Rewind to April 2013: I’m landing in Kansas City for CSCA and my phone blows up with texts from Adam Tyma and Art Herbig. Now you have to understand something about Art, Adam, and I. (Sometimes referred to as A3.) Yes, we are all big geeks, but we come from very different communication subdisciplines. Now, I don’t like to define people this way, because I don’t like to be defined this way myself, but take this for what it is: a short-cut. Art is a trained rhetorician. Adam is a trained media scholar. And if I were Dr. McCoy, I'd say, “Dammit Jim! I’m an organizational scholar, not a mechanic.” All three are different approaches. However, we all love popular culture.
Wait…let’s get “wibbly wobbly...time-y wimey” and back up a minute.
I began to look at narrative as an organizing process – or organizations as the products of ongoing narratives. Likewise, I began to look at identity as a narrative-in-process. This is not to say narrative is THE determining concept (that’s too reductionist for my sensibilities) or that narrative is a data point to be taken apart and studied (also too reductionist). What it means is narrative is one important way by which we interpret and organize our lives. Meta (societal), meso (organizational) and micro (personal) narratives are an intertwined mess.
For me, the best way to study organizational narratives is to listen to them and the best way to listen to them to “go there.” And this brings me to one more tributary: ethnography.
One point of “Narrative as an Organizing Process: Identity and Story in a New Nonprofit” is that we can’t really examine one level of narrative without looking at the others. The other important point is that unlike Social Identity Theory, which says narratives are the evidence of social identity, I proposed that narratives constitute social identity, based on James Carey’s concept of ritual communication. I turned SIT upside down, or maybe inside out.
Organizational communication. Ethnography. Identity. Popular culture.
Throw serendipity and CSCA into the recipe.
Yes. Serendipity. Again.
Yes. Central States Communication Association. Again.
(I told you it was a BFD.)
I am, as Dr. Strange once put told his compatriots, “…inside the moment between moments...able to affect what happens when the quantum possibilities collapse into one reality. Our reality. Our future.”
Ok…now back to the story…
Adam and Art tell me there’s another convention happening in KC at the same time as CSCA: a Comic Book Convention, called Planet Comic Con. We go to our own convention, but also take time to go to the other. Nicky Brendon - Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - is there. Billy Dee Williams. Adam Baldwin. Lots of people. I’ve never been to a Comic Convention before, and this is a turning point for me.
Now you have to understand that this interest in popular culture isn’t anything new to me. I’m a comic book collector. I used to game a lot. I’m the guy who binge watches a TV program on Netflix and then buys the blu-ray so I can listen to the commentaries. What is different is that I came to realize that as an integral part of my identity, it was worth researching.
Over that summer, in one of the best collaborative writing experiences of my life, Art and I wrote a piece about Buffy the Vampire's Xander Harris as the interrogation of the discourses of American masculinity. We wrote the whole thing in about three months. (Hey…publish that Bob!)
At about the same time Art, Adam, and I started the official work on Beyond New Media: Discourse and Critique in a Polymediated Age. We, and the contributors, cover our polymediated activity from multiple angles: historical, rhetorical, organizational, interpersonal, educational, etc., while attempting to break down the various dichotomies of media: “old vs. new,” “process vs. product,” “real life vs. online life,” “production vs. consumption,” etc.
Also around the same time, Bob Bachelor approached me to write the pop culture autoethnography piece in the Popular Culture Studies Journal, as I wrote about in the last blog.
At the same time, Andrew Dunn – the head of Journalism at ETSU – and I wrote a grant to go to DragonCon and Nashville ComicCon to hand out surveys and do ethnography on cosplayers, and why people identify with certain popular culture characters. We are still working on the open-ended question results.
All of this brings me to one of the projects I am now doing: researching a local comic book store, where due to my fascination with Dr. Strange, they’ve come to call the “The Strange Doctor.” HA!
Organization Communication + Identity + Popular culture + Ethnography.
Tributaries leading to a stream.
However, there’s more happening. I am working on a project that combines organizational communication and autoethnography. Plus a project that looks at the portrayal of organizations in the works of Joss Whedon.
Or as Giles put it, “We're at the center of a mystical convergence here.”
But for that you have to wait for the next blog.