Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with François Cooren, author of several Routledge titles, including recently The Work Of Communication: Relational Perspectives on Working and Organizing in Contemporary Capitalism, co-authored with Timothy Kuhn and Karen L. Ashcraft. François is Full Professor in the Department of Communication, Université de Montréal, Canada. He is also the Series Editor for the Routledge Studies in Communication, Organization, and Organizing.
Congratulations on the publication of your book The Work of Communication, with co-Authors Timothy Kuhn and Karen L. Ashcraft. What do you want your audience to take away from the book?
We wrote this book with the idea of examining how the stories we tell about contemporary capitalism bear consequences for how work is both accomplished and organized today. Our particular concern is the extent to which customary frames and tools of scholarship in organization studies are up to the vital task of addressing social problems associated with shifts in capitalism. Rather than assessing those frames with a desire to judge their (in)adequacy, we ask about what our present stories are doing. Where are they leading, and where do they become stuck? Are there other fruitful stories to be told? Accordingly, our guiding question is this: What have work and organization become under contemporary capitalism—and how should organization studies approach them? Our storytelling employs what we shall call relational ontologies to portray capitalism not as a figure lurking in the background, nor as an external force impelling particular forms of system organization, but as a participant inextricably bound up in socioeconomic practice. Relational ontologies have begun to garner significant attention in organization studies, yet scholars are struggling to elucidate the implications of this ontological turn for analyses of working and organizing, as well as the methodological claims it makes on our scholarship. This book directly engages with these struggles in order to articulate concrete possibilities whereby relationality can facilitate novel ways of attending to social problems. In this way, we endeavor to tell a meaningfully different story about working and organizing as we might know it.
What inspired you to write this book?
While communication is usually relegated to that which occurs in the conduct of working and organizing, we wanted to show that working and organizing—and, thus, “doing” capitalism—is communication. We thus wanted to argue that if a view of communication is to play a heuristic role, scholars must marshal a conception of communication rich enough to illuminate and reframe the practices of contemporary capitalism. This led us to analyse three case studies to demonstrate both how analysts might proceed when seeking to examine working and organizing in the “new economy” grounded in a relational ontology. The first is a study of the becoming of an idea in the context of a creative event, from its inception to its prototypification. The second is an examination of the multiplicity of “the product” in high-tech startup entrepreneurship. The third offers an examination of occupational branding in academic publishing and among pilots in commercial aviation.
What audience did you have in mind whilst writing your book?
The audience we primarily had in mind when we wrote this book are scholars and graduate students, specialized in organizational communication, organization studies and management. More generally, we believe that it would interest anyone interested in questions related to new materialism, sociomateriality and relational ontology.
What is your academic background?
I have a very particular background, as my original academic track was in hard science, more precisely agronomic engineering, for which I have the equivalent of a master degree in France. I was good in mathematics, chemistry and biology, but I cannot say that I was passionate about what I was learning. Luckily enough for me, the military service was compulsory for all young men at that time in my country, which means that I was drafted for one year at the end of my engineering degree. This experience was relatively painful, but it gave me ample time to think about my future and I eventually decided that I wanted to become a science journalist. I completed a master degree in scientific communication at the University of Paris-Jussieu, but then thought about the possibility of teaching science, which led me to complete another master, this time in science of education. For this degree, I took my courses at the Université de Montréal, where I met my future advisor, James R. Taylor, who was then the chair of the Department of Communication. It is under his supervision that I eventually completed a PhD in communication at the Université de Montréal.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your teaching or writing style?
A very weird thing about myself is that I always have a very hard time drafting an outline before writing anything. In other words, it is extremely hard for me to project myself beyond what I am currently writing at a specific moment. This is one of the reasons why I was not originally attracted by social sciences and humanities. The French system indeed tends to be obsessed with structures when it comes to write an essay (the famous trinary scheme system of ideas that all French students have to learn:thesis-antithesis-synthesis), so I thought that I was not meant to be an author, given the absence of what is considered to be an essential skill for this kind of vocation. I remember that it is in Montreal that I discovered that I did not always need an outline to write something that could be considered meaningful (apparently at least!). What is even weirder is that people who read my work often tell me that they are struck by its strong argumentative structure and orderliness, which is a complete mystery for me. Sometimes I am wondering if this is not because I always have to ask myself: “Ok, now that I have said that, where do I need to go to make my point meaningful?” In a way, I am following Karl Weick’s motto: “How can I know what I think until I see what I said?” which is indeed what I discover as I am writing books and articles.
Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?
Right now, I have a lot of book projects, which are all in various degrees of completion and will, for most of them, be published by Routledge. I am editing a book with Fabienne Malbois (University of Lausanne) titled Methodological and Ontological Principles of Observation and Analysis: Following and Analyzing Things and Beings in Our Everyday World (Routledge, July 2018). In this book, which will be published by Routledge, we asked several scholars to write about the way they study the types of beings that have been at the core of their respective research for the past years, respectively a human being, a project, an authority figure, an artifact, a divinity, an identity, an organization, and an idea. I am also working on another volume, co-edited with Nicolas Bencherki (University at Albany, SUNY) and Frédérik Matte (University of Ottawa), titled Authority and Power in Social Interaction: Methods and Analysis (Routledge, April 2019). In this edited book, we ask several authors to operate a simple but radical shift in the way we traditionally think about power and authority: what if these phenomena, rather than explaining social interactions, could be explained by analyzing social interactions.
I have also been recently asked by Routledge to edit a book series titled Routledge Studies in Communication, Organization and Organizing. The goal of this series is to publish original research in the field of organizational communication, with a particular—but not exclusive—focus on the constitutive or performative aspects of communication. In doing so, this series aims to be an outlet for cutting-edge research monographs, edited books, and handbooks that will redefine, refresh and redirect scholarship in this field. The volumes published in this series will address topics as varied as branding, spiritual organizing, collaboration, employee communication, corporate authority, organizational timing and spacing, organizational change, organizational sense making, organization membership, and disorganization. What unifies this diversity of themes is the authors’ focus on communication, especially in its constitutive and performative dimensions. In other words, authors will be encouraged to highlight the key role communication plays in all these processes
Anything else you would like to add?
I just wanted to thank Routledge as well as Taylor & Francis for their support! They have been key players in the field of organizational communication over the past years and I hope they will continue to be so in the upcoming years.