Communication and organization

What’s the relationship between communication and organization? Many will agree that you cannot have an organization without communication, but this relationship can be understood in many different ways. “Communicative Constitution of Organization” or CCO proposes that, in fact, organization is communication.

Organisation Map

A graphical representation of how Pixar is organized (courtesy of Fiona McGowan)

I came across this theory while looking for ideas for my thesis. I’m interested in understanding how organization occurs, although my idea of organization is a little bit broader than it is used in the social sciences. In any case, starting with something that is, in some way, deliberately organized sounds like a good starting point. I started reading on the New Institutionalism and the importance of the informal organization when I found out about CCO.

A previous study by Ruth Smith proposes that the relationship between communication and organization can be understood in three different ways: Organization as a container for communication, communication or organization being produced by the other and a relationship of equivalence. The theorists behind CCO, among others Linda Putnam, Robert McPhee and François Cooren, propose that there is, in fact, an equivalence relationship. Organization is, then, created and enacted through communication, and cannot exist without communication, but at the same time the communication is mediated, transformed and shaped by the organization.

Something good about the theory is that it is still new and wide open for new contributions. As a computational sociologist, this is almost a reality in any area of Sociology, but in this area there is actually a need for some methodology to explore how communication constitutes organizations, especially the emergent phenomena it implies.

On the other hand, being something completely new there are some bits that are problematic and need some work. For example, the idea of equivalence is discussed often in the CCO literature, but if communication and organization are equivalent any case of communication would be a case of organization and vice versa. This is something problematic in itself, unless you relax the conditions for something to be an organization, but in many of the articles on CCO they explicitly state that not all communication is organization.  In that case you could not say that they are equivalent, you cannot use the terms interchangeably, but you can say that organization is a subset of communication.

Overall, the theory looks like a good starting point for my thesis. Their focus on processes, structure and emergence while not ignoring agency, and their own understanding of the phenomena as complex is highly compatible with my worldview and looks very suitable for modelling and simulation.

Leave a Reply