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Managing the paradox of stability and *change in non -traditional organizations: A case study of the Nebraska Cooperative Council

Lynn Marie Harter, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In this project, I provide an interpretation of how one cooperative support organization, the Nebraska Cooperative Council, discursively functions to help its constituent cooperatives reconcile their internal requirements for democracy with the external demands of an ever-changing marketplace and of other institutions on which cooperatives depend. In making sense of participants' discourse, I found the tension of stability versus change a revealing prism through which to make sense of the experiences of cooperative members involved with the Council. I work toward locating and describing how the Council, through its boundary-spanning activities, helps cooperatives intersect with key publics and negotiate the dialectic of stability and change while protecting their core democratic identities. Using a Structuration theoretical framework, I draw attention to members' discursive consciousness as well as how their discourse serves to position them ideologically. ^ I outline a rationale for the project in Chapter I, first by describing the bias in contemporary organizational research toward understanding communication processes sustaining bureaucracies. I discuss the theoretical importance of exploring how cooperative support organizations, such as the Nebraska Cooperative Council, help their constituents negotiate democratically responsible organizations. I also highlight the pragmatic value of this work toward sustaining the agricultural cooperative movement in an environmental context plagued with concerns of continued economic viability. Finally, I highlight the value of using a discursive perspective in general and Structuration Theory specifically to explore these issues. ^ In Chapter II, I synthesize literature about organizational democracy beginning with a discussion on the history of producer cooperatives. Next, I review research about the dynamics and dilemmas as well as potential of alternative organizations in general and producer cooperatives specifically. Finally, I discuss the value of exploring how members of the Council understand and interpret its mission from a Structuration standpoint. ^ Chapter III begins with a discussion of instrumental case studies, the hallmarks of qualitative research, and a rationale for my reliance on an interpretive framework toward collecting, analyzing, and interpreting findings. Moreover, I discuss how the data were collected and analyzed. ^ In Chapter IV, I provide an interpretive analysis of interview transcripts, organizational documents, and questionnaire data as broadly organized into four themes revolving around the paradox of stability and change. I begin with a discussion of these themes as manifest in members' discourse. Woven into this discussion is an interpretation of challenges facing cooperatives and this support organization. ^ Chapter V extends the analysis by re-visiting the initial research questions posed in Chapter II and addressing them with the use of the emergent themes. While addressing the specific nature of the questions, I work toward a deeper understanding of the discourse under study. I identify strengths and limitations of the project and, based on the findings, suggest future directions for research. Throughout this discussion, I position the project in relationship to pertinent organizational communication literature, highlight the relevance of using Structuration Theory in exploring non-traditional forms of organizing, and illustrate practical implications of the results. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Agriculture, General

Recommended Citation

Harter, Lynn Marie, "Managing the paradox of stability and *change in non -traditional organizations: A case study of the Nebraska Cooperative Council" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9958396.