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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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Ventriloqual speech may be seen by others to merely personify inanimate objects and immaterial concerns. An argument could be made that this kind of speech is only a figurative way of speaking, and thus is part of a speaking style rather than a different phenomenon. Figures of speech, such as metaphors (Cornelissen, 2005) and tropes (Putnam, 2004; Oswick, Putnam, & Keenoy, 2004), have been shown to play a central role in the constitution of organizations and organizational life (Cooren et al., 2013). Thus, rather than be attributed as a mere speaking style of one person, ventriloquizing (and being ventriloquized by) figures should be taken more seriously.

Once a metaphor or other figure of speech loses its author, like a text might (Cooren,

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characteristics, which are brought out by different ventriloquists, just like any other human member of the organization. Cooren et al. (2013) even argue that such figures should be considered “full-fledged participants in the enactment of everyday situations” (p. 264, emphasis in original).

Cooren and colleagues’ notion of agency is distinct from the communicative agency that some ethnographers of communication have used. Hymes (1974) mentioned that certain inanimate objects or forces, if “listened to” by participants, could be studied. Carbaugh and Boromisza-Habashi (2011) take this notion in regards to Blackfeet forms of listening. The Blackfeet reported on conversations held with a raven and a stream, among other objects and animals. The authors use the term “agent” to refer to these non-human entities with which humans communicate. Cooren’s work with ventriloquism recognizes that texts can communicate with us (Cooren, 2004), and if these are stripped from authorship and stand on their own, they enforce that we must accomplish some action. However, in his later writing, Cooren (2010;

Cooren et al., 2013) emphasizes how figures or agents can be brought into a present conversation through ventriloquism, as if it were interacting with the people conversing as well. This departs from Hymes (1974) communicative agency, and Carbaugh and Boromisza-Habashi’s (2011) illustration of such agency, because ethnographers of communication require a person to report on a conversation that they had in the past with a nonhuman agent. Ventriloquism focuses on how nonhuman agents or figures are present within conversations between people, as they are voiced by the people in conversation, and as they make a difference in organizations, rather than reports of conversations between a person and a figure.

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interpret SPC’s meetings, using metacommunication about meetings as a particular window into the practice. As I have shown, most scholars who have used meetings in research have either used them as research tools, or as research objects through which they examine enactments power, talk, identity, community, and culture that are particular to meetings. None of the studies cited here have focused particularly on the metacommunication about meetings and what this talk reveals about the particular form and function of meetings in an organization and about the organization itself. The ethnography of communication has also taken a similar perspective on meetings, using them as resources or objects through which to study cultural codes (Baxter, 1993; Ruud, 1995, 2000; Milburn, 2009).

As Fairhurst and Putnam (2004) pointed out, the ethnography of communication and ventriloquism have different perspectives on what an organization is and how it comes to be.

The assumptions inherent in these perspectives enable and constrain particular ways of seeing the phenomena under scrutiny. The ethnography of communication usually assumes the organization as a container for talk, including the talk of meetings, and thus examines how the talk is influenced by the organizational setting. Here in this study, then, I do tend to refer to SPC as an “organization”, and how the members of this organization have constituted meetings, especially in chapter three where I primarily use this perspective. Ventriloquism takes a different view, seeing discourse, like meetings, and organizations as mutually constitutive of each other through interaction. This perspective then examines how people constitute agential figures, and how these agential figures in turn imbue people with particular concerns when ventriloquized.

By using two perspectives on one phenomena, I can uncover a more nuanced

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meetings. In order to accommodate each perspective, I have two main research questions that guide this thesis. Each draws primarily from one of the perspectives. These research questions


RQ 1: What is the form and function of SPC’s meetings, and what does metacommunication about meetings reveal about the norms of interpretation of meetings?

RQ 2: What kinds of agency are given to the meeting figure when members of SPC

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In order to find the answers to my two research questions, I utilized three methods:

participant observation, interviewing, and document collection. These methods resulted in a set of data including field notes, transcripts, and documents. After producing and collecting these documents, I analyzed them through coding and analytic units partly inspired by the ethnography of communication and Schwartzman’s (1989) framework. I describe this analytic method below, as well as considerations of reflexivity. However, first I begin with a description of the scene.

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The scene that I examined is the organization Suicide Prevention Campaign (SPC) and, more specifically, its meetings. SPC started as a one-woman suicide-prevention and mental health awareness campaign in 2010 after the founder, Mary, heard about five teens’ suicides in central Pennsylvania in as many months. The founder worked on her own for this campaign with occasional help from friends and family members until the summer of 2012 when she started forming committees and the board of directors with people of various skill sets to help shape the present organization. Currently this organization has about twenty volunteers working through the different committees and the board of directors. As of April 2014, the necessary documents to file for official 501(c)(3) nonprofit status have been reviewed by the IRS, and some minor required changes were made and returned through an expedited process. The IRS representative who contacted us expects that we will have our 501(c)(3) status by mid-May 2014.

SPC is an organization that is constituted through two formal internal means of

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of these meetings are used to coordinate the actions of the members and organizers of SPC to meet specific goals that do not require the official 501(c)(3) status of being a non-profit organization. Some of these meetings, called “events”, are where the actual mission of SPC plays out, and members of SPC visit groups of teenagers at churches and schools in central Pennsylvania. In these events they present information to the general public about suicide awareness and prevention in addition to a few related mental health topics. Internal meetings, such as the annual board meeting and committee meetings, are held physically in a rented conference room, coffee shop, or more recently in the founder’s home and also virtually using video-conferencing software or conference phone calls. Except for one committee meeting, I have attended meetings through virtual means in this study.

Another way of communicating that SPC uses to constitute itself is the social networking site Wiggio. Wiggio is a group-based social networking site that allows members to post information and comments, schedule meetings, and upload documents and pictures. Any document that has been distributed to members of the organization is uploaded and stored to Wiggio as one virtual backup of these documents. This site hosts the five closed-membership groups that exist in the organization: the board of directors, the fundraising committee, the community relations committee (which was disbanded after the September 2013 meeting), the marketing committee, and the education committee. Many members of the organization are part of two or more of these groups at once. I am a member of the board of directors, I was chair of the now-disbanded community relations committee, and I am a member of the fundraising committee. In addition to posting information for other members to read and make comments, members use Wiggio to schedule meetings and post documents like meeting agendas and

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a frequent topic of discussion on this website. In this paper I focus on metacommunicative talk about meetings to analyze the form, function, and figure of meetings.

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In SPC there were two sites for my year and a half long observation. The first was meetings. In this project, meetings have been scheduled anywhere from three in one month to once every four months. I attended seven out of eleven meetings held between November 2012 and December 2013. Meetings that I attended included as few as two members and as many as nine members. The details on the eleven meetings, including date, meeting group, attendees, and the data that I have for each is included in the table in Appendix 1. At each meeting that was formally announced and occurred for one of the four committees or the board of directors, I attended virtually via webcam, recorded the meeting, and kept a field journal. After each meeting I transcribed the recordings verbatim and with some prosodic features. These transcripts allowed me to examine the form, function, and figure of meetings. Field notes taken of these meetings also provided the larger context of meetings as well as my particular attendance and sense-making during those meetings.

To supplement this, I also observed my participation in the other communicative practices of organizational members. This included checking Wiggio and speaking with members informally about what happened with the organization and committees. Although I position these other modes of communicating as similar and supplemental to my inquiry on meetings, this does not mean that these practices are supplemental for organizational members.

These spaces that I engaged in as sense-making before and after meetings might be the more

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I also conducted semi-structured informant and respondent interviews with three board members of the organization: Mary, Lisa, and Lise. Interview participation was elicited through announcements during the general discussion portion of meetings and through a posting on Wiggio. Informant interview questions were discussed to gather knowledge about the organization and its history. Respondent interview questions, instead, focused on the interviewee’s personal opinions and views. These interviews allow me insight into the ways that each of these members makes sense of their participation in the organization as well as how they would potentially alter the future direction of the organization. Other questions focused specifically on the communication of organizational members to examine the norms and expectations for meetings. The interview guide in Table 1 is the guide that I used for these interviews, adapting certain questions for respondents as necessary, such as rephrasing a question when someone had already provided an answer in a previous turn. I collaborated with the founder and president, Mary, to design some of these questions in order to be better able to address the concerns she had about meetings and to aid in the ongoing discussion and improvement of meetings in SPC.

Table 1 Interview Guide What is your position in the organization?

• How did you first hear about the organization?

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How do you view your role in the organization? What is your function or purpose in the • organization?

What are your expectations for a nonprofit organization? What goals should a nonprofit •

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What are your expectations of interaction in an organization, generally? Should interaction • happen at certain intervals, or through specific means?

What are your expectations of interaction with other members of this organization? Should • interaction happen at certain intervals, or through specific means?

What do meetings allow people to do in SPC? What are meetings used for? What purpose • do meetings have?

What are the strengths of SPC’S meetings? What goes well in meetings?

• What are some of the drawbacks of SPC’S meetings? What could be improved?

• If you could change something about how the organization is run or its mission and vision, •

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In addition to writing fieldnotes and transcribing meetings and interviews, I also collected the documents that organizational members have access to. Among these documents are the official organizing documents of the organization, such as the application for the 501(c)(3) status, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and meeting minutes. I also included the online written communication that occurs between members on Wiggio. This platform is sometimes used to replace meetings, as well as to plan and make sense of meetings afterward. Although all of these

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documents also constitute the organization and the relationship between SPC, its board of directors and various committees, and its members. These texts could provide insight into how meetings have been viewed in various ways since the beginning of the organization.

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One of the hallmarks of qualitative research is reflexivity. Lindlof and Taylor (2011) called reflexivity "the heartbeat of a qualitative research project" (p.72). Butler-Kisber (2010) added that reflexivity is where researchers examine "what perspectives are brought to the work and why we see things the way we do" (p. 19). S. Tracy (2010) echoes this, placing selfreflexivity under sincerity as one of her eight big-tent criteria for excellent qualitative research.

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