I am an organizational communication scholar. I love studying organizational cultures as they intersect with out lives and identities. It is pretty cool stuff. Having worked in multiple types of organizations (family business, small business, corporate America, profit, non-profit, higher ed) and multiple types of jobs (pumping gas at a gas station, working at a convenience store, graphic design, managing a department for a retail outfit, information technology, grad student, professor) it is amazing to me how vastly different organizational cultures are and the interplay between those cultures and our identities. It is cool to see how different discourses play out in our identity performances, how we enact and resist various discourses, how our narratives (and hence how aspects of our identity change, although our 'primary identity' remains relatively stable) as we enter, get socialized and exit different organizational cultures.
Besides sleeping, most of our time is taken up at our places of work, be they large corporate institutions, family businesses, NGOs, health care facilities, or universities. Yet, despite this, most organizational scholarship examines these entities from an objective paradigm, as if we do not live, and breathe, and work in them. Similarly, as has been pointed out repeatedly, most literature on organizations comes from and reinforces dominant managerial paradigms. As such, examinations of narrative in organizations generally take the form – to paraphrase Art Bochner – as simply another data set to analyze.
Organizational autoethnography is not exactly new – as exemplified by the work of Goodall, Trujillo, and others. However, there has always been - and continues to be - a bias against personal narrative and autoethnographic approaches to examining, critiquing, and studying organizational culture and power. Part of the reason for this is historical and some of it is cultural.
All the general arguments against autoethnography apply. I won't go into those. You can read about those in The Handbook of Autoethnography.
Historically, organizational communication did not pop out of nothingness. Rather, it developed out of the paradigm of interpersonal communication. It was originally considered interpersonal communication, that just happened to occur "inside" organizations. Hence there were classes named "Communication in Organizations" and the like. Except the interpersonal paradigm doesn't work for organizational communication, because organizations themselves are cultures - systems of meaning - with their own mores, values, and expressions of power that are not applicable nor transferable from the interpersonal communication paradigm.
Along with the paradigm, came the methodological auspices of interpersonal communication. This has always been - and in many cases continues to be - quantitative in nature. As an ethnographer, I have always found it funny that interpersonal researchers take two people in a relationship, put them in a room and videotape them and count things (like length of eye contact, instances of touch, etc.) to determine how much they are in love with each other. And etc. Why not watch couples at a coffee joint or at a bar or out shopping. I've seen the beginning and the ending of multiple dates and relationships and my local Starbucks, and one can easily tell when one of the two people want OUT. Taking people out of the context in which they live is not necessary to study interpersonal communication.
Moreso with organizational communciation. After all the organization is the context, it is the culture. Pulling people out of the context of the organization in which they live and work and play and struggle and conform - where they balance creativity and constraint - has never made any sense to me. People embedded are the ones struggling and working, performing and conforming, resisting, and disturbing, individualizing, and exiting, bullying and being bullied, being discriminated against and being sexually assaulted, creating and innovating, failing and succeeding, and making sense.
Funnily enough academics have written innumerable autoethnographies about our own working lives. A sample list includes:
Art Bochner : Coming to Narrative
Ron Pelias : A Methodology of the Heart
Barbara Jago: Chronicling an Academic Depression
Sarah Dykins Callahan: Academic Outings
Carolyn Ellis: Jumping On and Off the Runaway Train of Success
Bob Krizek: What the Hell Are We Teaching the Next Generation Anyway?
...and ones by, well...there are too many to list.
It's time to break out and hear the voices of the people working in other areas, from the mechanic who fixes the breaks on our Hondas, to the barista whom makes our pumpkin spice lattes (YUCK!), to the reservist leaving the reserves, to accountant working for the FDIC, to the youth leader working in a local church. It's time to expand organizational autoethnography and allow those outside academe into the conversation.
After all, the guy who works on my Honda - at base - has many of the the same dilemmas in his working life, as we do with ours.