#OrgCommSoWhite and Postcolonial Representation

So far on my comprehensive exams list #1 journey, we have covered the territory of nonprofit and faith-based organizations, as well as the basics of postcolonial scholarship. Now I want to explain why both are important in my field of organizational communication (AKA org comm).

To begin with, I want to clarify that org comm is a broad field. It is rooted in the wider study of management and organization studies (MOS), but it distinguishes itself by trying to focus on how communication is central to the process of organizing. As an undergraduate, I took an org comm class and it skewed my opinion of the field because it was primarily focused on for-profit workplaces and human relations work. I (wrongly) thought that org comm was all about how businesses could be more successful and make more money.

I was proved wrong when I came to CU Boulder for my graduate studies. We have several prominent org comm faculty who study amazing topics like high-risk organizing, gender and difference in organizations, and nuclear security. After learning about their work, I realized that org comm could be relevant to my research interests as well.

Org comm as a field, like many other areas of study, has historically been dominated by Euro-centric, white, male scholarship. At recent communication conferences, the phrase #OrgCommSoWhite became popular to represent this problem. I am lucky to study in a department that takes these claims seriously and discusses the problems of whiteness on a regular basis.

The stereotype is that organizational communication is only for business professionals (and mostly men).

To better reflect the diversity of experiences and perspectives in the world, some org comm scholars have called for a postcolonial (Broadfoot and Munshi, 2007) or decolonial approach (Grimes and Parker, 2009).

Because I am interested in international nonprofits and groups working cross-culturally, it is important to consider critiques of how these organizations may negatively affect or represent the people they are trying to serve (check out the Instagram and Twitter accounts of @nowhitesaviors for an example of such critiques). That’s where the postcolonial perspective comes in.

One article by Munshi, Broadfoot, and Hall (2017) concluded that there is a
need to recognize more explicitly how the control of “formerly colonized locales” was
affected through the organization of colonial powers. They suggest several directions for future research, including reexamining the agency of those who are “acted-upon”, increased methodological reflexivity regarding researcher privilege, and actively translating and decolonizing existing social worlds.

A lot of the research about postcolonial approaches in org comm focus on the issue of representation, meaning how organizations are representing other people in potentially harmful or problematic ways. Critics argue that dominant methods of representation generate the “pornography of poverty” where first-world donors are unaware of the root causes of poverty, attitudes of paternalism or guilty charity, and reduced political support for foreign aid (Manzo, 2008; Nathanson, 2013). These visualizations also “legitimate and normalize existing power relationships” at the expense of those being served (Ketterer, 2010).

Many nonprofits are no longer using graphic representations of poverty; instead, they have switched to images that focus on the happiness and hope given to the people that they help. This is certainly an improvement, but there is still room for growth. My goal is to explore this more in my future research.

To be clear, I don’t consider myself a critical researcher–meaning I don’t start out with critique as my main goal. Instead, I want to use these critiques to inform my research and make sure that I don’t become part of the problem. I believe we need a balance of different perspectives in order to do responsible research. Hopefully, I can achieve this goal and make practical recommendations to improve communication in the org comm and nonprofit field.



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