Paradigmatic Perspective: Organizations as Communications



In this chapter, the paradigmatic perspective of the study is introduced. According to Kuhn (1962), the concept of paradigm refers to a set of epistemological and methodological assumptions shared by a group of researchers. In his monograph “The structure of scientific revolutions”, Kuhn introduces four primary functions of paradigms: (1) they serve as spotlights which means that they enable their followers to identify a certain set of problems and they usually also deliver a certain set of tools how to approach these problems, (2) they are universalistic in their ambition which means that they claim to be in principle applicable to all kinds of problems covered by the discipline, (3) they require some form of consensus by a group of researchers who follow the paradigm in its most basic assumptions, and (4) they are incommensurable which means that they usually cannot be easily combined with other paradigms due to mutually contradicting epistemological and methodological assumptions.5 Moreover, Kuhn (1962) theorizes paradigms as being subject to revolutionary rather than evolutionary changes over time.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 5.
    Kuhn (1962) puts forth a rather rigid notion of paradigms which implies that a discipline can only be called scientific if the vast majority of scientists agree on the same epistemological and methodological assumptions. Following this argument, no single discipline in the social sciences could be called scientific, because most commonly various paradigms co-exist here. Therefore, the concept of paradigm is used in its less rigid form as introduced by Friedrich (1970), for example.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Paradigmatic debates of this kind have taken place in comparable form in the field of organization studies, see the debate between Pfeffer (1993) and van Maanen (1995), for instance.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    On a more concrete level, this rather abstract notion of organizations corresponds with Mintzberg’s empirical findings that communication accounts for more than 80 percent of a manager’s daily activities (cf. Mintzberg, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Earlier overviews on studies in the field of organizational communication outside of North America are provided by Wiio, Goldhaber and Yates (1981), Kieser and Hegele (1998), and Kieser and Müller (2003).Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    And despite to the fact, seen from the opposite side, that the CCO perspective originally roots in (open) system theories, as Taylor, Flanagin, Cheney and Seibold (2001: 108) highlight.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    To mention some remarkable exceptions: Hatch (1997) includes a short introduction to the TSS framework in her monograph “Organization Theory”. Moreover, Taylor (2001) acknowledges Luhmann’s work by drawing on his article “What is Communication?” (Luhmann, 1992).Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    The TSS framework in the versio of Luhmann (1995; 2000), however, significantly differs from other systems theories, especially in its rigid focus on communication as the key operation of social systems (Seidl, 2006a: 11).Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    In a critical account on the TSS framework, Blühdorn emphasizes that one can hardly adapt only singular aspects of Luhmann’s social systems theory without agreeing on its epistemological foundations: “The particular problem it presents is that it defies a pick-and-choose approach. Because Luhmann was aiming for nothing less than a sociological paradigm change, it is hardly possible to adopt some elements of his thinking and reject the rest. The two options appear to be either the whole theory package or nothing at all” (Blühdorn, 2000: 339).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Luhmann also refers to their work rather extensively (e.g., Luhmann, 2000: 11ff.).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    This notion of contingency also equals the usage of the term in actor-network theory, a framework that goes back to Latour (1996) as well as Law and Hassard (1999): “The notion of contingency is central to [actor-network theory]. The accomplishment of a certain actor-network is always just one among (infinitely) many possible outcomes. Contingency then means that actor-networks are built on choices, there is no master plan prescribing the mobilisation of the network [...]” (Noe & Alroe, 2006: 39).Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Theis-Berglmair (2003) for an earlier account on interrelations between the theory of social systems and organizational communication as a field of study.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    This can also be shown by considering the field’s institutional embeddedness in the DGPuK (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Publizistik und Kommunikationsforschung), the German association of media and communication scholars. Within the DGPuK, the division ascribed to the study of organizational communication is one of the smallest ones, whereas its counterpart on the international level represents one of the biggest divisions of the International Communication Association (ICA) (Taylor, Flanagin, Cheney & Seibold, 2001: 107). Moreover, most of the members of the German divisional equivalent are committed to the study of Public Relations (PR; cf. Theis-Berglmair, 2005), a subject field commonly regarded as being alien to the field of organizational communication in the Anglo-American tradition (Cheney & Christensen, 2004: 510).Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    See Mingers (2003: 105ff.) for further considerations on parallels between Luhmann’s and Giddens’s frameworks.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    In the TSS framework, membership negotiations lead to decisions who is included in or excluded from the organization and, therefore, contribute to establishing a distinction between the organization and its environment (Luhmann, 2000: 112). Organizational self-structuring is seen here as a general characteristic of all autopoietic systems so that recursive interactions with the system’s environment lead to the establishment of system-inherent structures. This feature, in consequence, applies to all autopoietic systems and, therefore, also to organizations. Activity coordination relates to organizational objectives which are subsumable to decisions, either. Institutional embedding, in contrast, is seen to belong to the organizational environment in the TSS perspective (cf. Luhmann, 2000: 383).Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    This, in turn, contradicts McPhee and Zaug’s assertion that “[...] a theory of constitution must be highly general, allowing organizations to occur in a variety of ways. Although specific messages can be decisive in the outcome of a decision-making session, for instance, no specific message or even decision session is necessary or decisive for making the group of members an organization” (McPhee & Zaug, 2000: no page).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag und VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften | GWV Fachverlage GmbH, Wiesbaden 2008

Personalised recommendations