an action, affect the organization? By turning to the grounded-in-action perspective of ventriloquism, I can more deeply and thoroughly account for what is happening when someone attributes an action to a meeting, and how this in turn affects future conversations and the organization at large. The addition of this kind of analysis to my ethnography of communication analysis will allow me to understand a more nuanced view of what is happening when the
What can ventriloquism as a perspective contribute to an understanding of SPC’s metacommunication about meetings? More fundamentally, what can it teach us about the local significance of meetings? In the previous chapter, I explicated the form and function of meetings, particularly the norms of interpretation, from a perspective informed by the ethnography of communication. In this chapter, I take ventriloquism as a perspective to further examine this metacommunication. By taking this perspective, I can further nuance a complex understanding of what the members of SPC are doing when they talk about meetings. This chapter, therefore, seeks to answer my second research question: What kinds of agency are given to the meeting figure when members of SPC metacommunicate about meetings? I start with an analysis of four excerpts that is informed by ventriloquism. Once again, ventriloquism defines agency as “making a difference” and an agent as “what or who appears to make a difference” (Cooren, 2006, p. 82). After this analysis, I interpret what this perspective means for SPC and its members, and explain the implications of the analysis.
In this section, I use ventriloquism as a lens through which to view the February 2103 disagreement between Mary and me. This disagreement occurred in the Facebook meeting where we posed two different interpretations of meetings that seemed to be in tension with each other, as I discussed in the last chapter. This meeting is one of the earliest conversations where the meeting served as a sustained topic of conversation between members of SPC. This excerpt is the same as excerpt 12 of the previous chapter with an addition of seven lines at the beginning
In lines 3-4 I point out that “meetings” are “situations for getting information out”, which “overlaps” with the function that Wiggio serves in SPC. Both Wiggio and meetings serve as spaces where members can inform each other. To put this another way, Wiggio and meetings both provide a communicative situation where members can talk about information. Without the
may need to find another channel through which they can inform each other. In lines 8-9 Mary explicates what she believes meetings do. Meetings provide a space where members of SPC can “see where everyone is at”. They also “force some conversation” and “make things more personal”. Assuming that these are actions that cannot be achieved with Wiggio, one would call and organize a meeting if these three actions are desired. Members of SPC require meetings to be able to accomplish these actions with each other. Mary poses the meeting as a key ingredient to accomplishing these actions. What we see happening here is Mary saying that meetings can make a difference to how communication happens between the members of SPC, thus giving them agency.
However, I disagree with characterizing meetings as “informational”. In lines 12 and 14 I mention that meetings are “about doing”, and that a meeting is supposed to be “doing something or making something”. I even go so far to extrapolate this to a broader category of “communication” in line 21. Even assuming that all communication does something, I return to the subject “meeting”, and characterize our conversations as “meetings” because “we work things out”. “Working things out” and “doing”, thus, must be key elements of the meeting figure, and elements that “conversations” cannot claim. I could have similarly said that conversations are also about doing, because I had broadened this action to all of “communication”. Instead, I bring the meeting back in as a necessary frame for what is occurring in particular conversations about SPC. Meetings, not conversations or even the broader “communication” category, allow members of SPC to “work things out”. Calling some communication “a meeting” versus naming it something else seems to makes a difference. The
“conversation” typically may not enable the same action. If conversation makes a difference in SPC, it is not allowed to make this key difference of “working things out”.
In this excerpt, Mary and I suggest a few different organizational actions that the meeting plays a key role in enacting. First, Mary suggests that the meeting is about “seeing where everyone is at”, “forcing some conversation”, and “making things more personal”. This kind of characterization gives the meetings actions that it enacts, perhaps doing things to or for people, such as “forcing” or “making”. Meetings are given an action-agency in these formulations.
Although another prominent form of communication in SPC, Wiggio, also gets information to the members of SPC, Wiggio is not said to be able to accomplish these additional actions.
Meetings, therefore, make a difference for communication, and how information is communicated. Next, I propose that meetings provide space for members to “work things out”, which is not afforded to conversation. I also propose that a meeting could usurp a “conversation” because that conversation moves in a direction to “work things out”. Again, calling a kind of communication where people “work things out” a meeting seems to be important. The meeting makes a difference here as well, and might thus be called an agent. This kind of agency differs from the above action-agency. Meetings are said to provide the context for certain organizational actions to occur. This might be called context-agency.
In ventriloquizing this meeting figure in this excerpt, Mary and I both attribute an amount of difference-making to the meeting. A meeting could not accomplish this difference without the human actors in the scene. It is up to the human agents to “see where everyone is at”, to have a “conversation” that might be “forced” upon them, to “make things more personal”, and to “work things out”, but the meeting is posed as an important part of accomplishing these actions. The
they were never called, then it follows that these actions would not take place in a coherent way.
Another communicative form would have to be imagined and designed in order to accomplish these actions. Cooren (2006, 2010) discusses differences between upstream and downstream agency. Upstream from the agency of meetings, which enables these actions, someone must call or organize a meeting, recognizing it as a necessary event that should take place for these actions to be accomplished. This upstream recognition depends on and determines the context-agency.
Downstream from the agency of meetings, people must actually get together, talk, and through that talk accomplish these actions. Although this could happen outside of meetings, the members of SPC here recognize meetings as necessary to accomplish the actions of “seeing where everyone is at”, “forcing some conversation”, “making things more personal”, and “working things out”. These are examples of the action-agency of meetings.
Mary first had the idea for the September 2013 board meeting as a meeting to discuss meetings and whether or not SPC’s reliance on internet communication was precluding older, more experienced, yet less computer-savvy volunteers from joining and staying with the organization. The agenda had the typical topics of conversation that I detailed in the previous chapter, but the meeting and several questions about meetings for members to ponder before attending were included on the agenda. Prior to the following excerpt, which is about two-thirds through the meeting, Mary had said that she wanted to improve meetings with my help because I was researching meetings. Lisa had made the suggestion that SPC should have fiesta meetings, which would include tacos, and Mary suggested using a talking sombrero to indicate who had the floor in a fiesta meeting. The topic was dropped, and the meeting moved on to another topic of
interlude, and then paused for a few seconds after a topic transition marker (“so”) just before this excerpt begins.
Excerpt 15 (September 2013, Board of directors meeting, 13:58 Mary, Lisa, Lise, Sean, and Katie)
Mary starts by saying that she has a “fight” with herself with regard to meetings. In order to “fight with herself” about this topic, something about meetings must have challenged her perception of meetings. Based on the analysis of the February 2013 conversation, Mary had been placing value on the informational aspect of meetings in the past. Here, she attributes efficient information exchange to SPC’s online communication in lines 7-8, thus meetings are not typically required for an informational purpose. However, as she points out in lines 8-9,
communication” involves actions such as “showing we’re a team”, “knowing that we’re working together”, and “face to face interaction”. These cannot be accomplished on Wiggio, and meetings are posed as the only other alternative. The character of meetings has then changed from centrally communicating information to centrally maintaining and fostering team relationships. This change of character might have challenged Mary’s views on meetings, thus precipitating a “fight”. The meeting itself did not change its own character; this change was produced through multiple instances of ventriloquizing the meeting figure in conversation between the members of SPC. Each conversation added more dimensions to the meeting figure.
This conversation also adds new dimensions to the figure. Mary poses more ways that meetings are associated with context-agency. She says that meetings enable “showing we’re a team”, “brainstorming”, “talking face to face”, and “being in communication”. The meeting is positioned as a contributing factor to their accomplishment. Mary poses the meeting as an integral part of completing these four actions as an organizational group. Without meetings, the online communication via Wiggio is not enough to accomplish these seemingly key features of organizing together. Once again, the meeting provides the context for these actions to take place between the members.
Two more aspects of meetings come out from the ensuing talk between members in this meeting. First, Lise says that she “feels like they’re more productive”, and that she is even “more productive” in lines 20-21. Although the previous turns are about having a “fiesta”, the “fiesta” was only a proposed meeting replacement, so Lise could not speak to whether she feels more productive in a “fiesta”. Instead, she is saying that she feels like meetings are “more productive”, in response to the topic that Mary has put on the table. Sean interjects and says that
compared to communicating online, presumably through Wiggio. Lise points out that when members are communicating online everyone is not there “at the same time”, and the danger of this is that people “don’t know what they’re speaking about”. The negative comparison here points to some important things that are only associated with meetings and not online communication. Meetings allow multiple members to meet at the same time, providing a more focused gathering space, thus making a more productive type of interaction. Mary echoes and solidifies this productive interpretation in line 35 through a gist formation.