Facilitating Dialogue between Theories and Practices of Constitution

July 28  -  July 30, 2018

The 2018 Aspen Conference on Engaged Communication Scholarship centers on communication-as-constitutive approaches to organizing with a focus on the interplay between the ways that scholars theorize constitution and the practices they inspire within organizational life. Leading scholars will help the conference address questions including: What is communication, or what exactly does communication entail, through various constitutive approaches? What practices and tools do the theoretical concepts and assumptions associated with constitutive approaches generate for organizational practitioners? How can practitioners leverage the theoretical resources that constitutive approaches offer to intervene in organizing? How do the theoretical concepts and assumptions of constitutive approaches to communication affirm and challenge each other? What insights do different approaches to communication as constitution offer regarding organizational practices? How can organizational practices challenge our understanding of communication as constitution?

Please consider submitting a project in process or just join us in July to participate and share your ideas!


Keynote Panelists

This year’s focus is on bringing communication-as-constitutive approaches to organizing to bear on practical problems and advancing those approaches through practice. Drs. Karen Ashcraft and Timothy Kuhn have agreed to kick off the conference by reviewing contributions in this domain from across the discipline and sharing their latest research with us.

Dr. Karen Lee Ashcraft is Professor of Media, Communication, and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research examines how relations of difference, such as gender and race, come to matter in work and organizational life. She addresses concerns in a range of contexts, from bureaucratic and alternative forms of organizing to specific industries, spanning occupations as diverse as commercial aviation, social services, and academic labor. Her work has appeared in such outlets as Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization, and Communication Monographs, as well as in two co-authored books, Reworking Gender (Sage, 2004) and The Work of Communication (Routledge, 2017). Karen received the 2013 Best Article of the Year award from the Academy of Management Review for her formulation of the “glass slipper,” which claims that communication generates occupational identity and professional privilege through bodily association. Her current work considers how so-called new materialisms can enrich communication theory and practice in this moment of contemporary capitalism. In recent research on occupational branding, for example, she explores the utility of reviving the role of (affective) transmission in constitutive approaches to communication.
Guided by efforts to reframe organization in distinctly communicative terms, Dr. Timothy Kuhn (PhD, Arizona State University) researches the constitution of authority and agency in organizational action, with particular attention to how knowledge, identities and conceptions of value emerge in the sociomaterial, power-laden communication practices. His interest in communicative practice is translated into four more specific themes:
  1. The investigation of individual and organizational processes of knowing, including how these lead to learning and complex change processes;
  2. Identity negotiation in and through work;
  3. How and when factors that are typically considered “material,” including spatial features, become authoritative in organizing; and
  4. How authority and (dis)order emerge in dispersed organizing practices.

Across these four themes, his aim is to contribute to the development of theorizing that explains the existence, operations, management and boundaries of organizations in specifically communicative terms.

Keynote Facilitator

At this year's conference, we will also hear reports from the field from a group of practitioners, and we will invite conference participants to share their own successes and challenges with making use of constitutive approaches in their engaged scholarship. Dr. Martín Carcasson has agreed to share some of the communication tools he uses in his work with Colorado State’s Center for Public Deliberation by walking participants through a dialogue exercise.

Dr. Martín Carcasson, Ph.D., is a professor in the Communication Studies department of Colorado State University, the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD), and the current chair of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. He also works closely with the Kettering Foundation’s Centers for Public Life program, and is an engagement fellow with Public Agenda. He considers himself both a practitioner and a scholar (or, as some say, a “pracademic”). His research is focused on helping local communities address “wicked problems” more productively through improved public communication, community problem solving, and collaborative decision-making. The CPD is a practical, applied extension of his work, and functions as an impartial resource dedicated to enhancing local democracy in Northern Colorado. Dr. Carcasson trains students to serve as impartial facilitators, who then work with local governments, school boards, and community organizations to design, facilitate, and report on innovative projects and events on key community issues. Dr. Carcasson's research has been published in Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Communication Theory, National Civic Review, Colorado Municipalities, the International Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Quarterly Journal of Speech.

Keynote Reflectors

After debriefing Dr. Carcasson’s exercise, a panel of reflecting scholars will help spark participants’ reflections about how we might apply different approaches to constitution. These keynote reflectors will share what excites them in what they are hearing at the conference about applications or potential applications of this rich and diverse thread in our discipline, as well as bringing the insights from their own work to the discussion. Drs. Mark Aakhus, Kate Lockwood Harris, and Jennifer PeeksMease have agreed to join the reflecting panel.

Dr. Mark Aakhus investigates the relationship between communication and design, especially the uses of technological and organizational design, to augment human interaction and reasoning for decision-making and conflict-management. He uses multiple methods from discourse analysis and computational social science to examine language, argumentation, and social interaction in professional practice, organizational processes, and information infrastructures. His current research, teaching, and doctoral projects emphasize the following themes:
  • Argument Mining: Laboratory for the Study of Applied Language Technology and Society
  • Designing common(s) ground for open innovation: Social media and information systems for deliberation and collective intelligence in health decision making
  • Sustainability communication: Controversy and rationality in polylogues about the environment and wellness in the new media ecology
  • Information Infrastructures and Digital Social Ontology: Accountability and communication in digital society

The aim in these streams of research is to improve understanding of the intentional, and emergent, design of institutions for communication and the consequences for the co-creation of health, wellness, and democracy.
Dr. Kate Lockwood Harris uses critical, feminist, and intersectional perspectives to answer the question, “How are violence and communication related?” Dr. Harris assumes that violence is a symptom of inequality on the basis of difference, so she pays close attention to gender and race. Her research on organizational responses to sexual assault has been published in Management Communication Quarterly, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Discourse& Society, Communication Theory, and Human Relations. In publications in Qualitative Research, Women and Language, and Women’s Studies in Communication, among other outlets, she considers how writing, reflexivity, and language both sustain and transform violence. Harris has also researched Title IX lawsuits at U.S. universities in order to (a) theorize the relationship between discursive and material violence and (b) understand the experiences of organizational whistleblowers. Dr. Harris is a recipient of the International Communication Association’s prestigious W. Charles Redding Dissertation Award, and she has won top paper accolades at regional and international conferences. She consults with organizations to develop violence prevention programs.
Dr. Jennifer J. PeeksMease is an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University. Her research addresses how social bias is built into organizational processes and structures, and how people cope with, challenge, and change those processes and structures. Her most recent efforts have focused on issues of gender and career advancement, a topic she investigates with the help of an undergraduate research team. They are exploring this process in the realms of politics, entrepreneurship, and corporate America. Her work has been published in Management Communication Quarterly, Text and Performance Quarterly, the Journal of Applied Communication Research, and two of NCA’s Organizational Communication Division’s Edited Books of the Year. Her scholarship has also addressed topics such as the Women’s March on Washington, race in public school board meetings, the work of diversity consultants, and poststructural approaches to organizational communication. Outside the classroom, Dr. PeeksMease has worked across government, corporate, and nonprofit sectors as a consultant in team building, executive coaching, and leadership development. She also serves the department in the role of the Community Engagement liaison (helping instructors and faculty integrate community engagement in their classrooms and research) and serves on the advisory board for the James Madison University Center for Entrepreneurship.