Lists and Stories as OrganizationaI Communication


  • Larry Davis Browning

    1. Associate professor in the Deparhnent of Speech Communication, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 7871 2. This essay was first presented at the Speech Communication Association annual convention, Sun Francisco, California, November, 1989. The author would like to thank Debra France, Eric Eisenberg, Leonard Hawes, John Rodden, Mike Vickery, and Karl Weick for their suggestions. The author is additionally grateful to the students in the Fall 1989 and 1991 seminars on Lists and Stories in Organizations for their contributions to this article
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This article examines how two communication types, lists and stories, structure organizations and claims that all organizational communication is composed of these two types. The list is rooted in science and presented as a formula for action leading to controllable outcomes. It represents standards, accountability, and certainty. Conversely, the story is romantic, humorous, tragic, and dramatic. It unfolds sequentially, with overlays, pockets of mystery, and the addition or deletion of performers. This article posits lists and stories as the central ingredients of organizational communication and suggests that their ratio, rate, and order of occurrence are problems for research and theory. It reaffirms the list as organizational communication and elevates the story to a position equal to the list. Lists are technical communication, progressive, public; and once shared they extend a power base. Stories are communications about personal experience told in everyday discourse. They reject local knowledge, give coherence to group subcultures, change over time. and contain multiple voices. The lists and stories thesis contributes to organizational communication by providing another avenue for considering structuration. The contrasting qualities of lists and stories direct focus to the question of how individuals organize. How much structure and variety are there and how much are culturally optimal?