«University of Colorado, Boulder CU Scholar Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations Communication Spring 5-28-2014 Form, Function, and Figure: ...»
For a meeting to be considered a desired part of organizing, it must have “purpose”, as Lisa shouts in line 57. Sean provides an interpretation in lines 55-56 that provides justification for when meetings should occur so that they do have purpose. When “the work” becomes “disorganized”, then Sean poses that Mary “could bring us all back in with a meeting”.
“Bringing us all back in”, which could be characterized as re-organizing, provides the “purpose” for meetings that Lisa is excited about in lines 57 and 59. Therefore a meeting is given purpose by the human members, an upstream form of agency, just as the meeting brings the members of SPC “back in” in the downstream form of agency and as another version of action-agency.
Human agents make a difference for meetings, giving them purpose, and in turn meetings make a difference for humans, giving them a space to re-organize and bring members “back in”.
As Mary notes in lines 67-69, when she feels that there is “just disorganization” on the platform Wiggio, then she will take that as her cue to “schedule meetings and put us back on track”. To pull apart the agencies enacted in this short utterance, first, to create “just disorganization” on Wiggio, members will have to have not posted for a while. When members are not posting on Wiggio, then Wiggio may not be serving to inform the members of what is
are reading the updates. This may, then, create the sense of “just disorganization” that Mary refers to in her utterance. A disorganized organization is, simply, an oxymoron. Mary, wanting to organize the organization again, says that she will “schedule meetings”. This action, scheduling a meeting, is linked with the action of “put[ting] us back on track”. The meeting, then, takes a key role in “putting us back on track”. Without a meeting, or perhaps multiple meetings, and the communication inherent to the practice, there is no clear alternative to how SPC would reorganize. The meeting, thus, could be said to take at least a partial role in organizing SPC. If meetings organize people, actions, and the organization itself, then meetings should take a place among the other agents in SPC, including the human agents. Through the joint production of ventriloquism, Mary speaks the meeting into being an agential figure, by attributing this organizing aspect of “making a difference” to it.
Finally, one phrase that is repeated throughout this meeting presents an interesting case for ventriloquism. Mary begins this pattern in lines 6-7, mentioning that she does not “want to have meetings just for the sake of having a meeting”. How can a meeting happen for its own sake? Sean elaborates on this phrase in lines 49-50, saying that “meetings become for the sake of meetings when things get scheduled”. A regularly scheduled meeting would be held for its own sake, perhaps because there is no “purpose” around which to organize. Mary then agrees with this, expanding that members might think “we have a meeting coming up so we might as well do it”. In lines 65-66, she reformulates Sean’s assertion by saying that SPC does not need to have “set meetings” at regularly scheduled intervals, because that would be holding “meetings for the sake of meetings”. What is interesting in this exchange and interpretation of “meetings for the sake of meetings” is that the human influence on holding meetings is hardly recognized.
sake of meetings”. She also says that “we don’t need” scheduled meetings in line 64-65. Sean, however, erases the human influence on these overly-scheduled meetings. He does not use “have”, as Mary does. In lines 49-50 he says that “meetings become for the sake of meetings”, as if once something becomes scheduled, then meetings may perpetuate themselves. A meeting cannot happen without humans to arrange it beforehand and to show up at the appointed time. If humans need to arrange meetings that might happen for their own sake, why is it not a human’s responsibility that the meeting feels obligatory or is an undesired part of organizing? This responsibility has been shifted to the meeting, as if this figure can act in its own right without a human ventriloquist.
Throughout this excerpt, the participants in this discussion are ventriloquizing the meeting for various purposes. Like the February 2013 excerpt, the meeting is again said to enable or allow several actions to occur, including “showing we’re a team”, “brainstorming”, “talking face to face”, and being “in communication”, thus showing context-agency. The meeting figure is also given different agential actions. First, Mary fought with herself about meetings, because their character challenged her initial thoughts about their purpose and usefulness. Then Lise admitted that she feels more focused and productive when the meeting is around. The meeting is also purported to (re-)organize members. However, if meetings became regularly scheduled occurrences in SPC, then the meeting would shoulder the responsibility for being unnecessary, unwanted, and perhaps even boring. Through this shouldering of responsibility, the meeting would take the blame instead of the human agents who would have to call and regularly schedule these meetings in the upstream.
Other interactions where meetings were often discussed were in the interviews that I conducted with some of the board members. Below, I include two excerpts from these interviews and analyze each of them with a ventriloquism perspective. The first interview excerpt is from one of the interviews that I conducted with Mary. For this interview we were on Facebook chat, like the February 2013 excerpt above, and I was asking her about the possible reformulation of the community resources committee into an event committee. Before the excerpt we were talking about how Doug, who is less computer-savvy than the other members, seems to be confused about what is happening in the online communication on Wiggio and therefore Mary found him less trustworthy to represent SPC in public. Mary had emphasized her dislike of having “meetings for the sake of having meetings” because Wiggio is a faster and more efficient means of communicating information. This interview was prior to the September meeting that I analyzed above, and later in the interview Mary suggests that she will schedule that meeting in September 2013 to bring the matter of meetings and Wiggio to the board.
Excerpt 16 (August 2013, Interview, Lines 143-157, Katie and Mary)
In the above excerpt, I began by acknowledging in line 1 that Mary did not want “to have meetings for the sake of having meetings”. Mary had used this phrase a few minutes prior to this excerpt. The use of this phrase in this interview was not explained well by either of us, and it is the first documented instance that I have of a member of SPC using it. In line 3-5, I used the meeting to critique Mary’s current meeting-hate, taking her phrase “meeting for the sake of meetings” to mean that meetings and Wiggio both have the same purpose to inform the members of SPC. Meetings also allow members to meet each other, which was what I noted when I said that I have not met Theresa or Heather, who were newer and promising volunteers at the time.
Mary posed my location as the disadvantage, rather than the lack of meetings in line 6.
However, I ventriloquized the meeting to say that it brings a “sense of community and immediacy”. This sense was lacking from a current discussion on Wiggio about the mockups for a resource kit that Lise made and posted. At that point, there were “few comments”, whereas if a meeting had been held for this purpose, Mary could have gotten an immediate “conversation” about these mockups. I was advocating for the usefulness of the meeting, however Mary did not see the advantage at that moment because “we have the luxury of time”. This time was provided by the lack of 501(c)(3) status, therefore this legal status seems to make a difference for the frequency of meetings.
The next interview excerpt below occurred between Lise and I online. The interview happened in March 2014, almost six months after the September 2013 meeting excerpt, and three months after the last meeting held by any group in the organization. I used the interview guide detailed in the methods chapter to structure the topics of the interview. This excerpt is about
and she had provided me a list of functions that meetings serve. Continuing on, I asked about the strengths of SPC’s meetings in line 1.
Excerpt 17 (March 2014, Interview, Lines 60-65, Katie and Lise) 1 K: What are the strengths of SPC’s meetings? What goes well?
2 Le: Our president is great at leading our meetings. She keeps things moving along and 3 is always looking for ways to improve how our meetings run.
4 Our meetings always have agendas to follow that have been prepared before hand 5 and they are always very productive in achieving what we set out to talk about.
Lise starts in this excerpt by associating meetings with Mary (“our president”). Mary is said to “keep things moving” and to “look for ways to improve how our meetings are run”.
From a ventriloqual perspective, Lise might associate meetings with Mary because Mary has become the voice of meetings. Mary decides when they are scheduled and when they are unnecessary. Mary brought the topic of meetings to the board for discussion to find a way to improve them. Mary chairs the meetings. Mary prepares the agendas for meetings. Mary’s influence on meetings is inextricable from the meetings themselves. Lise started her answer to a question about meetings by talking about Mary. She ends her answer about meetings by not explicitly talking about Mary, but rather implicitly applying this connection to the “productive” nature of meetings. Lise’s previous talk did not connect Mary and meetings so closely, but Mary’s influence on meetings seems to be tied to the success and productivity of meetings.
Out of this analysis I now wish to conduct some interpretation of this meeting data from a ventriloquism perspective. I have shown how the members of SPC invoke, incarnate, and enact a meeting figure when they metacommunicate about meetings. In the following section, I first discuss the voice of the meeting, Mary, and the role that she plays in the incarnation of the
from the meeting figure as constructed by the members of SPC. Finally, I discuss what this ventriloqual metacommunication means for the structure of the organization.
As I have shown throughout this analysis, meetings make a difference. However, they do not do so of their own accord. These meetings are given agency, constituted through communication, by the human members of SPC. One particular member became the voice of the meeting figure. Although I had begun the discussion on meetings, and I even advocated for them to the president of SPC, Mary became the recognized voice of the meeting. As the chair of most meetings, Mary decided when meetings were necessary, and even made meetings a topic of conversation on the agenda of the September 2013 meeting. Until the matter was discussed in that meeting, Mary may have been attached to the figure. She was certainly attached to it throughout our conversations, although her attachment was probably also affected by my research interest. Mary “fought” with herself about meetings, she proclaimed them to happen, and she would have also been the human agent that could have been held responsible if meetings were held “for the sake of meetings”. Other members, including Lise, attached Mary to meetings, so much so that when I asked about meetings, Lise answered about Mary. Through this attachment to meetings, Mary was enabled and constrained to using the meeting figure in particular ways. A meeting, in SPC, is seen as a relatively formalized practice, which differentiates this practice from more informal, ordinary conversation. The formality of a meeting may be seen by these people as undesirable in many circumstances, but in the case of disorganization the formalities might be welcome. Mary is more likely to invoke the meeting figure to use its formal or organizing properties, rather than to try to invoke this form when informality or dis-organization is needed. For example, there is an upcoming event in May
celebratory gathering, and thus has not been called a meeting because there is no organizing required.
So if the meeting figure acts and is enacted by humans, how is this done in action? In order for the meeting to have agency, there must first be an agential move upstream. In SPC, the upstream agency is primarily accomplished by Mary or the meeting chair with some cooperation of other members. First, a meeting must have some motivation or “purpose”, as determined by the organizer. Then the meeting party must find a common time for the meeting to occur.
Finally the meeting chair, usually Mary, will determine the topics of conversation to be outlined on a meeting agenda. With all of these moves made, then the meeting can enact its contextagency.
After all of this work prior to the meeting, a meeting can only occur if certain downstream contingencies are met. First, people must actually attend the meeting at the appointed time. Then talk or some form of communication must be able to occur, so participants must be able to communicate and understand each other. For SPC, someone must also serve as chair to guide the discussion and keep it on track. Then, for the meeting to successfully accomplish its agential move, the talk within a meeting must accomplish the actions that are associated with having a meeting. These include: “seeing where everyone is at”, “forcing some conversation”, “making things more personal”, “working things out”, “showing we’re a team”, “brainstorming”, “talking face to face”, and “being in communication”. Through these actions the meeting is said to organize the members of SPC, enacting an action-agency.
It seems to me that some of the actions that meetings accomplish – allow, provide, enable – show that the meeting is seen as playing a gatekeeping role for SPC. The meeting as a