In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Organizational Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • International Perspectives
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Metatheories

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Organizational Communication
Linda Putnam, DaJung Woo, Scott Banghart
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0137


Organizational communication as a field of study focuses on the role of messages, media, meaning, and symbolic activity in constituting and shaping organizational processes. Researchers also study communication ties or connections between organizational members and the nature and patterns of information flow. More recently, scholars have centered on discourse, interactions, conversations, and texts as they constitute and alter organizational processes. These constructs, however, embody ways of thinking about the very nature of organizing and how communication permeates and shapes organizational processes and structures. They guide the field’s pursuit of several key problematics grounded in the nature of organizations, namely, the integration of internal and external communication in organizing, tensions between the individual and the organization, the interdependence of action and structure, and the role of multiple voices in the organizing process. Several principles also guide the research in organizational communication. The field is pluralistic in topics, methods, and underlying perspectives; that is, scholars have an allegiance to both social sciences and humanistic methods. The bibliography that follows exemplifies the history and development of this rapidly changing field by focusing on overviews, theories, key constructs, and selected research topics.

General Overviews

The work in organizational communication dates back to the 1940s and 1950s when scholars and practitioners focused on business and professional speaking and industrial communication. As Redding 1985 highlights, these early stages began to crystallize through a struggle over selecting a name and defining the scope of this emergent field. The chapter Putnam and Cheney 1985 captures this struggle through tracing early research on communication channels, climate, and networks while Redding and Tompkins 1988 clusters these developments into three phases that chart the field’s conceptual development. In these definitional years, scholars made clear distinctions between internal and external communication; however, Christensen and Cornelissen 2011 shows how contemporary scholarship challenges this distinction. Drawing on this history, Mumby and Stohl 1996 sets forth the central problematics that have guided scholarly interests in the field. Since this time, scholars have conducted state-of-the-art reviews of research findings. Specifically, Putnam, et al. 1996 and Putnam and Boys 2006 use the concept of metaphor to classify research that embraces different images of communication while Taylor, et al. 2001 focuses on metatheoretical foundations and new theoretical developments. In an important turn, Ashcraft, et al. 2009 tracks the development of the concept, communication constitutes organization, and provides the first comprehensive review of studies on materiality in organizations. These references are valuable resources to help graduate students grasp the history as well as conceptual overviews of the field.

  • Ashcraft, Karen L., Timothy R. Kuhn, and Francois Cooren. 2009. Constitutional amendments: “Materializing” organizational communication. The Academy of Management Annals 3.1: 1–64.

    DOI: 10.1080/19416520903047186

    This article tracks the development of the concept of communication constitutes organization (CCO) through historical eras of interpretive and critical research. Grounding this work in debates between idealism and realism, it provides the first comprehensive review of studies on materiality in organizations, particularly objects, sites, and bodies as discursive practices.

  • Christensen, Lars T., and Joep Cornelissen. 2011. Bridging corporate and organizational communication: Review, development and a look to the future. Management Communication Quarterly 25.3: 383–414.

    DOI: 10.1177/0893318910390194

    This article examines the intersection of organizational and corporate communication to highlight key differences and points of connection between these traditionally separate research streams. The authors contend that studying the organizational dimensions of corporate communication through a constitutive perspective can enhance theory and better link micro- and macro- organizational analyses.

  • Mumby, Dennis K., and Cynthia Stohl. 1996. Disciplining organizational communication studies. Management Communication Quarterly 10.1: 50–72.

    DOI: 10.1177/0893318996010001004

    This article contends that identity as a discipline stems from focusing on a common set of central problematics. It sets forth four problematics (i.e., voice, rationality, nature of the organization, and organization-society relationship) as ways that organizational communication as a field shares a sense of community and coherence.

  • Putnam, Linda L., and Suzanne Boys. 2006. Revisiting metaphors of organizational communication. In The SAGE handbook of organization studies. Edited by Stewart R. Clegg, Cynthia Hardy, Thomas B. Lawrence, and Walter R. Nord, 541–576. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781848608030.n19

    This chapter updates the first essay on metaphors of organizational communication through revealing connections and types of deep-level relationships among metaphors. It shows how research on discourse has infused other approaches and evolved into a spin-off metaphor that highlights contradictions as ongoing tensions in organizational life.

  • Putnam, Linda L., and George Cheney. 1985. Organizational communication: Historical developments and future directions. In Speech communication in the 20th century. Edited by Thomas W. Benson, 130–159. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

    This chapter traces the history of organizational communication from the early work on business and professional speaking to studies of communication channels, communication climate, network analysis, and superior-subordinate interactions. It identifies four emerging families for future studies: information processing, rhetoric, culture, and political perspectives.

  • Putnam, Linda L., Nelson Phillips, and Pamela Chapman. 1996. Metaphors of communication and organization. In Handbook of organization studies. Edited by Stewart R. Clegg, Cynthia Hardy, and Walter R. Nord, 375–408. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

    This review classifies research into seven clusters of metaphors that depict different relationships between communication and organization. The metaphors include conduit or transmission models, lens or information processing approaches, linkage and network studies, symbols and meanings, performance as coordinated actions, voice and power relationships, and discourse as language and texts.

  • Redding, W. Charles. 1985. Stumbling toward an identity: The emergence of organizational communication as a field of study. In Organizational communication: Traditional themes and new directions. Edited by Robert D. McPhee and Phillip K. Tompkins, 15–54. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE

    This chapter explores the emergence of organizational communication as a field of study through tracking struggles over selecting a name, defining the scope of study, identifying pioneers in the field, crystallizing the area of research, developing graduate programs, and profiling early textbooks and conceptual essays in the 1950s.

  • Redding, W. Charles, and Phillip K. Tompkins. 1988. Organizational communication—Past and present tenses. In Handbook of organizational communication. Edited by Gerald M. Goldhaber and George A. Barnett, 5–33. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

    This essay explores three major periods in organizational communication research: formulary-prescriptive that provide recommendations for effective communication, empirical-prescriptive that focus on case studies, and applied-scientific that employ objective measures to study communication problems. The final period culminates in three orientations—modernist, naturalistic, and critical—based on different views of organizational reality.

  • Taylor, James R., Andrew J. Flanagin, George Cheney, and David R. Seibold. 2001. Organizational communication research: Key moments, central concerns, and future challenges. In Communication yearbook 24. Edited by William B. Gudykunst, 99–137. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

    Drawing on key moments in the field, this chapter overviews the history of organizational communication, its metatheoretical foundations, the interpretive movement, current concerns, and future challenges. It concludes by exploring new theoretical frontiers, such as structuration analyses, activity theory, discourse, and institutional studies.

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