Space, Place, and the Communicative Constitution of Organizations: A Constitutive Model of Organizational Space

Space, Place, and the Communicative Constitution of Organizations: A Constitutive Model of... Abstract Existing research on organizational spaces tends to focus on either material aspects or socially constructed aspects. Both approaches see space as something an organization possesses. In response, I use the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) to propose a constitutive model of organizational space. This theory considers the subjective and objective aspects of organizational space, as well as how space is both constitutive of and constituted by organizations and organizing. By demonstrating how space participates in the communicative constitution of organizations, the importance of space for organizing is clarified and the constitutive role of new forms of organizational space can be understood. Space is both constituted by and communicatively constitutive of organizations. Although there is extensive research on workspaces (Davis, Leach, & Clegg, 2011; Elsbach & Pratt, 2007; Taylor & Spicer, 2007), very little has been communication-focused or addressed how space organizes or is constitutive of organizations. In this paper, I address why such an approach is important and propose a constitutive theory of organizational space to develop an understanding of how material and discursive aspects of space communicatively constitute and are constituted by organizations and organizing processes. Space is central to all organizations (Dale & Burrell, 2007). Ashcraft, Kuhn, and Cooren (2009) identified sites as a main kind of materiality, yet little organizational communication research has focused on space (Wilhoit, 2015). This is somewhat surprising given similarities between scholarship in critical and humanistic geography and organizational communication research. Additionally, the where of work is changing with the proliferation of innovative and whimsical workspaces like Google’s offices, increasing numbers of teleworkers (Fonner & Roloff, 2010), new office layouts like hot-desking (Hirst, 2011), and organizational forms like coworking spaces (Spinuzzi, 2012). Such changes are at the foreground of organizational space in popular and scholarly conversations, so there is a need to understand how these spaces function, both in terms of variables like collaboration or productivity, and in how these spaces communicatively constitute organizations. In this paper, I fill such gaps by demonstrating how organizational space is constitutive of (and constituted by) organization. Through proposing this constitutive model of organizational space, I account for both the material and socially-constructed aspects of space and for space’s simultaneously subjective and objective nature. Using data collected from an ethnography focused on organizational space, I suggest that a constitutive approach to organizational space gives space a larger role in organizations by focusing on its material, social, objective, and subjective dimensions. Conceptual foundation: Communicative constitution of organizations To develop a constitutive understanding of organizational space, I draw from the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO). Broadly, CCO concepts are based on the idea that communication is not a property of organizations, but is the organization itself (Taylor & Van Every, 2000). Although there are several schools of CCO thought (Brummans, Cooren, Robichaud, & Taylor, 2014), I draw on the Montréal School CCO. As the name of the approach suggests, CCO proposes that organizations are constituted through communication. However, what does the constitution of organizations actually mean? Cooren et al. (Cooren, Kuhn, Cornelissen, & Clark, 2011, p. 1150) described the process of constitution as how “organizations are established, composed, designed, and sustained.” A constitutive approach looks for that which influences and sparks the possibility for organizational reality (Ashcraft et al., 2009), incorporating actors of any ontology that make a difference in the being of organizations (Cooren, 2016). CCO takes communication as the primary, if not exclusive, way that these foundational organizational processes take place. Because of this communicative basis, CCO understands organizations not as stable entities, but as ongoing performances that must constantly be enacted into being (Putnam, Nicotera, & McPhee, 2008). Because of this understanding, one important commitment of CCO has been to reject the container metaphor (Ashcraft et al., 2009). This metaphor suggests that organizations are containers for communication, so the organization is an entity that exists apart from communication, and communication processes such as culture or conflict exist within that container. Because CCO argues that organizations exist through communication, CCO scholarship rejects the idea that communication is contained by the organization. Instead, CCO suggests a collapse of the micro-macro divide (Kuhn, 2012); rather than separating organizational structure from organizational behavior, CCO sees them as the same, because organizing exists in and through daily micro-communication practices. This aspect of CCO allows observers to find organization in communication from both humans and non-humans and provides the foundation for understanding how space is constitutive of organizations. To understand the role of humans and non-humans in constituting organizations, CCO draws from actor-network theory (Latour, 2005) to suggest that action can never be reduced to one agent, but is the hybrid accomplishment of many actors with varying ontologies (Cooren, 2018). For example, I am not acting alone to type this manuscript. I am acting with and through the keyboard, computer, and word processing software. Additionally, the hardware and software were designed by other humans, who likely made use of even more non-humans to create this technology. Action can therefore never be attributed to a single agent, because action and agency are always the result of relationships (Latour, 2005). Such a view does not mean equating humans and things or that human agency is reduced (Cooren, 2018). However, relational ontology entails seeing action as always a joint production. Organizations are an excellent example of relational ontology because they are not entities that exist independently out in the world. When one speaks of an organization acting, it is other agents—who act in the name of the organization and materialize it—who are doing the acting (Cooren, Brummans, & Charrieras, 2008). Communication, then, is never only a human activity, but always involves non-humans, like space. With its emphasis on actors of all ontological statuses, CCO is considered a sociomaterial approach (Cooren, 2010). However, for Montréal School CCO, sociomateriality does not mean choosing between the social or material, but recognizing that everything has both social and material aspects (Cooren, 2016; Malin, 2016; Martine, Cooren, Bénel, & Zacklad, 2015). Much CCO research considers materiality very broadly, understanding it as that which stands under or substantiates something (Martine et al., 2015). Following this view, materiality can be a goal, situation, document, or furniture. Although all materiality in this sense can be seen as constituting organizational space, the present focus on materiality is narrower, meaning only matter and form (Leonardi, 2012), or simply physical stuff. Taking materiality into account also means redefining communication, since materiality and humans often communicate in different ways. Cooren (2016, p. 81) has proposed a relational definition of communication as “the establishment, through something or someone, of a link, relation or passage between two or more entities.” Such an approach to communication suggests that meaning comes through arrangement and connections, expanding communication beyond human-to-human interaction to allow materiality and humans to communicate, and even for materiality to communicate with other materiality (Wilhoit, in press; Wilhoit & Kisselburgh, in press). For example, one can say that two rooms communicate by means of a doorway or that two people communicate by means of an email (Cooren, 2018). Although the means of communication are somewhat different, they are both about relationships and how entities connect to each other. Such an understanding of communication is particularly important for establishing how space communicates, particularly as space is also created through “arrangement-in-relation-to-each-other” (Massey, 2005, p. 111). The need for a constitutive approach to organizational space and place Space and place matter because they are central to human experience (Massey, 1994). When people talk about space through terms like “personal space” or “waste of space,” they demonstrate how space is a fundamental part of being human (Cresswell, 2015). Although space has often been seen as static, humanistic and critical geography theory has overturned this notion, redefining space as active, shifting, and performative (Lefebvre, 1991; Massey, 2005). This shift has led to a distinction between space and place. In general, space refers to coordinates or distances that can be measured (Agnew, 2011), while place is lived space (Cresswell, 2015). For example, a family who moves to a new house will likely understand it as space at first. They will see it in terms of square feet and how far the house is from work and school. However, over time, once the family personalizes the house, makes memories there, and has stories about the house, space is transformed to place and house becomes a home. While space and place are important for all human experience, space is also central to organizations (Dale & Burrell, 2007). Space matters in part because of how it affects individual workers, but space also matters for organizations because it plays a role in constituting organizations. At the same time, organizations also constitute the spaces they inhabit, resulting in an ongoing construction of both organization and workspace. However, current research on space has not approached organizational spaces this way; it tends to be divided between a focus on either material or socially-constructed space (Wilhoit, 2015). As I demonstrate, both types of space are necessary, but not sufficient enough individually to understand organizations. Through taking a constitutive approach to organizational space, space can be understood sociomaterially and in relation to organizations and organizing. Space as context Extensive literature on workspace from fields including management, facilities management, ergonomics, and architecture has considered space as a context or a physical backdrop for work and organizational activities (see Davis et al., 2011; Elsbach & Pratt, 2007; Wilhoit, 2015). Studying the material aspects of space is important, because materiality has certain enduring qualities that, particularly on an organizational time scale, are relatively more permanent than language or social patterns (Leonardi, 2012). Materiality is durable and consistent; a device designed to close a door automatically will not get bored or tired, unlike a person hired to close the door each time it has been opened (Latour, 1992). Spaces and buildings, in particular, offer stability to social life as they lead to patterns of action which can make social relations more permanent and structured (Gieryn, 2002). Although organizational spaces can be changed, it is often difficult and expensive, making these design decisions at least semi-permanent (Chan, Beckman, & Lawrence, 2007). A simple example of how space structures organizing is that one’s likelihood of communicating with a colleague decreases logarithmically as a the distance between the two increases (Allen & Fustfeld, 1975). Within this tradition, space tends to be treated as a variable, asking questions like whether an open plan versus cubicles will affect factors like productivity, happiness, or collaboration. Specific issues that this body of literature have addressed include the best way to configure workspaces (Elsbach & Pratt, 2007), increasing informal interaction (Allen & Fustfeld, 1975) and collaboration (Hua, Loftness, Heerwagen, & Powell, 2010), and the merits of open office plans (McElroy & Morrow, 2010). Space as construction However, considering only the material aspects of space neglects how organizational members create meanings about the spaces where they work. The second approach to organizational space, then, sees space not as fixed and stabilizing, but as multiple and shifting. Approaching space this way is important, because it demonstrates that space is not as monolithic as a material approach would suggest. Viewing space as socially constructed illuminates the role that all workers (not just managers) play in constructing workspace (Halford & Leonard, 2005), what space does (Kornberger & Clegg, 2004), how it is produced (Beyes & Steyaert, 2011), and the changing nature of space (Dale & Burrell, 2007). For example, a new building intended by management to have meanings of open communication and a bright future for the organization was interpreted by employees as meaning closed communication and representing the demise of the organization (Pepper, 2008). Research, from this perspective, looks for meanings or discourses about space, particularly conflicting or multiple meanings about the same spaces (Dale, 2005), the relationship between identity and space (Larson & Pearson, 2012), gendered spaces (Tyler & Cohen, 2010), and the exercise of power through spatial meanings (Zhang & Spicer, 2013). This body of research is important for demonstrating how people discursively construct spaces and how these socially-constructed spaces can co-exist and sometimes conflict. Space as constitutive As I suggest in this essay, a third way to understand space, which integrates and transcends these existing approaches, is to take a constitutive approach to space. Following CCO, a constitutive approach takes seriously both the social and material aspects of space (Cooren, 2016), but also considers how spaces communicate to make an organization what it is, as well as how organizing acts back on spaces, contributing to their constitution. Some CCO literature has considered spatial aspects of organizing (Cooren & Fairhurst, 2004; Cooren, Fox, Robichaud, & Talih, 2005; Vásquez, 2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). These studies make important points about organizations in relation to space, particularly how organizations are spaced through communication. However, this research has focused more on spacing than on physical organizational spaces. For example, Vásquez (2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013) described how organizations are made present and project themselves through the space of the world writ large, demonstrating that studies of organizational space need to extend beyond the walls of the workplace. Other work has considered how language can extend beyond the time and space of local interactions (Cooren & Fairhurst, 2004; Cooren et al., 2005). Although it is important to consider the role of language in transcending local space and physical workspaces, there is also a need to understand the role of physical organizational spaces, which play a major role in the everyday life and work of organizations. CCO offers a way to study, beyond the spacing that has been theorized, the social and material aspects of space together, as well as the role that space plays in constituting organizations. Methodological note The understanding of constitutive organizational space that I propose was derived in part from fieldwork at Community Food (CF), a food bank in the Midwestern United States. CF serves a specific geographic region and provides food for around 166 partner organizations who, in turn, distribute food to those in need. Partner organizations include food pantries, shelters, and programs for the disabled. CF also has their own initiatives to serve vulnerable populations, including the elderly and food-insecure children. CF was a theoretically useful organization for three reasons. First, it is a place-based organization (its mission is to provide food to a specific geographic area), allowing me to observe the relationship between the organization and its local place. Second, CF’s space is divided into an office and warehouse. Although employees from both spaces regularly interact with and enter the other space, there is a tension between these spaces and all employees “belong” to one of the spaces, allowing me to understand how and why spaces function in different ways. Third, during my fieldwork, CF purchased and began to renovate two new buildings and planned their move to these new spaces. The impending move meant that space was a salient topic of concern for participants. Ethnographic data were collected by observing organizational activities and taking field notes as an observer, serving as a volunteer, and conducting both formal and informal interviews with employees, volunteers, clients, and representatives of partner agencies (Bernard, 2011). I spent about 300 hours over seven months in the field as a participant-observer at CF, watching how CF stakeholders used and moved through space, volunteering, attending CF events, and riding with drivers on trips to deliver or pick up food. As I observed, I wrote brief notes. After leaving CF each day, I expanded my jottings into full fieldnotes (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 2011). I used grounded theory for data analysis (Strauss, 1987), studying the data as they were collected and using continuous findings to drive research. I wrote analytic memos about what I observed at CF, using memos to think about and analyze the data, driving ongoing data collection. The most helpful form of data analysis for the ethnographic research was talking about emergent findings and themes with colleagues, friends, and family members, a process valued in grounded theory (Strauss, 1987). Results From these data, I demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between space and organizing at CF, examining the relationship between specific micro spatial practices and the constitution of the macro organization. Specifically, I present three interlocking, related levels of constitutive space and place that demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between organization, organizational space, and the place where an organization is located. They also show how space and place have social and material aspects at every level, and that agents of all types play a role in constituting organizations. Although the following three constitutive processes are specific to CF’s space, they point to a broader theory of constitutive space. Lived space and designed space The first issue to consider is how organizational space comes to be. To a large extent, space and place are constituted through interaction (Massey, 2005). However, they both, but space in particular, are also designed. The creation of space and place through design and lived enactment are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. In this section, I discuss how space is both designed and lived, and how these two means of producing space are always changing organizational space and place (both materially and discursively) and, in turn, the organization itself (see Figure 1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Lived and designed space are in a cycle, constantly shaping and acting on each other. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Lived and designed space are in a cycle, constantly shaping and acting on each other. First, design is an important part of the constitution of all organizational spaces, because most organizational spaces (particularly central spaces like offices, factories, and warehouses) have been designed at some point. Very few organizations exist in a space that has never been put together intentionally, even if it was designed for a different purpose at a different time. The design of space has to do with bigger, more permanent changes. Second, place is also lived and enacted. As organizational members do their work, strive to meet organizational goals, and interact with customers and coworkers, their activities are shaped by the space and they act back on the space. Examples of how organizational members can live space include moving furniture, storing things in a closet, only being able to have a certain number of people in a meeting because of size constraints, giving nicknames to certain spaces, or assigning certain meanings (e.g., sterile or cramped) to a space. Lived space has to do with any everyday organizing activities (material and social) that relate to using, being affected by, or affecting space. Designed space therefore affects such enactments of space, while the ways that space is actually used, in turn, affect future changes made to designed space. Because CF was designing its new space while I collected data, I observed the process of spatial design. The design process was influenced by the organization itself, as organizational needs and existing problems and practices (lived space) influenced the new design. For example, because all volunteer work was done in one space at CF’s current offices, certain volunteer projects could not take place simultaneously because of health codes. To increase capacity for volunteers and volunteer projects, one of CF’s new buildings would have multiple, smaller volunteer rooms to accommodate concurrent volunteer projects. This example demonstrates the cycle in Figure 1: the current design of CF’s volunteer space affected everyday lived organizing of the space and place of CF, which in turn affected the design of the new volunteer space, which will presumably affect future organizing practices. There are, then, two processes acting on each other, through which space and place are created in organizations. However, this cycle is also in another constitutive relationship with organizing itself. Both lived and designed space act on the organization and organizing processes. As organizational space and place act and communicate, they affect communication and organizing, thereby constituting the organization in a particular way. At the same time, the organization (through the agents that perform it into being) acts on space and place and on the processes of living and designing space and place. Lived place (and space) and designed space then act on each other, while each of these kinds of space constitute organization and are constituted by the organization. This cycle and these constitutive relationships are illustrated by the history of CF’s spaces in relationship to CF as an organization. Veronica, a CF manager, spoke about the history of CF’s current headquarters and the exigence for their current space (as well as the new space that was being designed and constructed), illustrating the space/organization relationship: What’s great about this space is it was built to be a food bank, and most food banks aren’t that fortunate.… And [Community Food] was founded in 1981, they had outgrown their space on [road], terribly, probably by about 1995, and they acquired this land and built this building and moved into it in 1999. And it was designed and built to be a food bank, so that’s really great, but they designed it and built it to be a food bank that would serve, that would distribute 3 million pounds of food, someday. And my first year here, we distributed 2.4 million pounds of food; we’ve grown by at least a million pounds a year since then. Until the last two years where we’ve grown, but not by that much because we are literally maxed out. There is no amount of inventory turns that we can increase to that will let us get more food out than we are distributing now, which is 7 million. In this quote, Veronica mentions several shifts between designed and lived space, and how they affect each other and the organization as a whole (see Figure 2). As she describes the changes to CF’s space, she highlights both material and social aspects of space. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The process that illustrates the moves between designed and lived space at Community Food. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The process that illustrates the moves between designed and lived space at Community Food. First, there was a lack of space in the old location, a problem that came as a result of lived place and everyday organizing: as work was done and the space was used for organizing, the space became insufficient for meeting the organization’s goals. This outgrowing of the space (through enacting it) resulted in the design of a new space. This space was designed to be a food bank and to hold more food, in order to distribute 3 million pounds annually. The design of that space was then influenced by the organization’s goals and work. Over the past 16 years, that space (along with other factors) has allowed CF to grow and expand their operations. Through its material characteristics, the space contributed to CF’s constitution by affording growth. However, as CF as an organization has changed, the same space that once afforded growth and enabled CF to meet its goals now constrains CF and its organizational functioning. The way that material aspects of space act is not static, but is in a co-constitutive relationship with the goals and needs established by the organization. For instance, while CF’s space increasingly presented material limitations, CF staff also discursively constructed the space as insufficient to meet organizational goals (part of the lived enactment of space). In some of the marketing materials for CF’s capital campaign for the new space, they made the current space speak (or ventriloquized it; Cooren, 2010) as insufficient: We can’t reach these ambitious goals without a new facility. The location and size of our current building make it impossible for [CF] to adequately meet the needs of the hungry in our communities. Put simply we need more space, the right kind of space, and centrally located space. Here, CF’s staff describes their space as deficient for meeting organizational goals. However, this understanding of the space only comes through the combination of material and social aspects. On the material side, CF’s freezer was almost always completely full. Without a change, CF could not store or distribute more frozen food.1 However, the freezer was only full because of CF’s goals. As I discuss later, CF managers said that if they had less ambitious goals, the current space would continue to function. If CF decided they wanted to stay in the same space and distribute less food, their space would no longer be materially too small. However, given the work that CF is doing and the goals they have set, the space is too small. I observed these spatial limitations every day during fieldwork. The material limits of the space are therefore related to organizing; without organizational goals related to growth or meeting the need for food in their area, CF’s space might have been sufficient. Lived space therefore has both social and material aspects that, in turn, affect how space is designed, as well as the constitution of the organization. Space of flows Building from the first level, the second component of this approach is organizational space as a space of flows.2 This level demonstrates how inputs are transformed in an organizational space and put back into the environment. Taking organizational space as presentification (organizational space is defined as where an organization is made present; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013), each space where an organization is made present is then a space of flows. For CF, its office and warehouse are not the only spaces of flows, but its website, trucks, mobile food pantries, events, and other spaces are also organizational spaces characterized in part by flows. The space of flows captures the actual work that is being done in an organization and demonstrates the necessity of space to these everyday core functions of organizations. One of the foundational principles of CCO scholarship is rejecting the container metaphor to understand organizations as constituted by communication (Ashcraft et al., 2009). However, one limitation of avoiding the container metaphor is that scholars are often hesitant to acknowledge the roles that organizational containers play in organizing. For example, Ashcraft et al. (2009) argue for understanding communication (rather than physical spaces) as the site of organizing. Physical spaces are not the exclusive site of organizing, but they do participate in it as some of the plenum of agencies present in all interactions (Cooren, 2010). Spaces like offices, warehouses, and stores are organizational containers to a certain extent, and they are actors that play a role in the communicative constitution of organizations. Looking at organizational space as a space of flows helps to acknowledge the role of organizational containers, particularly in their ability to transform, while also demonstrating that organizing is not limited to these containers because the flows coming into and out of the organization connect the organization to outside agents and processes. At CF, food is a major flow. CF’s core work revolves around bringing food in and getting it to the people who need it. However, the food is often transformed in the process. Occasionally CF will receive food that comes into and leaves the warehouse without any material transformation, but the food is almost always transformed in material ways and is always symbolically transformed as it is labeled, categorized, and tracked in software. Much of the volunteer work done at CF involves transforming food. For instance, at one point CF acquired 52 pallets of bulk cereal. Each pallet consisted of a large cardboard box (about 48” x 40” x 40”) filled with loose cereal. Volunteers repackaged the cereal by weighing one pound of cereal into a plastic bag and heat-sealing it. While I was at CF, volunteers completed a number of similar projects, including repackaging chicken nuggets and popcorn, gluing labels onto unlabeled cans of peas, sorting produce, and putting allergen labels on recalled black bean burgers. In all these cases, volunteers transformed the food as it flowed through the space of CF; the space enabled the transformation of this flow. Yet, at the same time, all this food flowing through CF acts on CF. As Sophie, a CF employee, said, “Like when we had the cereal, it’s drop everything and do this.” Having a major repackaging project meant recruiting more volunteers, having extra volunteer shifts during the evening and on weekends, and rearranging warehouse logistics. Even though bringing food through CF and transforming it was an everyday activity, it was always an achievement given CF’s shortage of space and staff, such that the process acted on the organization and its everyday work and organizing practices. For example, finding room for 52 pallets of cereal was a challenge, so some of the cereal had to be stored in places where food was usually not stored. Then, the employee in charge of distribution focused his work for several weeks on finding places to take the cereal so it was no longer taking up space in the warehouse. The cereal was then transformed by CF via repacking while it also transformed CF’s work and space. There were many other flows at CF that included people, technology, other organizations, and discourses. These flows are generally related to the place where an organization is situated, which I discuss in the next level of constitutive space: situated space. Although flows need not be local, there are many localized flows where an organization takes in things from its environment and transforms/is transformed by them, then puts them back into the local place, transforming it and affecting the relationship between the organization and where it is situated. As organizations take in and act on flows, organizations as containers can act while flows also act on the organization and their spaces (often as containers). Situated place The third level of spatial constitution is related to where an organization is situated. All organizations are situated in a local place and draw resources from this place while also acting back on it. Particularly from a presence view of space, it is difficult to abstract space so much that it does not have a location or place-based manifestation. This level of constitution is different than a systems approach, because the organization’s relationship with the space and place where it is located is co-constitutive rather than exchange based. Although much of the data presented here can be understood through a relational lens, this level in particular is contingent on a relational ontology. When communication is understood as establishing relationships or links between entities (Cooren, 2016), those external entities with which an organization communicates or has relationships are important to consider in how they constitute an organization (Albu & Etter, 2016). An organization’s local environment is a spatial factor of this type, underscoring the myriad constitutive relationships that all organizations have. This level emphasizes the role of factors other than CF’s own workspace that affect CF’s organizing, particularly as such other influences are localized. CF is an inherently place-based organization. The work they do is directly influenced by the place in which it is located and the other organizations, social conditions, and discourses in that place. I asked Veronica what would happen, hypothetically, if CF stayed in its current location and was satisfied with its level of distribution. She responded: I don’t think anybody would know.… But it’s like an internal thing for me. I know how much need is out there. We have studies that show us that the need for food in our counties is 17 million pounds and we’re doing seven. Here, Veronica states that the material need in the place that CF serves is what drives her to continue growing CF; to a large extent, CF’s growth and mission as an organization is attributable to local poverty. CF’s space and need for growth is, then, constituted to a certain extent by the place where the organization is situated and that place’s material realities. Although CF’s leadership has discursively constructed their space as insufficient, that discursive construction is in large part predicated on local material realities. This example shows the social and material aspects of constructing space. Claire explained this relationship between local material realities (like poverty), organizational goals, and organizational space: I think if [CF] was ever content with 7 million pounds of food … this building could continue to function, but I don’t think that was ever the vision for the board or the executive staff. So. And I think a lot of that comes back to need. The need’s not decreasing. So if we ever got to the point where status quo is good enough, this building would continue to function pretty well. Here Claire continues to articulate the relationship between place-based need and the constitution of organizational goals and mission. As an organization, CF’s mission is directly related to the place where it is located; local place plays a role in constituting the organization. Claire and Veronica both pointed out that CF could choose to be content with its current performance, but that their vision kept them from letting the status quo be good enough. The place where CF is located, then, acts on CF as an organization, as well as CF’s space and capacity, particularly as CF’s executive staff discursively constructs meanings around their space in light of these material realities. In addition, CF’s work acts on the place where it is located in material and discursive ways. Materially, CF has an obvious impact through the distribution of food to those who need it. By distributing 7 million pounds of food to over 80,800 unique clients, CF is helping to feed people who have limited access to food. In the new space, CF hopes to extend how it acts on its place to do more in addressing root causes of hunger. Plans for the new space include an area for cooking and nutrition classes, as well as programming to connect clients to other forms of public assistance. As an organization and through its space, CF changes material realities around food insecurity in the place it serves. CF also tries to change how people talk about hunger, food, and poverty in the place that they serve. In this work to change local discourses, CF is shaped by the very discourses they work to change. Several of the managers, and particularly CF’s director, regularly speak at various events and clubs. One day at CF, Veronica was making copies of a newspaper article written by a woman receiving food stamps who was trying to dispel widely-held ideas that food stamp recipients are lazy or undeserving. Veronica was going to share the article at a church meeting, and told me that the article’s arguments were what most people needed to hear and understand. On another occasion, Veronica came back from a meeting with partner agencies venting that “they don’t want to see poverty. They think people need financial education, not food.” CF employees perceived the ways of talking about hunger and poverty in their area to include, “The food insecure are lazy and do not work,” “Hungry people should only blame themselves,” and “We do not want to see or confront poverty, hunger, or mental illness.” CF’s mission is to provide food and address the root causes of food insecurity, but to do this work, and particularly to get financial and food donations, CF needs to change how people understand and talk about hunger, illustrating the relationship and tensions between social and material aspects of local place. These discourses then represent both an aspect of the place where CF is located, which affect the organization and its space, as well as flows that the organization transforms. Local place is, then, the final constitutive level of this model of organizational space and place. Organizations and their spaces are shaped by material and discursive realities in the places where they are situated, while they also act on and change those realities. A constitutive model of space and place These three levels of constitution are acting simultaneously and acting on each other (see Figure 3). For example, the spatial constitution cycle in the first level, taking place with the design of CF’s new space, is related to limitations experienced in the lived space that come from the high levels of flows of food into CF’s space, and the large amounts of food are there because of the need in CF’s local place. It is important to note that, like any diagram or model, this figure makes the process of constitution seem neat and tidy. It should be understood that, for a given organization, processes of constitution like these are in place for every space where the organization is made present. Although this paper has focused on CF’s primary office and warehouse space, these same processes are going on for its website, its trucks, its employees as they are active in the community, and all the other ways that CF is made present. In this way, any organization has many spaces in which processes like these are taking place. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Model of how space and place are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. This figure shows the relationship between space and place and organization. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Model of how space and place are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. This figure shows the relationship between space and place and organization. Discussion In this paper, I have shown how space and place are both constituted by organizations and also constitutive of organizations and organizing. Space and place are essential to any organization, and act and communicate to make an organization what it is. I have shown how this constitutive process takes place in one specific organization, describing how three levels of constitutive space act on each other at CF to constitute organizational space, organization, and local place. The three layers demonstrate how agents of various kinds are both acted on by space and place and act on space and place, playing a role in the constitution of organizations. Although the constitutive process may take place differently in other organizations, this example provides a foundation for theorizing space as constitutive, rather than material or social. There are several characteristics of a constitutive theory of space. First, it rejects the separation between material and social understandings of space that has been implicit in most other research on organizational space (Wilhoit, 2015). Instead, following CCO, space must have both social and material aspects (Cooren, 2016). All aspects of space—social and material—can communicate and participate in the constitution of organizations. A constitutive approach to space recognizes that space is fundamentally a product of communication and an integral part of making an organization what it is. The example of CF demonstrates how there are many agents of varying ontologies both in and out of the organization that play a role in constituting the space. Second, a constitutive theory of space is relational. Following Cooren’s (2016) understanding of communication as a link between entities, one can see how spatial elements (material and discursive) can communicate to constitute an organization through their relationships. At CF, the spatial arrangements and relationships between the office and warehouse communicated to constitute the organization. The material realities of CF’s space and the ways it was discursively framed by CF’s staff were linked, and communicated to constitute the organization. Space can communicate in other ways (e.g., being made to speak or ventriloquized by people), but space is inherently relational (Massey, 2005), and a constitutive approach recognizes this relationality and its contribution to the constitution of organizations. Third, a constitutive approach to space recognizes the micro-macro collapse and recursion that exists between that which constitutes an organization and the organization itself (Kuhn, 2012). As the analysis of CF demonstrated, both the spatial elements of CF acted and communicated the organization into being, while the organization (through its constitutive agents) also acted on spatial elements, changing and constituting the space. A constitutive approach to space allows one to collapse this relationship to recognize that there is a recursion taking place between space and organization and that the two mutually shape each other. From this understanding of space, several contributions can be made to both the literature on organizational space and CCO theory. First, the communicatively constituted nature of space points to a contribution to general literature on organizational space. Existing literature does not truly address organizational space or how space contributes to organizing itself, but only views space in organizations. A CCO approach recognizes that micro interactions scale up to create the organization as an actor with agency (Kuhn, 2012). Space and place can then become communicative actors instead of products of communication alone (see Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). The ability to study space as an organizing factor is a major advantage of a constitutive approach to space, because one can avoid the dichotomy of seeing space as something either entirely fixed and within the organizational container or only an ephemeral communicative production. Second, a constitutive understanding of space responds to the need to study material and socially-constructed space together (Wilhoit, 2015), expanding the constitutive understanding of space by examining the materiality of space rather than only its instantiation or presence in discourse, as previous CCO research on space has done (Cooren et al., 2005; Vásquez, 2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). As the empirical data presented here show, one cannot fully understand organizational space (or organizations) without considering both its material and social aspects. Constitutive or social constructionist studies of space hesitate to consider the materiality of space because they want to move from a view of space as something a priori, permanent, or stabilizing (Beyes & Steyaert, 2011; Kornberger & Clegg, 2004; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). Such an approach, however, does not match the reality of organizations; considering social and material space is a necessary step for developing more sophisticated and realistic understandings of space, organizations, and communication (Kuhn, 2011). Furthermore, this finding is significant because it shows consideration for the material aspects of organizations that cannot be made entirely symbolic or interpreted away (Hutchby, 2001). In addition to bridging social and material approaches to space, this approach expands existing constitutive theory on space to see space as both a subject and object. Previous scholarship on the communicative constitution of space has focused more on how space is produced than what it does (Cooren et al., 2005; Vásquez, 2013; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). However, both aspects are important. As an object, space is constructed and often does exist as something “out there” that cannot be explained away by language. Offices, warehouses, conference rooms, stores, trucks, and other organizational spaces have an objective existence and present a certain level of stability to an organization. For CCO, organizations do not exist as objective things; they are constantly performed and communicated into being (Cooren et al., 2011). However, this does not mean that the actors that communicate an organization into being cannot have something of an objective existence. Although CF employees had created certain meanings about the warehouse that affected how space was perceived, those meanings did not change the size of the freezer. At the same time, as a subject, space can act and communicate. Once space has been objectified and ceases to be an abstract notion, it is able to act. Although the source of this ability to act and communicate is ultimately connected to humans and human action (Cooren, 2010; Latour, 2005), through this paper I have shown, in a way that previous CCO research on space has not, how space can be active. Space can communicate. Sometimes this happens through presence: CF’s new buildings, with increased size and a more prominent location, will communicate to people passing by and organizational stakeholders. Space can be made to speak or ventriloquized (Cooren, 2010): when Veronica says the space is too small to meet the need for food in her community, she makes it speak to say that CF needs a new, larger space. Space can also act by intervening in and making a difference for processes of culture, work, and interaction and communication. Space is not only constituted by organizations and organizing, but is also constitutive of it through its subjectivity. Because of this agency, space is simultaneously subject and object. Just as space and place are both material and discursive, they are both subject and object together, expanding understandings of organizational space while also challenging broader CCO theory. Third, a constitutive understanding of space reminds scholars of the limitations of rejecting the container metaphor. Although this paper is founded on the fundamental idea that organizations are made of communication rather than containing communication, it offers a reminder that the sites of communication, and therefore organization, often are containers. Offices, warehouses, skyscrapers, and train cars are all sites of communication and organization and are often agents that communicate and act to constitute the organization. Organizations are certainly not limited to these spaces, but at the same time, such spaces are often central to organizing. I suggest that CCO scholarship has perhaps overlooked organizational spaces in an attempt to reject the container metaphor, and instead propose that one can study containers as sites of organizations without assuming that the organization is contained. Taking such an approach to organizational space offers many areas for future research. Although the constitutive processes identified at CF may apply only to CF as an organization, scholars can look for such processes of constitutive space to understand an organization’s constitution as a whole or specific organizational processes. As managers and scholars alike seek to understand how new organizational spatial forms like hotdesking and open offices affect work, a constitutive approach is well-poised to understand how these new spatial forms act at the organizational level, not just for affecting variables like productivity and collaboration. Additionally, studying organizing (e.g., a social movement) rather than a specific organization from a spatial perspective would increase understanding of how space functions for organizations, particularly when there is not a clear organizational site like an office. Issues like culture, aesthetics, or difference could all be approached from a spatial perspective to see how they are produced and reproduced in space. Other specific aspects of space, like online spaces or mobility, could also be approached constitutively. Finally, other organizations likely have additional processes of spatial constitution that could be identified to further increase understanding of the fundamental role that space places in organizations and organizing. 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Space, Place, and the Communicative Constitution of Organizations: A Constitutive Model of Organizational Space

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Abstract

Abstract Existing research on organizational spaces tends to focus on either material aspects or socially constructed aspects. Both approaches see space as something an organization possesses. In response, I use the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) to propose a constitutive model of organizational space. This theory considers the subjective and objective aspects of organizational space, as well as how space is both constitutive of and constituted by organizations and organizing. By demonstrating how space participates in the communicative constitution of organizations, the importance of space for organizing is clarified and the constitutive role of new forms of organizational space can be understood. Space is both constituted by and communicatively constitutive of organizations. Although there is extensive research on workspaces (Davis, Leach, & Clegg, 2011; Elsbach & Pratt, 2007; Taylor & Spicer, 2007), very little has been communication-focused or addressed how space organizes or is constitutive of organizations. In this paper, I address why such an approach is important and propose a constitutive theory of organizational space to develop an understanding of how material and discursive aspects of space communicatively constitute and are constituted by organizations and organizing processes. Space is central to all organizations (Dale & Burrell, 2007). Ashcraft, Kuhn, and Cooren (2009) identified sites as a main kind of materiality, yet little organizational communication research has focused on space (Wilhoit, 2015). This is somewhat surprising given similarities between scholarship in critical and humanistic geography and organizational communication research. Additionally, the where of work is changing with the proliferation of innovative and whimsical workspaces like Google’s offices, increasing numbers of teleworkers (Fonner & Roloff, 2010), new office layouts like hot-desking (Hirst, 2011), and organizational forms like coworking spaces (Spinuzzi, 2012). Such changes are at the foreground of organizational space in popular and scholarly conversations, so there is a need to understand how these spaces function, both in terms of variables like collaboration or productivity, and in how these spaces communicatively constitute organizations. In this paper, I fill such gaps by demonstrating how organizational space is constitutive of (and constituted by) organization. Through proposing this constitutive model of organizational space, I account for both the material and socially-constructed aspects of space and for space’s simultaneously subjective and objective nature. Using data collected from an ethnography focused on organizational space, I suggest that a constitutive approach to organizational space gives space a larger role in organizations by focusing on its material, social, objective, and subjective dimensions. Conceptual foundation: Communicative constitution of organizations To develop a constitutive understanding of organizational space, I draw from the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO). Broadly, CCO concepts are based on the idea that communication is not a property of organizations, but is the organization itself (Taylor & Van Every, 2000). Although there are several schools of CCO thought (Brummans, Cooren, Robichaud, & Taylor, 2014), I draw on the Montréal School CCO. As the name of the approach suggests, CCO proposes that organizations are constituted through communication. However, what does the constitution of organizations actually mean? Cooren et al. (Cooren, Kuhn, Cornelissen, & Clark, 2011, p. 1150) described the process of constitution as how “organizations are established, composed, designed, and sustained.” A constitutive approach looks for that which influences and sparks the possibility for organizational reality (Ashcraft et al., 2009), incorporating actors of any ontology that make a difference in the being of organizations (Cooren, 2016). CCO takes communication as the primary, if not exclusive, way that these foundational organizational processes take place. Because of this communicative basis, CCO understands organizations not as stable entities, but as ongoing performances that must constantly be enacted into being (Putnam, Nicotera, & McPhee, 2008). Because of this understanding, one important commitment of CCO has been to reject the container metaphor (Ashcraft et al., 2009). This metaphor suggests that organizations are containers for communication, so the organization is an entity that exists apart from communication, and communication processes such as culture or conflict exist within that container. Because CCO argues that organizations exist through communication, CCO scholarship rejects the idea that communication is contained by the organization. Instead, CCO suggests a collapse of the micro-macro divide (Kuhn, 2012); rather than separating organizational structure from organizational behavior, CCO sees them as the same, because organizing exists in and through daily micro-communication practices. This aspect of CCO allows observers to find organization in communication from both humans and non-humans and provides the foundation for understanding how space is constitutive of organizations. To understand the role of humans and non-humans in constituting organizations, CCO draws from actor-network theory (Latour, 2005) to suggest that action can never be reduced to one agent, but is the hybrid accomplishment of many actors with varying ontologies (Cooren, 2018). For example, I am not acting alone to type this manuscript. I am acting with and through the keyboard, computer, and word processing software. Additionally, the hardware and software were designed by other humans, who likely made use of even more non-humans to create this technology. Action can therefore never be attributed to a single agent, because action and agency are always the result of relationships (Latour, 2005). Such a view does not mean equating humans and things or that human agency is reduced (Cooren, 2018). However, relational ontology entails seeing action as always a joint production. Organizations are an excellent example of relational ontology because they are not entities that exist independently out in the world. When one speaks of an organization acting, it is other agents—who act in the name of the organization and materialize it—who are doing the acting (Cooren, Brummans, & Charrieras, 2008). Communication, then, is never only a human activity, but always involves non-humans, like space. With its emphasis on actors of all ontological statuses, CCO is considered a sociomaterial approach (Cooren, 2010). However, for Montréal School CCO, sociomateriality does not mean choosing between the social or material, but recognizing that everything has both social and material aspects (Cooren, 2016; Malin, 2016; Martine, Cooren, Bénel, & Zacklad, 2015). Much CCO research considers materiality very broadly, understanding it as that which stands under or substantiates something (Martine et al., 2015). Following this view, materiality can be a goal, situation, document, or furniture. Although all materiality in this sense can be seen as constituting organizational space, the present focus on materiality is narrower, meaning only matter and form (Leonardi, 2012), or simply physical stuff. Taking materiality into account also means redefining communication, since materiality and humans often communicate in different ways. Cooren (2016, p. 81) has proposed a relational definition of communication as “the establishment, through something or someone, of a link, relation or passage between two or more entities.” Such an approach to communication suggests that meaning comes through arrangement and connections, expanding communication beyond human-to-human interaction to allow materiality and humans to communicate, and even for materiality to communicate with other materiality (Wilhoit, in press; Wilhoit & Kisselburgh, in press). For example, one can say that two rooms communicate by means of a doorway or that two people communicate by means of an email (Cooren, 2018). Although the means of communication are somewhat different, they are both about relationships and how entities connect to each other. Such an understanding of communication is particularly important for establishing how space communicates, particularly as space is also created through “arrangement-in-relation-to-each-other” (Massey, 2005, p. 111). The need for a constitutive approach to organizational space and place Space and place matter because they are central to human experience (Massey, 1994). When people talk about space through terms like “personal space” or “waste of space,” they demonstrate how space is a fundamental part of being human (Cresswell, 2015). Although space has often been seen as static, humanistic and critical geography theory has overturned this notion, redefining space as active, shifting, and performative (Lefebvre, 1991; Massey, 2005). This shift has led to a distinction between space and place. In general, space refers to coordinates or distances that can be measured (Agnew, 2011), while place is lived space (Cresswell, 2015). For example, a family who moves to a new house will likely understand it as space at first. They will see it in terms of square feet and how far the house is from work and school. However, over time, once the family personalizes the house, makes memories there, and has stories about the house, space is transformed to place and house becomes a home. While space and place are important for all human experience, space is also central to organizations (Dale & Burrell, 2007). Space matters in part because of how it affects individual workers, but space also matters for organizations because it plays a role in constituting organizations. At the same time, organizations also constitute the spaces they inhabit, resulting in an ongoing construction of both organization and workspace. However, current research on space has not approached organizational spaces this way; it tends to be divided between a focus on either material or socially-constructed space (Wilhoit, 2015). As I demonstrate, both types of space are necessary, but not sufficient enough individually to understand organizations. Through taking a constitutive approach to organizational space, space can be understood sociomaterially and in relation to organizations and organizing. Space as context Extensive literature on workspace from fields including management, facilities management, ergonomics, and architecture has considered space as a context or a physical backdrop for work and organizational activities (see Davis et al., 2011; Elsbach & Pratt, 2007; Wilhoit, 2015). Studying the material aspects of space is important, because materiality has certain enduring qualities that, particularly on an organizational time scale, are relatively more permanent than language or social patterns (Leonardi, 2012). Materiality is durable and consistent; a device designed to close a door automatically will not get bored or tired, unlike a person hired to close the door each time it has been opened (Latour, 1992). Spaces and buildings, in particular, offer stability to social life as they lead to patterns of action which can make social relations more permanent and structured (Gieryn, 2002). Although organizational spaces can be changed, it is often difficult and expensive, making these design decisions at least semi-permanent (Chan, Beckman, & Lawrence, 2007). A simple example of how space structures organizing is that one’s likelihood of communicating with a colleague decreases logarithmically as a the distance between the two increases (Allen & Fustfeld, 1975). Within this tradition, space tends to be treated as a variable, asking questions like whether an open plan versus cubicles will affect factors like productivity, happiness, or collaboration. Specific issues that this body of literature have addressed include the best way to configure workspaces (Elsbach & Pratt, 2007), increasing informal interaction (Allen & Fustfeld, 1975) and collaboration (Hua, Loftness, Heerwagen, & Powell, 2010), and the merits of open office plans (McElroy & Morrow, 2010). Space as construction However, considering only the material aspects of space neglects how organizational members create meanings about the spaces where they work. The second approach to organizational space, then, sees space not as fixed and stabilizing, but as multiple and shifting. Approaching space this way is important, because it demonstrates that space is not as monolithic as a material approach would suggest. Viewing space as socially constructed illuminates the role that all workers (not just managers) play in constructing workspace (Halford & Leonard, 2005), what space does (Kornberger & Clegg, 2004), how it is produced (Beyes & Steyaert, 2011), and the changing nature of space (Dale & Burrell, 2007). For example, a new building intended by management to have meanings of open communication and a bright future for the organization was interpreted by employees as meaning closed communication and representing the demise of the organization (Pepper, 2008). Research, from this perspective, looks for meanings or discourses about space, particularly conflicting or multiple meanings about the same spaces (Dale, 2005), the relationship between identity and space (Larson & Pearson, 2012), gendered spaces (Tyler & Cohen, 2010), and the exercise of power through spatial meanings (Zhang & Spicer, 2013). This body of research is important for demonstrating how people discursively construct spaces and how these socially-constructed spaces can co-exist and sometimes conflict. Space as constitutive As I suggest in this essay, a third way to understand space, which integrates and transcends these existing approaches, is to take a constitutive approach to space. Following CCO, a constitutive approach takes seriously both the social and material aspects of space (Cooren, 2016), but also considers how spaces communicate to make an organization what it is, as well as how organizing acts back on spaces, contributing to their constitution. Some CCO literature has considered spatial aspects of organizing (Cooren & Fairhurst, 2004; Cooren, Fox, Robichaud, & Talih, 2005; Vásquez, 2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). These studies make important points about organizations in relation to space, particularly how organizations are spaced through communication. However, this research has focused more on spacing than on physical organizational spaces. For example, Vásquez (2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013) described how organizations are made present and project themselves through the space of the world writ large, demonstrating that studies of organizational space need to extend beyond the walls of the workplace. Other work has considered how language can extend beyond the time and space of local interactions (Cooren & Fairhurst, 2004; Cooren et al., 2005). Although it is important to consider the role of language in transcending local space and physical workspaces, there is also a need to understand the role of physical organizational spaces, which play a major role in the everyday life and work of organizations. CCO offers a way to study, beyond the spacing that has been theorized, the social and material aspects of space together, as well as the role that space plays in constituting organizations. Methodological note The understanding of constitutive organizational space that I propose was derived in part from fieldwork at Community Food (CF), a food bank in the Midwestern United States. CF serves a specific geographic region and provides food for around 166 partner organizations who, in turn, distribute food to those in need. Partner organizations include food pantries, shelters, and programs for the disabled. CF also has their own initiatives to serve vulnerable populations, including the elderly and food-insecure children. CF was a theoretically useful organization for three reasons. First, it is a place-based organization (its mission is to provide food to a specific geographic area), allowing me to observe the relationship between the organization and its local place. Second, CF’s space is divided into an office and warehouse. Although employees from both spaces regularly interact with and enter the other space, there is a tension between these spaces and all employees “belong” to one of the spaces, allowing me to understand how and why spaces function in different ways. Third, during my fieldwork, CF purchased and began to renovate two new buildings and planned their move to these new spaces. The impending move meant that space was a salient topic of concern for participants. Ethnographic data were collected by observing organizational activities and taking field notes as an observer, serving as a volunteer, and conducting both formal and informal interviews with employees, volunteers, clients, and representatives of partner agencies (Bernard, 2011). I spent about 300 hours over seven months in the field as a participant-observer at CF, watching how CF stakeholders used and moved through space, volunteering, attending CF events, and riding with drivers on trips to deliver or pick up food. As I observed, I wrote brief notes. After leaving CF each day, I expanded my jottings into full fieldnotes (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 2011). I used grounded theory for data analysis (Strauss, 1987), studying the data as they were collected and using continuous findings to drive research. I wrote analytic memos about what I observed at CF, using memos to think about and analyze the data, driving ongoing data collection. The most helpful form of data analysis for the ethnographic research was talking about emergent findings and themes with colleagues, friends, and family members, a process valued in grounded theory (Strauss, 1987). Results From these data, I demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between space and organizing at CF, examining the relationship between specific micro spatial practices and the constitution of the macro organization. Specifically, I present three interlocking, related levels of constitutive space and place that demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between organization, organizational space, and the place where an organization is located. They also show how space and place have social and material aspects at every level, and that agents of all types play a role in constituting organizations. Although the following three constitutive processes are specific to CF’s space, they point to a broader theory of constitutive space. Lived space and designed space The first issue to consider is how organizational space comes to be. To a large extent, space and place are constituted through interaction (Massey, 2005). However, they both, but space in particular, are also designed. The creation of space and place through design and lived enactment are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. In this section, I discuss how space is both designed and lived, and how these two means of producing space are always changing organizational space and place (both materially and discursively) and, in turn, the organization itself (see Figure 1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Lived and designed space are in a cycle, constantly shaping and acting on each other. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Lived and designed space are in a cycle, constantly shaping and acting on each other. First, design is an important part of the constitution of all organizational spaces, because most organizational spaces (particularly central spaces like offices, factories, and warehouses) have been designed at some point. Very few organizations exist in a space that has never been put together intentionally, even if it was designed for a different purpose at a different time. The design of space has to do with bigger, more permanent changes. Second, place is also lived and enacted. As organizational members do their work, strive to meet organizational goals, and interact with customers and coworkers, their activities are shaped by the space and they act back on the space. Examples of how organizational members can live space include moving furniture, storing things in a closet, only being able to have a certain number of people in a meeting because of size constraints, giving nicknames to certain spaces, or assigning certain meanings (e.g., sterile or cramped) to a space. Lived space has to do with any everyday organizing activities (material and social) that relate to using, being affected by, or affecting space. Designed space therefore affects such enactments of space, while the ways that space is actually used, in turn, affect future changes made to designed space. Because CF was designing its new space while I collected data, I observed the process of spatial design. The design process was influenced by the organization itself, as organizational needs and existing problems and practices (lived space) influenced the new design. For example, because all volunteer work was done in one space at CF’s current offices, certain volunteer projects could not take place simultaneously because of health codes. To increase capacity for volunteers and volunteer projects, one of CF’s new buildings would have multiple, smaller volunteer rooms to accommodate concurrent volunteer projects. This example demonstrates the cycle in Figure 1: the current design of CF’s volunteer space affected everyday lived organizing of the space and place of CF, which in turn affected the design of the new volunteer space, which will presumably affect future organizing practices. There are, then, two processes acting on each other, through which space and place are created in organizations. However, this cycle is also in another constitutive relationship with organizing itself. Both lived and designed space act on the organization and organizing processes. As organizational space and place act and communicate, they affect communication and organizing, thereby constituting the organization in a particular way. At the same time, the organization (through the agents that perform it into being) acts on space and place and on the processes of living and designing space and place. Lived place (and space) and designed space then act on each other, while each of these kinds of space constitute organization and are constituted by the organization. This cycle and these constitutive relationships are illustrated by the history of CF’s spaces in relationship to CF as an organization. Veronica, a CF manager, spoke about the history of CF’s current headquarters and the exigence for their current space (as well as the new space that was being designed and constructed), illustrating the space/organization relationship: What’s great about this space is it was built to be a food bank, and most food banks aren’t that fortunate.… And [Community Food] was founded in 1981, they had outgrown their space on [road], terribly, probably by about 1995, and they acquired this land and built this building and moved into it in 1999. And it was designed and built to be a food bank, so that’s really great, but they designed it and built it to be a food bank that would serve, that would distribute 3 million pounds of food, someday. And my first year here, we distributed 2.4 million pounds of food; we’ve grown by at least a million pounds a year since then. Until the last two years where we’ve grown, but not by that much because we are literally maxed out. There is no amount of inventory turns that we can increase to that will let us get more food out than we are distributing now, which is 7 million. In this quote, Veronica mentions several shifts between designed and lived space, and how they affect each other and the organization as a whole (see Figure 2). As she describes the changes to CF’s space, she highlights both material and social aspects of space. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The process that illustrates the moves between designed and lived space at Community Food. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The process that illustrates the moves between designed and lived space at Community Food. First, there was a lack of space in the old location, a problem that came as a result of lived place and everyday organizing: as work was done and the space was used for organizing, the space became insufficient for meeting the organization’s goals. This outgrowing of the space (through enacting it) resulted in the design of a new space. This space was designed to be a food bank and to hold more food, in order to distribute 3 million pounds annually. The design of that space was then influenced by the organization’s goals and work. Over the past 16 years, that space (along with other factors) has allowed CF to grow and expand their operations. Through its material characteristics, the space contributed to CF’s constitution by affording growth. However, as CF as an organization has changed, the same space that once afforded growth and enabled CF to meet its goals now constrains CF and its organizational functioning. The way that material aspects of space act is not static, but is in a co-constitutive relationship with the goals and needs established by the organization. For instance, while CF’s space increasingly presented material limitations, CF staff also discursively constructed the space as insufficient to meet organizational goals (part of the lived enactment of space). In some of the marketing materials for CF’s capital campaign for the new space, they made the current space speak (or ventriloquized it; Cooren, 2010) as insufficient: We can’t reach these ambitious goals without a new facility. The location and size of our current building make it impossible for [CF] to adequately meet the needs of the hungry in our communities. Put simply we need more space, the right kind of space, and centrally located space. Here, CF’s staff describes their space as deficient for meeting organizational goals. However, this understanding of the space only comes through the combination of material and social aspects. On the material side, CF’s freezer was almost always completely full. Without a change, CF could not store or distribute more frozen food.1 However, the freezer was only full because of CF’s goals. As I discuss later, CF managers said that if they had less ambitious goals, the current space would continue to function. If CF decided they wanted to stay in the same space and distribute less food, their space would no longer be materially too small. However, given the work that CF is doing and the goals they have set, the space is too small. I observed these spatial limitations every day during fieldwork. The material limits of the space are therefore related to organizing; without organizational goals related to growth or meeting the need for food in their area, CF’s space might have been sufficient. Lived space therefore has both social and material aspects that, in turn, affect how space is designed, as well as the constitution of the organization. Space of flows Building from the first level, the second component of this approach is organizational space as a space of flows.2 This level demonstrates how inputs are transformed in an organizational space and put back into the environment. Taking organizational space as presentification (organizational space is defined as where an organization is made present; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013), each space where an organization is made present is then a space of flows. For CF, its office and warehouse are not the only spaces of flows, but its website, trucks, mobile food pantries, events, and other spaces are also organizational spaces characterized in part by flows. The space of flows captures the actual work that is being done in an organization and demonstrates the necessity of space to these everyday core functions of organizations. One of the foundational principles of CCO scholarship is rejecting the container metaphor to understand organizations as constituted by communication (Ashcraft et al., 2009). However, one limitation of avoiding the container metaphor is that scholars are often hesitant to acknowledge the roles that organizational containers play in organizing. For example, Ashcraft et al. (2009) argue for understanding communication (rather than physical spaces) as the site of organizing. Physical spaces are not the exclusive site of organizing, but they do participate in it as some of the plenum of agencies present in all interactions (Cooren, 2010). Spaces like offices, warehouses, and stores are organizational containers to a certain extent, and they are actors that play a role in the communicative constitution of organizations. Looking at organizational space as a space of flows helps to acknowledge the role of organizational containers, particularly in their ability to transform, while also demonstrating that organizing is not limited to these containers because the flows coming into and out of the organization connect the organization to outside agents and processes. At CF, food is a major flow. CF’s core work revolves around bringing food in and getting it to the people who need it. However, the food is often transformed in the process. Occasionally CF will receive food that comes into and leaves the warehouse without any material transformation, but the food is almost always transformed in material ways and is always symbolically transformed as it is labeled, categorized, and tracked in software. Much of the volunteer work done at CF involves transforming food. For instance, at one point CF acquired 52 pallets of bulk cereal. Each pallet consisted of a large cardboard box (about 48” x 40” x 40”) filled with loose cereal. Volunteers repackaged the cereal by weighing one pound of cereal into a plastic bag and heat-sealing it. While I was at CF, volunteers completed a number of similar projects, including repackaging chicken nuggets and popcorn, gluing labels onto unlabeled cans of peas, sorting produce, and putting allergen labels on recalled black bean burgers. In all these cases, volunteers transformed the food as it flowed through the space of CF; the space enabled the transformation of this flow. Yet, at the same time, all this food flowing through CF acts on CF. As Sophie, a CF employee, said, “Like when we had the cereal, it’s drop everything and do this.” Having a major repackaging project meant recruiting more volunteers, having extra volunteer shifts during the evening and on weekends, and rearranging warehouse logistics. Even though bringing food through CF and transforming it was an everyday activity, it was always an achievement given CF’s shortage of space and staff, such that the process acted on the organization and its everyday work and organizing practices. For example, finding room for 52 pallets of cereal was a challenge, so some of the cereal had to be stored in places where food was usually not stored. Then, the employee in charge of distribution focused his work for several weeks on finding places to take the cereal so it was no longer taking up space in the warehouse. The cereal was then transformed by CF via repacking while it also transformed CF’s work and space. There were many other flows at CF that included people, technology, other organizations, and discourses. These flows are generally related to the place where an organization is situated, which I discuss in the next level of constitutive space: situated space. Although flows need not be local, there are many localized flows where an organization takes in things from its environment and transforms/is transformed by them, then puts them back into the local place, transforming it and affecting the relationship between the organization and where it is situated. As organizations take in and act on flows, organizations as containers can act while flows also act on the organization and their spaces (often as containers). Situated place The third level of spatial constitution is related to where an organization is situated. All organizations are situated in a local place and draw resources from this place while also acting back on it. Particularly from a presence view of space, it is difficult to abstract space so much that it does not have a location or place-based manifestation. This level of constitution is different than a systems approach, because the organization’s relationship with the space and place where it is located is co-constitutive rather than exchange based. Although much of the data presented here can be understood through a relational lens, this level in particular is contingent on a relational ontology. When communication is understood as establishing relationships or links between entities (Cooren, 2016), those external entities with which an organization communicates or has relationships are important to consider in how they constitute an organization (Albu & Etter, 2016). An organization’s local environment is a spatial factor of this type, underscoring the myriad constitutive relationships that all organizations have. This level emphasizes the role of factors other than CF’s own workspace that affect CF’s organizing, particularly as such other influences are localized. CF is an inherently place-based organization. The work they do is directly influenced by the place in which it is located and the other organizations, social conditions, and discourses in that place. I asked Veronica what would happen, hypothetically, if CF stayed in its current location and was satisfied with its level of distribution. She responded: I don’t think anybody would know.… But it’s like an internal thing for me. I know how much need is out there. We have studies that show us that the need for food in our counties is 17 million pounds and we’re doing seven. Here, Veronica states that the material need in the place that CF serves is what drives her to continue growing CF; to a large extent, CF’s growth and mission as an organization is attributable to local poverty. CF’s space and need for growth is, then, constituted to a certain extent by the place where the organization is situated and that place’s material realities. Although CF’s leadership has discursively constructed their space as insufficient, that discursive construction is in large part predicated on local material realities. This example shows the social and material aspects of constructing space. Claire explained this relationship between local material realities (like poverty), organizational goals, and organizational space: I think if [CF] was ever content with 7 million pounds of food … this building could continue to function, but I don’t think that was ever the vision for the board or the executive staff. So. And I think a lot of that comes back to need. The need’s not decreasing. So if we ever got to the point where status quo is good enough, this building would continue to function pretty well. Here Claire continues to articulate the relationship between place-based need and the constitution of organizational goals and mission. As an organization, CF’s mission is directly related to the place where it is located; local place plays a role in constituting the organization. Claire and Veronica both pointed out that CF could choose to be content with its current performance, but that their vision kept them from letting the status quo be good enough. The place where CF is located, then, acts on CF as an organization, as well as CF’s space and capacity, particularly as CF’s executive staff discursively constructs meanings around their space in light of these material realities. In addition, CF’s work acts on the place where it is located in material and discursive ways. Materially, CF has an obvious impact through the distribution of food to those who need it. By distributing 7 million pounds of food to over 80,800 unique clients, CF is helping to feed people who have limited access to food. In the new space, CF hopes to extend how it acts on its place to do more in addressing root causes of hunger. Plans for the new space include an area for cooking and nutrition classes, as well as programming to connect clients to other forms of public assistance. As an organization and through its space, CF changes material realities around food insecurity in the place it serves. CF also tries to change how people talk about hunger, food, and poverty in the place that they serve. In this work to change local discourses, CF is shaped by the very discourses they work to change. Several of the managers, and particularly CF’s director, regularly speak at various events and clubs. One day at CF, Veronica was making copies of a newspaper article written by a woman receiving food stamps who was trying to dispel widely-held ideas that food stamp recipients are lazy or undeserving. Veronica was going to share the article at a church meeting, and told me that the article’s arguments were what most people needed to hear and understand. On another occasion, Veronica came back from a meeting with partner agencies venting that “they don’t want to see poverty. They think people need financial education, not food.” CF employees perceived the ways of talking about hunger and poverty in their area to include, “The food insecure are lazy and do not work,” “Hungry people should only blame themselves,” and “We do not want to see or confront poverty, hunger, or mental illness.” CF’s mission is to provide food and address the root causes of food insecurity, but to do this work, and particularly to get financial and food donations, CF needs to change how people understand and talk about hunger, illustrating the relationship and tensions between social and material aspects of local place. These discourses then represent both an aspect of the place where CF is located, which affect the organization and its space, as well as flows that the organization transforms. Local place is, then, the final constitutive level of this model of organizational space and place. Organizations and their spaces are shaped by material and discursive realities in the places where they are situated, while they also act on and change those realities. A constitutive model of space and place These three levels of constitution are acting simultaneously and acting on each other (see Figure 3). For example, the spatial constitution cycle in the first level, taking place with the design of CF’s new space, is related to limitations experienced in the lived space that come from the high levels of flows of food into CF’s space, and the large amounts of food are there because of the need in CF’s local place. It is important to note that, like any diagram or model, this figure makes the process of constitution seem neat and tidy. It should be understood that, for a given organization, processes of constitution like these are in place for every space where the organization is made present. Although this paper has focused on CF’s primary office and warehouse space, these same processes are going on for its website, its trucks, its employees as they are active in the community, and all the other ways that CF is made present. In this way, any organization has many spaces in which processes like these are taking place. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Model of how space and place are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. This figure shows the relationship between space and place and organization. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Model of how space and place are constitutive of and constituted by organizations. This figure shows the relationship between space and place and organization. Discussion In this paper, I have shown how space and place are both constituted by organizations and also constitutive of organizations and organizing. Space and place are essential to any organization, and act and communicate to make an organization what it is. I have shown how this constitutive process takes place in one specific organization, describing how three levels of constitutive space act on each other at CF to constitute organizational space, organization, and local place. The three layers demonstrate how agents of various kinds are both acted on by space and place and act on space and place, playing a role in the constitution of organizations. Although the constitutive process may take place differently in other organizations, this example provides a foundation for theorizing space as constitutive, rather than material or social. There are several characteristics of a constitutive theory of space. First, it rejects the separation between material and social understandings of space that has been implicit in most other research on organizational space (Wilhoit, 2015). Instead, following CCO, space must have both social and material aspects (Cooren, 2016). All aspects of space—social and material—can communicate and participate in the constitution of organizations. A constitutive approach to space recognizes that space is fundamentally a product of communication and an integral part of making an organization what it is. The example of CF demonstrates how there are many agents of varying ontologies both in and out of the organization that play a role in constituting the space. Second, a constitutive theory of space is relational. Following Cooren’s (2016) understanding of communication as a link between entities, one can see how spatial elements (material and discursive) can communicate to constitute an organization through their relationships. At CF, the spatial arrangements and relationships between the office and warehouse communicated to constitute the organization. The material realities of CF’s space and the ways it was discursively framed by CF’s staff were linked, and communicated to constitute the organization. Space can communicate in other ways (e.g., being made to speak or ventriloquized by people), but space is inherently relational (Massey, 2005), and a constitutive approach recognizes this relationality and its contribution to the constitution of organizations. Third, a constitutive approach to space recognizes the micro-macro collapse and recursion that exists between that which constitutes an organization and the organization itself (Kuhn, 2012). As the analysis of CF demonstrated, both the spatial elements of CF acted and communicated the organization into being, while the organization (through its constitutive agents) also acted on spatial elements, changing and constituting the space. A constitutive approach to space allows one to collapse this relationship to recognize that there is a recursion taking place between space and organization and that the two mutually shape each other. From this understanding of space, several contributions can be made to both the literature on organizational space and CCO theory. First, the communicatively constituted nature of space points to a contribution to general literature on organizational space. Existing literature does not truly address organizational space or how space contributes to organizing itself, but only views space in organizations. A CCO approach recognizes that micro interactions scale up to create the organization as an actor with agency (Kuhn, 2012). Space and place can then become communicative actors instead of products of communication alone (see Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). The ability to study space as an organizing factor is a major advantage of a constitutive approach to space, because one can avoid the dichotomy of seeing space as something either entirely fixed and within the organizational container or only an ephemeral communicative production. Second, a constitutive understanding of space responds to the need to study material and socially-constructed space together (Wilhoit, 2015), expanding the constitutive understanding of space by examining the materiality of space rather than only its instantiation or presence in discourse, as previous CCO research on space has done (Cooren et al., 2005; Vásquez, 2013, 2016; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). As the empirical data presented here show, one cannot fully understand organizational space (or organizations) without considering both its material and social aspects. Constitutive or social constructionist studies of space hesitate to consider the materiality of space because they want to move from a view of space as something a priori, permanent, or stabilizing (Beyes & Steyaert, 2011; Kornberger & Clegg, 2004; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). Such an approach, however, does not match the reality of organizations; considering social and material space is a necessary step for developing more sophisticated and realistic understandings of space, organizations, and communication (Kuhn, 2011). Furthermore, this finding is significant because it shows consideration for the material aspects of organizations that cannot be made entirely symbolic or interpreted away (Hutchby, 2001). In addition to bridging social and material approaches to space, this approach expands existing constitutive theory on space to see space as both a subject and object. Previous scholarship on the communicative constitution of space has focused more on how space is produced than what it does (Cooren et al., 2005; Vásquez, 2013; Vásquez & Cooren, 2013). However, both aspects are important. As an object, space is constructed and often does exist as something “out there” that cannot be explained away by language. Offices, warehouses, conference rooms, stores, trucks, and other organizational spaces have an objective existence and present a certain level of stability to an organization. For CCO, organizations do not exist as objective things; they are constantly performed and communicated into being (Cooren et al., 2011). However, this does not mean that the actors that communicate an organization into being cannot have something of an objective existence. Although CF employees had created certain meanings about the warehouse that affected how space was perceived, those meanings did not change the size of the freezer. At the same time, as a subject, space can act and communicate. Once space has been objectified and ceases to be an abstract notion, it is able to act. Although the source of this ability to act and communicate is ultimately connected to humans and human action (Cooren, 2010; Latour, 2005), through this paper I have shown, in a way that previous CCO research on space has not, how space can be active. Space can communicate. Sometimes this happens through presence: CF’s new buildings, with increased size and a more prominent location, will communicate to people passing by and organizational stakeholders. Space can be made to speak or ventriloquized (Cooren, 2010): when Veronica says the space is too small to meet the need for food in her community, she makes it speak to say that CF needs a new, larger space. Space can also act by intervening in and making a difference for processes of culture, work, and interaction and communication. Space is not only constituted by organizations and organizing, but is also constitutive of it through its subjectivity. Because of this agency, space is simultaneously subject and object. Just as space and place are both material and discursive, they are both subject and object together, expanding understandings of organizational space while also challenging broader CCO theory. Third, a constitutive understanding of space reminds scholars of the limitations of rejecting the container metaphor. Although this paper is founded on the fundamental idea that organizations are made of communication rather than containing communication, it offers a reminder that the sites of communication, and therefore organization, often are containers. Offices, warehouses, skyscrapers, and train cars are all sites of communication and organization and are often agents that communicate and act to constitute the organization. Organizations are certainly not limited to these spaces, but at the same time, such spaces are often central to organizing. I suggest that CCO scholarship has perhaps overlooked organizational spaces in an attempt to reject the container metaphor, and instead propose that one can study containers as sites of organizations without assuming that the organization is contained. Taking such an approach to organizational space offers many areas for future research. Although the constitutive processes identified at CF may apply only to CF as an organization, scholars can look for such processes of constitutive space to understand an organization’s constitution as a whole or specific organizational processes. As managers and scholars alike seek to understand how new organizational spatial forms like hotdesking and open offices affect work, a constitutive approach is well-poised to understand how these new spatial forms act at the organizational level, not just for affecting variables like productivity and collaboration. Additionally, studying organizing (e.g., a social movement) rather than a specific organization from a spatial perspective would increase understanding of how space functions for organizations, particularly when there is not a clear organizational site like an office. Issues like culture, aesthetics, or difference could all be approached from a spatial perspective to see how they are produced and reproduced in space. Other specific aspects of space, like online spaces or mobility, could also be approached constitutively. Finally, other organizations likely have additional processes of spatial constitution that could be identified to further increase understanding of the fundamental role that space places in organizations and organizing. 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Communication TheoryOxford University Press

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