Changing the “Subject” of Qualitative Research: Communication, Organizing, and the Politics of Common Sense

Dennis K. Mumby
Professor of Organizational Communication
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Over the last 30 years qualitative research in organizational communication and management studies has done much to increase our understanding of organizing as discursively constructed.  In the wake of the linguistic turn in the social sciences, it has become routine to view organizations as sites of collective meaning and identity formation, and to examine the communicative dynamics through which this occurs.  In this talk I want to argue that while much of this research is rooted in a conception of subjectivity as socially constructed and even as an “effect” of discourse, it often fails to explore the full significance and potential of post-linguistic turn conceptions of the “subject.” Much of this potential lies, I would argue, in more textured analyses of the communicative “politics of common sense” that mediates everyday organizing and, in many respects, the research process itself. 

Dennis Mumby
is Professor of Organisational Communication, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA and is known for his work in critical organisational communication studies. A recurring theme in his writing is how discourse, difference, power, control and resistance are defining features of organisational life. He examines how such features are discursively and dialectically produced, maintained, and transformed.

His classic 1988 book, Communication and Power in Organisations: Discourse, Ideology, and Domination challenges conventional views of power through critical and hermeneutic lenses. The issues of power, gender, identity and organising play through his 2004 co-authored book with Karen Ashcraft, Reworking Gender, where they argue that organisations are inherently gendered and that women are visibly gendered others. Both books received Outstanding Scholarly Book awards.

In his 2011 article ‘What’s Cooking in Organisational Discourse Studies’, he takes on Alvesson and Kärreman’s view of discourse, arguing for a more nuanced and generative approach that recognises the relationship between discourse and materiality and the politics of construction.

Selected Publications

Mumby, D. K. (1988) Communication and power in organizations: Discourse, ideology, and domination. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Ashcraft, K. L., & Mumby, D. K. (2004) Reworking gender: A feminist communicology of organisation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mumby, D. K. (2011) What’s cooking in organisational discourse studies? Human Relations, 64, 1147-1161.

Mumby, D. K. (2012) Organisational Communication: A Critical Approach. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Self-Making and the Brain

Emily Martin
Professor of Anthropology,
New York University, USA

Explanations of human social behavior based directly on the activities of neurons in the brain are pervasive and entrenched in the natural sciences. But scholars in the humanities and social sciences are not agreed about how to incorporate or critique this new knowledge. Using ethnographic material from the U.S., I will describe how quite different forms of subjectivity are being constructed by non-experts as they contend with neurological explanations of social behavior and of mental disorders. I will seek to open up some questions about what is at stake in these varying subjectivities and to suggest some possible implications of this variation for a critique of neuroscience.

Emily Martin
is Professor of Anthropology at New York University, USA. She combines ethnographic methodology and feminist analysis to study science, medicine, psychology and the biomedics of reproduction. Her work on science as a cultural system is groundbreaking in terms of investigating, from a critical perspective, the social and scientific construction of person-hood, gender, emotion, rationality and mind. A central theme in her work is how bodies are controlled and organized “around principles of centralized control and factory-based production” (1992: 121).

In her 1987 book 'The Woman in the Body' she explored the scientific and social construction of women’s bodies, ideas she expounded in her famous 1991 article The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, where she argued that culture and language shape scientific ‘discoveries’ and reinforce gender stereotypes.

In Bipolar Expeditions, winner of the 2009 Diana Forsythe prize for the best book of feminist anthropological research on work, science, and technology, she argues that people with bipolar disorder are concurrently exalted as creative entrepreneurs and artists and stigmatized as less than normal.

Selected Publications

E. Martin (1987) The woman in the body: A cultural analysis of reproduction. Beacon Press.

E. Martin, (1991) The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles. Signs, 16(3): 485-501.

E. Martin (1992) The end of the body? American Ethnologist, 19(1): 121-140.

E. Martin (2009) Bipolar expeditions: Mania & depression in American culture. Princeton University Press