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Rethinking Organizational and Managerial Communication from Feminist Perspectives.

Rethinking Organizational & Managerial Communication from Feminist Perspectives, edited by Patrice M. Buzzanell. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000.

Much as Women's Ways of Knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986) helped us see knowledge and the process of knowing as gendered, so Patrice Buzzanell's edited volume helps us see organizations and the process of organizing as a gendered activity. Buzzanell encourages us in her introduction to rethink organizations and organizational communication from a feminist perspective. Not claiming this volume to be an exhaustive coverage of issues, Buzzanell positions it instead "in the middle of things," as a continuation of the ongoing feminist critique of organizational and managerial communication theory and research (see Fine, 1993, and various articles and conference papers following). Indeed, this compilation contributes significantly to the growing body of work in communication and related disciplines addressing the issues of gender and power that have been identified on many levels, from a problem of dysfunctional communication (Reardon, 1997) to the "genderedness" of organizational management p ractices (see Sloan & Krone, 2000: Colwill. 1997; and others). Based on the belief that "we can create an equitable and ethical vision for organizational lives and processes," Buzzanell's intention for the contributions of these 17 authors is to "stimulate greater thinking about how organizing itself can be gendered and exclusionary" (p. x).

The book is ordered chronologically following the introduction. Part 1: Confronting Our Past offers alternative/feminist views of four traditional themes in organizational communication research and practice: the dichotomy of public-private organizational discourse, the ethics of organizational exclusion, organizational socialization, and negotiation. The three chapters in Part II: Rethinking Present Processes examine women's current experiences and perspectives on control of professional women's bodies, redefinition of leadership as serving, and refraining the meaning of stress. Part III: Authoring Our Future provides strategies and recommendations for revising organizational communication policies and practices to include black feminist perspectives, to reform the current career/social contract, and to apply concepts from the new sciences to analyze and deconstruct the glass ceiling. The final chapter invites and inspires us to continue the fight and keep the faith. Following is a brief summary of each cha pter.

Part I begins with Dennis Mumby's critique of the relationship between public and private spheres of organizational life. By questioning what "counts" as public or private, Mumby calls into question the taken-for-granted binary assumptions that privilege certain kinds of organizational practices and render others invisible. He asks, "By what set of criteria and in whose interests is it to structure the respective spheres so that only specific issues are deemed admissible?" (p. 9). A feminist critique of this public-private dichotomy can provide a basis for engagement and resistance by challenging "liberal conceptions of what 'counts' as appropriate issues for public debate" (p. 22).

Tanni Haas and Stanley Deetz argue in chapter two that a feminist perspective on ethics can be used to critique and inform the corporate stakeholder model. Identifying which stakeholders have "legitimate values and political interests in need of representation" (p. 24) and ensuring that these values and interests are represented in the decision-making processes are primary ethical concerns. After distinguishing the multiple-stakeholder model from the traditional economic model, the authors argue that how stakeholders are identified and represented becomes vitally important. Building on Habermas and Benhabib, they propose ways that corporate management can work ethically to include multiple stakeholders, recognizing the difficulties and constraints of such a task.

In chapter three Connie Bullis and Karen Rohrbauck Stout apply feminist standpoint theory to organizational socialization scholarship (for related discussion and applications, see Hallstein, 2000; Dougherty & Krone, 2000; Ellingson, 2000). After a thematic review of the extensive literature on organizational socialization, the authors provide an analysis of feminist standpoint theory, including its evolution from a unitary concept to a "focus on differences and multiple women's standpoints" (p. 57). They conclude with an analysis of one exemplar (an earlier work co-authored by one of the authors) which demonstrates how "an unacknowledged commitment to traditional assumptions" results in reproduction of "patriarchal arrangements through its assumptions and analysis" (p. 72). Not only do Bullis and Stout make a compelling argument, but they also model feminist learning and reflexivity.

The last chapter confronting the past "rethinks" negotiation. Linda Putnam and Deborah Kolb offer a feminist critique of traditional models of negotiation as exchange and offer an alternative model of negotiation as co-construction. After describing the characteristics of the traditional model, the authors provide an extended example from both perspectives, highlighting the fundamental value distinctions.

Part II begins with the question of analysis and control of the body. Angela Trethewey outlines organizational control models, focusing her attention on disciplinary control, especially as self-imposed. Relying on interviews with professional women, Trethewey illustrates how the female body is viewed as "other" and is made "docile" in organizational contexts (p. 117). She concludes with several accounts of resistance, in which women, singly and together, find ways to transgress requirements and even successfully challenge organizational policy.

Marlene Fine and Patrice Buzzanell theorize leadership from a feminist perspective, examining traditional and new leadership/administration/management models. Utilizing their own diary entries about their experiences, they expose the contradictions and double-binds experienced by feminist leaders attempting to enact the leadership of "serving." Despite the paradoxes encountered, they "envision serving as a form of resistance" by serving themselves through connections with others (p. 152), continually balancing the tensions, defying the stereotypes, and taking responsibility for their own ethical choice-making.

Using "Rose's story" in her cry for help on a call-in radio program, chapter seven examines the issue of stress from a feminist perspective. Authors Marifran Mattson, Robin Clair, Pamela Sanger, and Adrianne Kunkel show that conventional conceptions of stress emphasize "physical and/or emotional strain" as principally individual and work-related. They argue for a feminist refraining of stress for several purposes, including to highlight its sociopolitical character and to identify "the ways in which women's work-related stress is far too often privatized" (p. 170).

Part III begins with Brenda Allen's account of her own experiences as a black woman in a white male university. Using feminist standpoint theory as analytic framework, Allen extends its reach to include any marginalized groups. Black women in particular, as members of two disenfranchised groups, occupy a unique position which "allows them to identify patterns and behaviors that dominant members cannot readily discern" (p. 180). Drawing on her own experiences, Allen describes "micropractices" in the socialization process, interwoven with analysis showing the paradoxes encountered by black women (see Bell, Orbe, Drummond, & Camara, 2000. and Harris & Donmoyer, 2000, for related studies).

In chapter nine, Patrice Buzzanell analyzes the gender implications of the traditional masculine career and social contract and proposes a feminist rethinking of the idea of career around four problematics: rationality, voice, organization, and organization-society relationships. The envisioned outcomes would offer healthier work and social lives at both the individual and societal levels.

In chapter ten, Cindy Reuther and Gail Fairhurst apply aspects of the "new sciences" to the problem of the glass ceiling. They first demonstrate how the idea of fractals in the strange-attractor branch of chaos theory can result in replication of white males in senior organizational. positions. They then use the idea of self-organizing systems in the order-out-of-chaos branch of chaos theory to show how feminist resistance can result in a new social order, allowing many new and different voices to emerge.

Finally, Patrice Buzzanell concludes the volume with a call for "dialoguing" around three important issues: maintaining the tensions between oppositions, investigating resistance, and supporting participatory discourse and alternative organizing.

This book is suggested as a research tool, a main text, or a companion reader for organizational and management communication courses, one which offers a counterpoint to the traditional perspectives which dominate much of the published literature. Buzzanell succeeds admirably in providing a group of thought-provoking chapters which should accomplish her goal of encouraging "extension and critique of the issues raised" as well as bringing diverse voices and perspectives into the discourse on gender and power in organizations. One can only wish for a feminist analysis and critique of the entire range of organizational and managerial communication theory and practice. Perhaps this book will stimulate faster progress toward such a goal.

Reviewer Sandra L. Herndon is Professor and Chair, Graduate Program in Communications, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.


Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's ways of knowing: The development of self voice, and mind. NY: Basic Books, Inc.

Bell, K. E., Orbe, M. P., Drummond D. K., & Camara, S. K. (2000). Accepting the challenge of centralizing without essentializing: Black feminist thought and African American women's communication experiences. Women 's Studies in Communication. 23(1), 41-62.

Colwill, N. L. (1997). Women and management: Power and powerlessness. In D. Dunn (Ed.), Workplace/women's place: An anthalogy (pp. 186-197). Los Angeles, Roxbury Publishing.

Dougherty, D. S., & Krone, K. J. (2000). Overcoming the dichotomy: Cultivating standpoints in organizations through research. Women's Studies in Communication, 23(1). 16-40.

Ellingson, L. L. (2000). Style, substance, and standpoint: A feminist critique of Bernie Siegel's rhetoric of self-healing. Women s Studies in Communication. 23(1), 63-90.

Fine, M. G. (1993). New voices in organizational communication: A feminist commentary and critique. In S. P. Bowen & N. Wyatt (Eds.), Transforming visions: Feminist critiques in communication studies (pp. 125-166). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Hallstein, D. L. O. (2000). Where standpoint stands now: An introduction and commentary. Women's Studies in Communication, 23(1), 1-15.

Harris, T. M., & Donmoyer, D. (2000). Is art imitating life?: Communicating gender and racial identity in Imitation of Life. Women's Studies in Communication, 23(1), 91-110.

Reardon, K. K, (1997). Dysfunctional communication patterns iii the workplace: Closing the gap. In D. Dunn (Ed.), Workplace/women s place: An anthology (pp. 165-180). Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing.

Sloan, D. K., & Krone, K. J. (2000). Women managers and gendered values. Women's Studies in Communication, 23(1), 111-130.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Herndon, Sandra L.
Publication:Women and Language
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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