Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication, ed. C.R. Scott, L. Lewis, J.R. Barker, J. Keyton, T. Kuhn, and P.K. Turner (2017). doi:10.1002/9781118955567.wbieoc167


Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Used by permission.


Postmodern and poststructural approaches to organizational communication are marked by an emphasis on ruptures, disjunctions, tensions, instabilities, and other inconsistencies as a part of everyday organizational life. This emphasis is part of an attempt to question, critique, and often compromise the normalized, mundane power structures that regulate organizational life. By questioning and critiquing, these approaches reveal norms and power structures as contingently constructed with particular interests at play. This contrasts with more traditional assumptions that treat norms and power structures as natural, neutral, and stable constructions.

Poststructural and postmodern approaches to organizational communication find their roots in broader philosophical movements and the “linguistic turn” among organizational communication scholars. The linguistic turn of the 1980s saw an epistemological shift toward qualitative methods for understanding the communication/organization relationship and an ontological shift from the assumption that organizations are stable entities that contain communication to the assumption that organizations are more flexibly constructed through communication (see Putnam and Pacanowsky, 1983). Postmodern and poststructural approaches are two of many perspectives that were made possible by this shift, although there are plenty of others that follow the linguistic turn that do not claim the methods and assumptions of poststructural and postmodern approaches. Although poststructuralism and postmodernism are not synonymous, the two approaches are grounded in the same (Eurocentrically defined) historical moment. Understanding the influence of these philosophical movements on organizational communication approaches requires a broad understanding of the movements themselves.