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Power, politics and organizational communication: an ethnomethodological perspective

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Abstract

Power and politics have long been recognised as central aspects of organizational life. In this chapter, we seek to explore how power and politics are used by organizational members as a key component of their category-bound reasoning within strategic interaction. Drawing on tape-recorded interactional data from an action research study of strategic change in a multi-national corporation, we develop an ethnomethodological analysis of the key categories and category predicates used to make sense of, and constitute, the organization and its environment. Our analysis reveals three key insights: (a) power and politics were associated with the category-bound reasoning about the firm’s external key account customers and the internal company hierarchy, (b) communication, or more precisely talk-in-interaction, constituted the customer and the company as a particular type of actor, with particular category-bound predicates (e.g. attributes, agendas, activities etc.), and (c) this stock of knowledge and associated reasoning procedures influenced key strategic decisions.
In terms of the consequentiality of this category-bound reasoning, and the contribution we make to the fields of management studies, organization studies and strategy, we show how this category-bound reasoning about power and politics informed key strategic decisions concerning: (a) the allocation of personnel and resources to key accounts, (b) the possibilities and prospects for change, and (c) decisions about who should lead the strategic change initiative. Our study contributes to the growing and influential body of work on the communicative constitution of organizations by showing how power and politics is not a fixed property of organizational stakeholders, but rather is constituted through the process of communication and sensemaking. We conclude by proposing that an ethnomethodological perspective can enable us to elucidate the member’s methods through which organizational ‘facts’ and ‘forces’ are made inter-subjectively available and used for practical organizational tasks, such as making strategic decisions in our case.