Most generally, globalization is defined as “the widening, deepening, and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life” (Held et al. 1999, 5). Globalization is produced and maintained through communicative action. Political, cultural, social, and economic events are no longer bound by time or space. The free flow of goods, services, money, and ideas, facilitated by emerging technologies, strongly influence and are influenced by organizational communication practices. No longer circumscribed by socio-geographic borders, organizational identities transcend nationstates. The complexity of contemporary issues such as AIDS, global warming, and terrorism implicates organizational interdependence. No matter what their mission, structure, or physical location, all types of organizations must address the complexities of operating within a multicultural communicative, legal, moral, and social context.
Although the word globalization first appeared in Webster’s dictionary in 1961, it was not until the mid-1990s that globalization became a noteworthy concept in organizational communication studies. Until that time, organizational communication scholars primarily addressed issues of structural convergence (exploring how organizations were becoming more similar), or organizational divergence (focusing on cultural variability) (Stohl 2001). Little work addressed the dynamic tensions associated with increasing global interdependence and volatility.
Today, organizational communication literature addresses a broader range of organizational types than ever before, including multinational corporations, nonprofit, nongovernmental, and governmental organizations, and international institutions. Across organizational types and sectors, the need for flexibility, responsiveness, and speed, and efficient knowledge production, reception, and diffusion have resulted in the emergence of networks as the quintessential organizational form (Monge & Fulk 1999). Globalization theories highlight networks as “the new social morphology” of society (Castells 1996).
The ubiquity of globalization in all aspects of life has shaped a diversity of theoretical perspectives. In one perspective, globalization is framed as the triumph of capitalism, the free market, and democracy. New communication technologies, social exchanges, and competitive markets are seen to open up organizational processes. Within this perspective, research focuses on the dynamics of globalization that explain the macro-restructuring of global sectors and the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of specific types of microorganizational networks (e.g., Doerfel & Taylor 2004; Shumate et al. 2005).
In contrast, scholars operating within a critical theoretical framework view globalization as a transformation in labor markets, immigration patterns, and communication structures that exacerbates the distance between the “haves” and the “have nots.” The enactment of inequality (Ganesh et al. 2005), the changing nature of corporate social responsibility (May et al., in press), and concern with how marginalized groups manage/resist tensions associated with the new world order and changing social contracts are major research topics (e.g., Papa et al. 1995).
Researchers who view communication as an interpretive symbolic process approach globalization as intersubjectively constructed. In their view, globalization contributes to new formations of identities that challenge traditional definitions of who we are and what we do. Globalization transforms our work and our social lives. Workplace discourses represent processes of power and control (Holmer Nadesan 2001), and the shift to network structuring is theorized to result in the weakening of social bonds and the loss of trust and commitment.
Although theoretically diverse, most organizational communication scholarship reflects the transformationalist thesis of globalization (Held et al. 1999). Globalization is a central driving force behind the rapid political, social, economic, and cultural changes taking place, but the valence of these changes is indeterminate. Organizational practices and collective actions are primary means by which individuals and groups influence the trajectory of globalization. Globalization is a dialectic process (Giddens 1990); organizations adhere to their own cultural patterns but simultaneously adapt patterns and structures to accommodate differences in and pressures of the global system. Globalization may marginalize and disempower large segments of societies, but the same dynamics may redress the imbalance of power and provide new opportunities that will improve the lives of all.
Dynamic Processes Of Globalization
Across theoretical perspectives there are six globalization dynamics that have important implications for the study of organizational communication. Following the discussion of Stohl (2005) we can trace many pathways where communication scholars contribute to the understanding of organizing and globalization.
Dynamic 1: Dramatic increase in economic interdependence. Increasing interdependence means that new forms of cooperation are being forged across local and global contexts and organizational types. Organizational networks are dynamic and flexible, no longer locally bound by sector, geography, or past relationships. New types of partnerships are being forged among corporate and public sectors, NGOs and IGOs, and nonprofit and for-profit enterprises. Intersectoral collaborations are enacted without traditional forms of trust and connectivity (Stohl & Stohl 2005), thereby opening up possibilities for entirely new forms of alliance and coalition building.
Dynamic 2: Intensification and deepening of material, political, and cultural exchanges. The escalation of exchange has created enormous opportunity for multicultural learning and the expansion of local diversity, while, at the same time, increasing homogeneity and cultural convergence. The consolidation of media ownership, for example, is associated with global news coverage and format becoming more similar and entertainment-driven. Yet, the enormous reach, resources, and influence of these organizations may be counteracted by increased exchanges found on the web and the explosion of e-magazines, blogs, and other alternative forms of communication.
The intensification of exchanges also means that many problems can no longer be solved within one nation or sector. There has been an exponential growth in international nongovernmental and governmental organization as people strive to cope with the challenges of globalization. Moreover, the escalation of global linkages though practices such as outsourcing and offshoring has created new forms of global cities. Distance may be disappearing, but location still matters. Places like Bangalore and São Paulo are becoming sites of increased immigration, diverse work cultures, and multicultural exchanges. These environments provide greater visibility for marginalized groups and potential opportunities for international labor movements and the development of civil society (Kaldor 2003).
Dynamic 3: Global and rapid diffusion of ideas and knowledge enabled through new information technologies. Network flows are the core of globalized social structures enabling rapid diffusion of information and ideas. New communication technology makes traditional models of knowledge management outdated. In this “global information revolution” (Friedman 2005), organizations and their members have the potential to exchange information in ways that were never before possible. People need not be physically copresent, and work can be dispersed geographically and temporally. As a result, models of power, privacy, and surveillance have been altered.
The widespread availability of new communication technologies also means that individuals are no longer constrained by the high transaction costs of coordination. The relative ease and low cost of communicating with large populations lead to changes in strategies and meanings of organizational membership. Whether the transformation of contemporary organizing is linked to declines, increases, or new distributions of social capital is still unresolved (Bimber et al. 2005).
Dynamic 4: Compression of time and space. The invention of the telegraph resulted in symbols moving independently of geography and faster than mechanical means of transportation (Carey 1989). The widespread diffusion of television enabled dispersed people to experience events at the same time. No longer reliant on organizational infrastructure, today’s broadening reach and increased speed of communication have produced even greater changes in the way we organize, experience, and interpret events. Non-co-located individuals are able to simultaneously interact, influence, and interpret events.
Thus, globalization not only changes what it means to be present or absent but what is considered and experienced as inside and outside, home and away, them and us. Under these conditions, organizational and personal identities become more ethereal, volatile, and problematic.
Dynamic 5: Disembedding of events and institutions permitting new realignments and restructuring of social interaction across time and space. Many globalization theorists note that more and more people “live in circumstances in which disembedded institutions, linking local practices with globalized social relations, organize major aspects of day-today life” (Giddens 1990, 26). Human interactions are “lifted out” of local contexts and repositioned within network flows, creating new linkages. Local organizations, which heretofore had primary responsibility for the inculcation of values, the establishment of civil society, the production of commercial partnerships, the education of the populace, and the development of relationships, are being replaced by distant linkage and “virtual” experience. Symbolic tokens and expert systems are able to distribute knowledge across far-flung groups of people who become connected in ways more powerful than those within their own local networks. Disembeddedness thereby contributes to the creation of new perceptions of ourselves, our organizations, and the world in which we live (Monge 1998).
Dynamic 6: Increases in global consciousness through processes of reflexivity. Most theories of globalization suggest that people today establish their identities and position themselves in relation to the global system, rather than to national or local sectors. Organizational choices and experiences are increasingly processed within a global perspective, challenging local cause and effect, expanding relevant stakeholders, and broadening legal and cultural constraints and opportunities. Even when individuals and groups consider themselves different from the rest of the world, they establish their position in relation to the global system, a process described as relativization (Robertson 1992). This reflexive dynamic is embodied in changes in discourses of identity and the constant re-examination of social practices in light of new identities, information, and relations.
Global reflexive processes are oppositional; a heightened appreciation of the global community is coupled with the organizing of social movements designed to counter the new world order. Organizational identifications transcend the nation and help establish an evolving global civic culture. At the same time communal identities are strengthened as people communicate inwardly, sharply distinguishing between in-and out-groups, and resist economic, social, cultural, and political integration (Castells 1996).
Organizational communication scholarship and globalization theory require an understanding of past and present economic, socio-cultural, political, and organizational practices and a sensitivity to ethical and social consequences of organizational action. The complexity of the phenomenon calls for studies utilizing qualitative, ethnographic, survey, network, and parametric statistical approaches. Cross-cultural communication studies are particularly vulnerable to methodological parochialism, and it is a challenge to make sure that methods and data are comparable and appropriate across contexts. The interconnected nature of language and cultural identity highlights a methodological challenge and the significance of language in globalization studies. Understanding organizational communication will play a central role in how we address the challenges and opportunities inherent in globalization.
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