Summoning the spirits: Organizational texts and the (dis)ordering properties of communication

Consuelo Vásquez, Dennis Schoeneborn, Viviane Sergi
2015 Human Relations  
This article addresses the question: Why does disorder tend to simultaneously accompany efforts to create order when organizing? Adopting a communication-centered perspective, we specifically examine the role of texts in the mutual constitution of order and disorder. Drawing on empirical material from three qualitative case studies on project organizing, we show that attempts of ordering through language use and texts (i.e., by closing and fixing meaning) tend to induce disorder (i.e., by
more » ... g the possibility of multiple meanings), at the same time. As we contend, these (dis)ordering dynamics play a key role in the communicative constitution of organizations, keeping them in motion by calling forth continuous processes of meaning (re-) negotiation. Keywords communicative constitution of organization (CCO); cross-case analysis; order and disorder; organizational communication; project organizing; texts 2 Summoning the spirits: Organizational texts and the (dis)ordering properties of communication Die ich rief, die Geister, werd ich nicht mehr los! (The spirits I summoned, I cannot get rid of them!) Excerpt translated from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1779): The Sorcerer's Apprentice A wide variety of scholarly works (e.g., Berger, 1967; Prior, 2012) have used Goethe's poem The Sorcerer's Apprentice as an illustration of the uncontrolled forces of nature that, once disrupted, can throw the world into fearsome chaos. In the original tale, the mighty brooms, which the apprentice invokes to tidy up the sorcerer's castle, are set in motion, fetching buckets of water with a mind of their own, nearly drowning the well-intentioned but mischievous apprentice. While Goethe's poem is usually interpreted as a cautionary tale and a critique of science (Paul, 1972) , we believe that it also nicely captures a situation commonly experienced in the context of organization: that of people creating and using tools to bring order when organizing, but in doing so, releasing 'spirits' that escape their control. Strategic plans, schedules, minutes, work agendas, etc., are all common and mundane tools used for ordering. Yet, when those tools are employed, they often create-at the same time-confusion, disruption, misunderstanding; in other words, disorder. To some extent, in real life, as in Goethe's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, people who engage in organizing are constantly 'haunted' by the disordering effects of their ordering efforts. In this article, we begin with this paradoxical yet most common organizational experience in order to ask why disorder tends to simultaneously accompany efforts to create order when organizing. While this is an empirical question, it echoes a long-standing ontological debate in
doi:10.1177/0018726715589422 fatcat:gqv2kzv2ujacpfaajw4tvdjbey