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Possibilities of transformation: discourses of difference in organisational communication

In this thesis I set out to create an interdisciplinary location from which to address the relationship between gender and communication in an organisational context. I draw on feminist and post-structuralist theory to ask the question: How is ‘difference’ constructed in organisational communication? I use the term ‘difference’ here to indicate that I am interested in how ‘gender’ works in relationship with other kinds of difference, especially in relation to ethnic difference. My thesis is intended as a contribution to feminist communication theory, and specifically, to the emerging field of feminist organisational communication. Because of the approach I take to ‘communication’, this project addresses broad issues of identity, agency and discourse in organisations. In this sense, I also see the thesis as a contribution to organisational studies, and particularly to the study of organisational discourse, which opens up new relationships between ‘organisation’ and ‘communication’. Interdisciplinarity itself is a key issue in my thesis, as I set out to create connections between disciplinary fields in the service of contesting them, rather than seeking to create new boundaries. A second key focus is the development of theoretical sophistication in the field of gender and communication. I draw on feminist/post-structuralist theory, especially feminist readings of Michel Foucault’s work to generate this development. My third key focus is the issue of agency, which I see as central to theorising organisational transformation, and also as central to re-thinking communication theory. My writing strategies demonstrate my commitments to reflexivity in developing feminist/post-structuralist research epistemologies, and I experiment with ways of paying attention to issues of authority throughout the thesis. This thesis is divided into two main parts. In Chapters 2 to 6, I set up a theoretical framework for feminist/post-structuralist accounts of gender and ethnicity, and weave this theory through the literatures of ‘gender and communication’, ‘cross-cultural communication’, and ‘organisational communication’. I set out to produce an ‘autocritique’, an opportunity to draw on developments in post-structuralist theory to think differently about feminist ‘organisational communication’, putting it within a broader framework of ‘difference’. In the second part of the thesis, Chapters 7 to 12, I put issues generated by this theoretical framework in a specific organisational context, asking: How are gender and ethnic differences constructed in the discourses of Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) and Biculturalism in New Zealand government organisations? Chapters 7 and 8 introduce my field studies methodology and research subjects, and provide background narratives which frame the historical and cultural context in which they were carried out. In Chapters 9 to 12 I carry out a discourse analysis of interviews with EEO and Biculturalism practitioners, and also analyse published and unpublished documents associated with ‘difference’ in employment policies. These accounts of field studies are intended as a series of experiments with theorising ‘organisational communication’ in different ways. I complete the thesis with a ‘Review’ (Chapter 13) in which I reflect on key theoretical threads, and on further questions that emerged during the project.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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