978-1319052348 Chapter 6

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint 8th Edition
Angela Trethewey, Eric M. Eisenberg, Marianne LeGreco
Critical Approaches to Organizations and Communication
Chapter 6 provides students with a much more thorough and in-depth look at the critical approaches to organi-
zational communication. Beginning with the initial rise of this perspective in the United States, it discusses the
work of several theorists. The emphasis of challenging the unfair exercise and abuse of power within organiza-
tions is shown through repeated examples of critical theories and concepts. The chapter defines various types of
power and discusses the abuse of hidden powers such as ideology, hegemony, myths and metaphors, and manu-
factured consent. New directions in organizational communication, including the need for healthy organizations
as well as practices of resistance, are discussed in detail. This chapter also discusses the role of technology in
organizational communication, including the controversial topics of surveillance and cybervetting. Finally, the
chapter concludes by illustrating the role of a critical researcher as a critical mode of being.
Discuss the importance of power within the critical approaches to organizational communication.
Describe the practical and intellectual factors that popularized critical theory within the United States.
Define the five types of social power proposed by French and Raven.
Define ideology and hegemony.
Discuss examples of hidden powers.
Examine the relationship between discourse and discipline in the relationships of power.
Explain what it means to organize healthy organizations.
Discuss practices of resistance from large social movements to individuals’ actions.
Illustrate the critical modes of being associated with being a critical scholar.
Identify the limitations of the critical approach.
This chapter is complex. Critical theory involves many concepts and assumptions, as well as difficult vocabu-
lary. Students will need detailed instruction for a comprehensive look at critical approaches. Concepts such as
ideology and hegemony are abstract and unclear. Students need practical and personal examples for critical the-
ory to make an impact. Critical theory might seem revolutionary or ideological to students because it challenges
the assumptions of previous frameworks.
Studying organizations through critical approaches raises questions. Critical theory makes us think about com-
munication, power, and relationships overlooked by other perspectives. Students who recognize and
acknowledge these problems will lead in a better workplace tomorrow.
Exercise 1
Stanley Deetz and several other critical and postmodern theorists assert that organizations are engaging in the
“corporate colonization of the life-world.” This means that corporate interests frame all aspects of daily life. In
today's world, organizations are central to the culture. Corporate influences and decisions change society. Na-
tional, local, and outside forces affect organizational culture. This exercise will help students understand the
impact of corporate influence.
Begin by reading to the class the scenario of organizational change provided in Appendix B. Then, separate the
class into twelve pairs or small groups. Give each group a preprinted slip of paper with:
The situation.
The main question.
One of the role descriptions from the master list in Appendix B.
Give the groups five minutes to discuss the main question from the perspective of their role. Reunite the class
and spend a few minutes discussing each participant’s response. Ask students how the responses made them
feel about the corporate culture and environment. What kind of questions do these questions raise about corpo-
rate and institutional power over societal culture? How did the responses of some of the other roles make them
feel? The goal of this exercise is to emphasize cultural interplay between organizations.
Exercise 2
This exercise illustrates the transition from French and Raven’s five types of power to more discursive articula-
tions of power relationships. Assemble several pictures of individuals deemed to have some sort of power in
society. You might include pictures of a state governor, a university or college president, a police officer, a ce-
lebrity, and even a picture of yourself. Have students discuss what types of power this individual “has.” Then,
facilitate a discussion about how these individuals “have” power only in relation to other individuals and organ-
izations such as an electorate, a board of regents, popular culture, and so on. Return to the pictures and ask stu-
dents to consider who gives each of these individuals power.
Exercise 3
Ask students to write a resistance narrative. This activity is the perfect accompaniment to the movie clip from
Office Space referenced in the Classroom Media Resources for this chapter. After students view the suggested
clip, ask them to write for fifteen to twenty minutes about a way in which they have resisted dominant organiza-
tional ideologies. If students cannot think of an instance in which they have resisted, ask them to write about the
reasons why they do not or cannot engage in practices of resistance.
Exercise 4
The Racing through the Hurricane of Airport Security: Organizational Metaphors and Standing in Line” case
study at the end of Chapter 6 offers a useful illustration of organizational metaphors in everyday practice. Ask
students to read through the case study in small groups or pairs. In addition to the discussion questions posed in
the text, ask students to think about other metaphors for travel that they use as well as how those metaphors are
linked to organizational communication practices.
Exercise 5
This exercise is geared at making students aware of some of the ideological assumptions regarding gender that
they themselves might be carrying into the workforce. Before class begins, write a list of actions or situations on
the board and place the words “male/female” next to each statement. As a class, read the statements aloud and
ask how many people think that it describes a female employee and how many think it describes a male em-
ployee. Responses should reflect what immediately comes to mind, not what they ponder over. After you have
read the list, discuss what kinds of assumptions the board represents. Sample statements include:
Brought a birthday cake to work for a coworker.
Has a job that requires traveling four days a week.
Was late to work because of a flat tire.
Has to leave early because a child is sick.
Is head of the manufacturing and operations department.
Is the cashier at the company cafeteria.
Is vice president of the human resources department.
Just asked for his or her office to be repainted and new furniture ordered.
Is conducting a meeting regarding the new stock option plan.
Exercise 6
Have students read the What Would You Do? box titled “The (Im)possibilities of a Living Wage.” The box ex-
amines the ethical issues and obligations faced by Walmart and Costco as they pay for people’s labor. Ask your
students to think about the things that are keeping organizations from paying their labor a living wage and offer-
ing more benefits to their employees. Discuss the changes in the way Walmart is now paying employees.
Exercise 7
Have students read the What Would You Do? box titled “Unintentional Surveillance?” Ask your students to
work through the discussion questions in small groups of four. After they have worked through the questions,
ask students to brainstorm some ways in which they would handle Allyson’s situation. Should students generate
solutions that sound like policy-based initiatives, ask students to consider who should write the policies and
how programs might be implemented.
Taking exercises online: Many of these suggested exercises can be made digital for those teaching hybrid or
online classes. Simply conduct discussions on your online forum, discussion boards, or course management
systems. In particular, Exercises 4, 6, and 7 lend themselves to this conversion.
Changing Education Paradigms (2010, 11:40 minutes, Not Rated) (https://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U). This an-
imated video from the RSA Animate series summarizes Ken Robinson’s popular message on creativity and ed-
The First Amendment Project: Fox vs. Franken (2004, Not Rated). This short-film collection addresses the role
that communication plays in relation to the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitu-
tion. The first film of the collection focuses on issues of corporate branding, domination and control, and re-
sistance as it documents the lawsuit that Fox News filed against Al Franken for using the phrase “fair and
Food Stamped (2010, 60 minutes, Not Rated). If you did not have a chance to show this documentary as part of
Chapter 1 or Chapter 2, the concepts in Chapter 6 provide another nice opportunity to show this film. The doc-
umentary follows a nutritionist and her filmmaker husband as they attempt to live on a food stamp budget. The
film problematizes the idea of living wages and poverty in America as evident in programs such as the Food
Stamp program.
House of Cards: (2013, Season 1, Episode 4, Rated TV-MA. This Netflix series has many profiles of leader-
ship. Analyze the leadership and power in this episode or any episode. Explain what kind of power Frank Un-
derwood and other characters possess. The types of power to consider are legitimate, informational, expert, co-
ercive, reward, and referent.
Inside Job (2010, 105 minutes, Rated PG-13). This documentary, narrated by Matt Damon, takes a closer look
at the financial crisis of 2008. The film opens up a conversation about concepts such as progressive capitalism,
ideology, and hegemony. Students can also address concepts such as labor standards, power, resistance, and
Office Space (1999, 99 minutes, Rated R). While not a huge box office success, this comedy film satirizing
work life in a software company has become recognized as a cult classic. See if you can spot the examples of
Scrubs: “My Fruit Cups” (2002, Season 2, Episode 8, 22 minutes, Rated TV-PG). This episode takes a comedic
look at the relationship between dominant and resistant discourses. To supplement their incomes, two of the
interns start moonlighting at a free clinic and stealing fruit cups for sustenance. Meanwhile, another intern faces
pressure to choose a specialty considered more suitable for a woman.
30 Days: Minimum Wage (2005, Season 1, Episode 1, 45 minutes, Rated TV-MA). Documentarian Morgan
Spurlock and his fiancée spend 30 days attempting to live on minimum wage. This episode chronicles the diffi-
culties that they face with regard to securing work with any sort of benefits as well as keeping themselves
healthy and happy. This video works nicely to demonstrate issues related to Marxism and the concepts of re-
sistance to domination and critical modes of being.
The Walking Dead: Season 5 Finale (2015, Season 5, Episode 16, 3:24 minutes, Not Rated)
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLo4BnTLhb0 ). Explain what kind of power Rick holds over the commu-
nity (organization) in this clip from the season finale. Why does he use this power at this time and at this place?
Did he always use his power in this way?
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005, 120 minutes, Not Rated). This critical documentary examines the
business practices of the corporate giant that has come to symbolize big business in America. This documentary
is a great way to initiate a discussion about the relationship between people and profits. In 2016, Walmart made
changes to employee pay and benefits. Research and discover the changes in hourly wage. See this news item:
Bentham’s Panopticon (http://www.tformaro.com/thesis/panpic.html). This site offers an illustration of Jeremy
Bentham’s panopticon as well as definitions and critical insights about its use as a control device. Have your
students look at the structure and comment on how it might be metaphorically applied to organizations. Though
Bentham’s prison was never actually built, we are all watched in other, more subtle ways. Ask your students to
draw or describe some modern-day versions of panopticons.
Big Five Personality Traits Reflected in Job ApplicantsSocial Media Postings
(http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2012.0163?journalCode=cyber).This article, written by J.
W.Stoughton, Lori F. Thompson, and Adam W. Meade, was originally published in Cyberpsychology, Behav-
ior, and Social Networking, 2013, volume 16, issue 11.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (http://www.osha.gov). The federal website for OSHA offers re-
sources and standards for creating healthy organizations. Have your students examine this site for information
about the need for healthy organizations, workers’ compensation programs, and general policies that guide health
and safety promotion.
Power, Influence, and Persuasion in Organizations (http://managementhelp.org/leadingpeople/
influencing-others.htm). This website offers some additional commentary on power in organizations, and sup-
ports the position that power is not necessarily a bad thing. Have your students use the concepts and communi-
cation theories discussed in this chapter to evaluate and critique the commentary on power made in the
statements on this site. Then, ask students to evaluate the site’s source material itself. Direct students to
<http://managementhelp.org/aboutfml/what-it-is.htm> to learn more about the organization that posts this in-
formation. How is power implicated in the way that information is posted and presented on the Internet?
Raise the Minimum Wage Blog (http://www.raisetheminimumwage.com/blog/). This is a project of the National
Employment Law Project, which works with states and Congress to increase the wage floor and help low-wage
workers in the United States.
Sir Ken Robinson (http://sirkenrobinson.com/). This website is packed with transformational information for
educational organizations.
Social Responsibility in Organizations (http://study.com/academy/lesson/social-responsibility-in-
organizations.html). This website offers an interesting take on the ideas and concepts presented in critical ap-
proaches. The site contains a lesson and video that explore the need for social responsibility in corporations and
for-profit organizations, especially as it concerns organizations purportedly “going green.” Ask your students to
consider how the ideas of social responsibility and going green are ideologies in and of themselves. Also, en-
courage your students to consider the limits of discourses such as social responsibility within corporations.
What might keep modern corporations from prioritizing socially responsible practices?
Stan Deetz on Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations (https://youtu.be/n4R-Q9wCRIo). Deetz is
interviewed and explains his critical theory of communication.
Discuss the main concerns of critical approaches to organizations. Under what kinds of circumstances
did this theory gain popularity in America?
What are the five types of social power proposed by French and Raven? How is their approach related
to research on compliance-gaining?
Define ideology and hegemony.
Explain the difference between myths, metaphors, and stories. How are they important sources of pow-
er and ideology?
What is manufactured consent? Why is this concept so powerful?
What is discourse, and what relationship does it have to power and control?
Why is there a need for organizing healthy organizations?
What are some different practices of resistance, and what might they work to accomplish?
What are some of the limitations of the critical perspective?
Consider how schools have changed or need to change given that the public school system stems from
the Industrial Revolution. Dissatisfaction with the factory approach to education is creating new ways
to organize. Discuss these changes, which rebel against the traditional model.
Define and illustrate the term cybervetting.
critical organizational theory An approach to organizational communication that examines and
opposes many of the assumptions of other dominant perspectives by
raising important questions about the unfair exercise and abuse of
power within organizations.
progressive capitalism A form of capitalism that makes the connection between the wages
paid to employees and their ability to be active consumers.
power Deep structures that reside in networks of relationships that are sys-
tematically connected.
ideology A system of ideas that are the basis of theories; it often refers to the
basic, often unexamined, assumptions about how things are or how
they should be.
reification The process whereby socially constructed meanings come to be per-
ceived and experienced as real, objective, and fixed, such that mem-
© 2017 Bedford/St. Martin’s. All rights reserved.
bers “forget” their participation in the construction of those mean-
hegemony The term used to describe the hidden power of society, which is an
all-encompassing power that is often so covert that it is not recog-
nized by those who are most controlled by it.
myth, story, metaphor Surface-level forms of communication that contain implicit, hidden,
and taken-for-granted ideological assumptions that reside at a deep
structure level of power.
manufactured consent The process in which employees at all levels willingly adopt and en-
force the legitimate power of the organization, society, or system of
concertive control A consensus negotiated by organizational members regarding their
position on core organizational values. Rule violations are often pun-
ished more severely than under more bureaucratic forms.
discourse A site of power and of struggle over competing versions of
knowledge, truth, and the self.
surveillance Constant supervision.
panopticon A surveillance system designed for an ideal prison in which inmates
never knew when guards in the central core are watching them.
knowledge management (KM) system A system, such as a searchable database or interactive expert system,
that catalogues and organizes knowledge and information.
resistance The ways in which organizational members distance and defend
themselves from organizational power.
global transformation The ability to effect large-scale collective changes.
employee dissent Verbal expressions of disagreement with management.
critical mode of being A way of life central to critical theory, including being filled with
caring, thought, and humor.
Define critical organizational theory.
Discuss the practical and intellectual reasons for the rise of critical theory in the United States in the
Explain the centrality of power within critical theory, and describe the five proposed types of social pow-
Ask students to reflect on examples of the five types of social power that they have encountered within
their personal lives or their organizational lives. Did they realize that power was being exerted at the
time, or was it only after the fact?
Define ideology, and provide some of the characteristics of this concept.
Discuss some sources of the hidden powers of ideological control.
Define discourse and its relationship to discipline. Discuss how power operates in and through discourse.
Examine recent trends in critical organizational communication scholarship.
Describe the role of the critical theorist. What are its relationships to the cultural approach? How should
research from a critical perspective proceed?
Review critical approaches with your students. Pay particular attention to the role that power plays in
the construction of organizational practices. Moreover, make sure that students begin to understand the
process of turning critique into politically attentive and globally transformative practices.

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