The role of language in the process of creating meaning in a professional organisation
This auto-ethnographic project concerns itself with the processes of how meaning in an organisational setting is created, changed, sustained and 'achieved'. Its contributory value lies in the inductive development of a 'tropological approach' to the investigation of sensemaking processes in organisations. Positioned in an interpretive-hermeneutic tradition, the major research strategy of participant observation and its supplementary techniques (e. g. qualitative interviewing) were activated to explore sense-making processes. This engagement in the field was complemented by the application of three frameworks derived from the discipline of linguistics. These were: a structuralist approach (as based on Saussure, Jakobson, Lodge), speech act theory (Austin, Searle) and discourse analysis (Fairclough). The application of the first framework to data explored the character of signs as well as the relationship between signs. The latter were defined as either metaphorical or metonymical in character. The tropes derived from these relationships, i. e. metaphor and metonymy, provided an early trajectory for further data interpretation. Naturally occurring talk, including organisational stories, talk as recorded in meetings, artifacts including written texts, buildings, equipment and geographical arrangements were analysed in terms of their metaphorical and/or metonymical significance in processes of meaning creation. The interplay of metonymies, i. e. processes on the basis of physical or causal contiguity, and metaphors, translation and interpretation processes were shown to render the experience of the organisation essentially symbolic. A third trope, irony, emerged as an important figure during the research process and was integrated into the tropological approach. Metonymy and irony are undertheorised in organisation studies. Within the second organising framework the performative value of tropes was investigated, i.e. in how far 'talk and action' form a dialectic whole. In particular, the question how organisations become active agents, who "think" and "speak" and "act" was investigated with the help of the voice metaphor, exploring the relationship between individuals, agents and principals. Different voices (new voices, fading and fluctuating voices, dissenting voices, having no voice) were investigated. Meaning, although inchoate and in perpetual flux was shown to be linked to the ability to transcend individual status and claim agency on behalf on a higher principal. Deviant meaning and interpretation were investigated as occurring in the trope irony, but also in the denial of metonymical causal linkages between signs and divergent particularisation processes within metaphorical interpretation. Finally, meaning as derived from a wider discursive environment (Higher Education environment) was investigated from a critical point of view, focusing on hegemonial processes and the manufacture of consent, which "normalised" the hidden assumptions of certain discourses by drawing on metaphorical and metonymical devices inherent in language. Irony, again, was shown to be an expression of divergent meaning interpretation. The exercise of power as well as resistance were shown to be dialectically enacted at the interstices of everyday practice. These transient, elusive processes are expressed in language, in particular the figures of speech. In sum, the suggested tropological approach shows metapho as being both constraining and emancipatory in its performative value, metonymy as being the first and foremost habitus of cultural knowledge and iron as being precariously suspended between conservatism and change. The contributory value of this approach lies in the inclusion of two tropes, metonymy and irony, which have not been sufficiently understood or theorised in organisation studies.