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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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A planned gathering, whether internal or external to an organization, in which the participants have some perceived (if not guaranteed) role, have some forewarning (either longstanding or quite improvisational) of the event, which has itself some purpose or “reason,” a time, place, and, in some general sense, an organizational

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Boden (1994) limited her definition to only those meetings that occur in organizations, whereas Schwartzman (1989) included groups as well. Perhaps by limiting her definition to only organizational meetings, Boden (1994) also emphasizes some different aspects of meetings that Schwartzman (1989) does not address. Boden (1994) does not specify a minimum number of participants required to hold a meeting, although she does include multiple participants who have

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their own. If a meeting can be internal or external, then these participants can either be part of an organization or outsiders to an organization. Boden also emphasizes preparation for the meeting, including some forewarning of the event itself, as well as a time and place for the meeting. A meeting also requires some purpose to serve some organizational function, as Schwartzman (1989) also noted.

From these two definitions, I take a few features to define a meeting. A meeting must have multiple people attending, although the set minimum may differ among organizations and groups. Participants in a meeting must have either forewarning or agree to a meeting for it to occur. Meetings also must have some purpose to sustain them, and this purpose is typically related to the functioning of an organization or group. These features allow for a wide range of forms and functions of meetings that may be particular to groups, organizations, and communities.

Through turning my attention to meetings and meeting talk in this project, I examine both how members of an organization constitute different meeting forms and functions, as well as how these meetings can influence these members and the organization. As Schwartzman (1989)


Meetings are an important sense-making form for organizations and communities because they may define, represent, and also reproduce social entities and relationships. In this way, individuals may both use and be used by this form. As a sense-making form, meetings are significant because they are the organization

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organization, as well as how members may be “used by” meetings. Although organizational members can use meetings to discuss certain topics, make decisions, and (re)create their social realities of organizations and groups, how much does the form and function of a particular meeting enable them to do so? Armed with this curiosity and definition of meetings, I turn to how different kinds of meetings have been distinguished by prior researchers.

“A meeting” vs. “to meet”. Tracy and Dimock (2004) note a difference between using the verb “to meet” and the noun “a meeting” in conversation. The verb “to meet” could reference several actions, only one of which is holding “a meeting” with the features I detailed above. “To meet” someone could refer to making an acquaintance or grabbing a cup of coffee and chit-chatting with a friend. Neither of these meet the feature of meetings that requires some purpose related to the functioning of an organization or group. Using the noun form, “a meeting”, typically refers to the kind of meeting that I have defined above.

Different kinds of meetings. Several kinds of groups of people can and do hold meetings, and the features of some of these groups are not readily applicable to the kinds of meetings that I have observed and participated in with SPC. Although they use the same term, and share the same basic set of features, meetings of some types of groups have specific expectations that are not shared with organizational meetings. For example, the Quakers use the term “meeting” to refer to their worship service. A Quaker meeting does have multiple people in attendance, includes some talk, and has a spiritual purpose (Molina-Markham, 2012, 2014).

However, the purpose of this meeting may or may not be related to the group itself functioning toward some end, and I suspect that participants in a Quaker meeting would hesitate to call this

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Another type of meeting that has the basic features of meetings that I outlined above, but may not be wholly comparable to the kinds of meetings that I discuss here, are public meetings.

Karen Tracy has studied public meetings extensively, from school board meetings (Tracy 2007a, 2010; Tracy & Ashcraft, 2001) to court hearings (Tracy 2011, 2012). Tracy & Dimock (2004) point out some of the differences between organizational and public meetings. One of these differences is in who attends the meeting. Organizational meetings typically have a set list of participants, whereas public meetings leave the participant pool open-ended to anyone who is a part of a community or larger entity. One set of people form a meeting party, and another set of people form an audience for the meeting. Another difference is in topic progression.

Organizational meetings many times have an agenda that guides the topics of discussion in meetings, whereas public meetings may leave some of the topics open for audience participants to introduce. Like with Quaker meetings, public meetings are not incomparable to organizational or group meetings as I have defined them, but there are still particular features that organizational meetings rarely share.

Features of an organizational meeting. With a focus particularly on organizational meetings, there are some features that have been defined as constitutive of this form.

Schwartzman’s (1989) seminal work The Meeting introduced these features, which are adapted from Hymes’s (1972) SPEAKING framework from the ethnography of communication. Her work has been used as the foundation for other researchers’ research into meetings, including Milburn’s (2009) work on nonprofit organizations. Ethnographers of communication have made the case that her work can be used as the basis for studying meetings as culturally-bound events (Sprain & Boromisza-Habashi, 2012). Schwartzman’s (1989) work sets up meetings as a site for

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have influence on what happens within organizations. Her framework trains the analyst’s eye to broader components of meetings that shape these practices rather than the particular forms of discourses that occur within them. The seven components of meetings that Schwartzman identified are: participants, channels and codes, frame, meeting talk (which includes the subcomponents of topic and results, norms of speaking and interaction, oratorical genres and styles, and interest and participation), norms of interpretation, goals and outcomes, and meeting cycles and patterns. I used this framework as the basis for my analysis of meetings, which I will detail further in the methods chapter.

Meetings in Research Just as meetings are almost a guaranteed part of organizational life, they are also an almost guaranteed part of research on organizations and communities. Schwartzman (1989) pointed out the exigency of her focus on meetings as an object of study because to that point, meetings had only been used as sites for studying other phenomena. To this day, meetings are an almost ubiquitous part of the research process, used as a tool for gathering data on other phenomena, rather than as an object of such research. Before expanding on the research done on meetings as an object of research, I first want to explore the difference between using meetings as a research tool and using meetings as a research object.

Meetings as research tool. Research in organizations and businesses can hardly avoid meetings, and thus meetings seem to be part of many methods sections. For example, Ashcraft (2001, 2006) used participant observation in meetings as one part of a methodology to uncover the constitution of the feminist-bureaucratic organizational form. Another example is Feldman and associates’ (Feldman 2004; Pentland & Feldman, 2005, 2008; Rerup & Feldman, 2011) use

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and Feldman (2008) suggest that meetings themselves could be an organizational routine, but they do not explore this in depth. Meetings can also be used by the researcher as a tool for consultation on other matters, such as in May’s (2011) use of meetings to share questionnaire results and spark discussion about the results. I suspect that many organizational and business communication scholars attend and observe meetings in the course of their research projects.

However, only some of these scholars have focused on meetings themselves as the object of research.

Meetings as research object. Among those who have focused on the meeting as an object worthy of research itself are Barbour and Gill (in press), who used both grounded practical theory (Craig & Tracy, 1995) and design theory (Aakhus & Jackson, 2005) to study daily status meetings in a nuclear power plant. They took the meetings as a designed feature, and a feature that could be designed, and developed an expanded view of communication with the participants, in order to expand the usefulness and potential of these status meetings. This is only one example of what a researcher could do when focused on meetings as the object of research.

Angouri and Marra (2010) proposed that corporate meetings are a genre of talk on their own, rather than a communication event that includes oratorical genres. Other researchers have attempted to develop a typology for meetings. Volkema and Niderman (1995) have a typology of six kinds of meetings, ranging on scales that include variations in focus (single-focus vs.

multi-focus) and hierarchical format (egalitarian to hierarchy). Bilbow (2002) also developed a

typology of meetings based on his empirical study. He found three types of meetings in his site:

cross-departmental coordination, weekly department, and brainstorming meetings. Some researchers have even used single meetings as a case study for researching several

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videotaped meeting gathered chapters on leadership (Taylor & Robichaud, 2007; Pomerantz & Denvir, 2007; Fairhurst, 2007), emotion (Tracy, 2007b; Putnam, 2007; Fitch & Foley, 2007), and decision-making (McPhee, Corman, & Iverson, 2007; Sanders, 2007; Stohl, 2007). The following section of my thesis will expand on many of the topics that researchers have examined when taking the meeting as an object, rather than tool, of research.

Topics of Research With meetings as the focus of research, many scholars have chosen to focus on various aspects of meetings. Some focus on the people, including the meeting chair, and how they establish and use their role. Research on power and leadership in meetings has also focused on the chair, because many times a person of authority will continue to establish their authority by chairing meetings. Other scholars have focused on the meeting frame, as Schwartzman (1989) terms opening and closing the meeting. Yet others focus on the talk within meetings, specifically on topic progression and turn-taking in meetings. A final area of research that I will examine is research on how meetings and meeting talk are used to establish individual and community identities and cultures.

Leading the meeting. Leadership is an important part of the literature on meetings. Although my study here is not focused on leadership per se, leadership and authority are aspects of the cultural milieu of any group, and thus are included throughout the analytic chapters. Many meetings are led by an appointed meeting chair. This chair serves as a “switchboard” for talk (Boden, 1994). The chair can be appointed for just one meeting, or could be a role that someone holds for a period of time, such as a chairperson of a board of directors.

A person’s chairing style can be more or less formal. Sometimes switching chairs when the

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Schnurr, & Marra, 2007). Pomerantz and Denvir (2007) showed how a meeting chair may direct conversation, but still wait for the approval of other meeting participants before the conversation is directed. Their study shows that not all meeting chairs take on leadership roles as well, although many do take on leadership roles.

Studies of meeting chairs show how the leadership of a chair can establish hierarchy, egalitarianism, or both. In business communication, Van Praet (2008) analyzed meetings at a British embassy to show that the ambassador established his power in the embassy during meetings that were meant to form solidarity. This shows that multiple frames (Goffman, 1974) can apply to one particular kind of meeting within an organization. Cockett (2003) examined how one committee chair established herself as both the authority of the committee and as an egalitarian member of the committee through her fluctuation between “I” and “we” while speaking.

A leader’s chairing style has implications for the meeting participants beyond the relationship between a chair and the participants. A leader could be more concerned with either social relationships or problem-solving (Schmitt, 2006), which would have effects on the focus or purposes of meetings. A meeting chair also has the ability to fix the meaning of a discussion during the meeting. Clifton (2006) showed how a “gist” formation fixes the meaning of previous discussion in more or less accurate ways. The fixed meaning may not reflect the nuances and complexity of the prior discussion, thus privileging some ideas over others. Finally, a meeting chair also has an important role in conflict-handling. Holmes and Marra (2004) delineate between four kinds of conflict-handling measures that a chair could choose: avoidance, diversion, acknowledgment and management, and resolution by authority. Depending on which

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meeting. Although the meeting chair’s role could be challenged or negotiated by other members, meeting chairs do typically have a specialized role in meetings with leadership expectations. As the facilitator, a meeting chair also has influence on many of the other topics that researchers have studied in meetings. I address a few of these in the next sections.

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