Communication Studies, Department of


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Stohr, R.A. (2013). Toward a global organizational public sphere: Non-governmental organizing and democratic legitimacy in a postmodern world. PhD dissertation, University of Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Damien S. Pfister. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Rachel A. Stohr


This dissertation refigures Jürgen Habermas’s public sphere theory for the contemporary world in which organizations are key actors. I develop a concept of the “global organizational public sphere” to explore the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in narrowing the democratic legitimacy gap currently prevailing in the international arena. A case study of the NGO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), gauges the extent to which WEDO (and, by extension, NGOs) serves as a global intermediary that performs the double task of translating needs from the grassroots to global institutions and adapting international policies to local communities. Three problematics structure my analysis: (1) the problematic of voice; (2) the problematic of rationality; and (3) the problematic of the organization and society. Interpreted both as problematics of organizational communication and problematics of rhetorical translation that are amplified in global civil society, each problematic reveals the promise and tensions of the global organizational public sphere. This project illuminates implications for organizational rhetoric, transnational feminist organizing, and the role of communication in mediating the crisis of legitimacy. Insights generated from this dissertation suggest that the participation of NGOs strengthens legitimacy in global governance systems. Specifically, NGOs comprise the necessary informal processes of opinion formation that generate acceptable standards of legitimacy in the eyes of citizens, even if it is not the same type that is conferred upon nation-states through elected bodies.

Advisor: Damien S. Pfister

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