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11th Edition

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Chapter 24Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stanley Deetz views multinational corporations as the dominant force in society.
  2. Deetz’ critical communication theory seeks to unmask what he considers unjust and unwise communication practices within organizations.
  3. His theory advocates “stakeholder participation.” He believes that everyone who will be significantly affected by a corporate policy should have a meaningful voice in the decision-making process.
  1. Corporate colonization and control of everyday life.
  1. Corporate-speak increasingly creeps into our personal lives, and can become more meaningless as the words stand in for what we really mean to say.
  2. Corporate influence also extends into employees’ home life.
  3. That pervasive influence isn't necessarily all bad—they can use their clout for good.
  4. But corporate control has sharply diminished the quality of life for most citizens.
  5. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical in that he questions whether corporate practices that have now become commonplace have downsides for the corporation itself, as well as the broader communities in which we live.
  6. Deetz wants to examine communication practices in organizations that undermine fully representative decision making and thus reduce the quality, innovation, and fairness of business decisions.
  1. Information or communication; Transmission or the creation of meaning.
  1. Deetz challenges the view that communication is the transmission of information, a view that perpetuates corporate dominance.
  2. He contends that each line item in an annual report is constitutive—created by corporate decision makers who have the power to make their decisions stick.
  3. Deetz offers a communication model that emphasizes the role of language in shaping social reality.
  1. Language does not represent things that already exist; it produces what we believe to be “self-evident” or “natural.”
  2. Corporations subtly produce meanings and values.
  1. Deetz offers a 2 x 2 model that contrasts communication as information vs. communication as creating reality, and managerial control vs. codetermination.
  2. Managerial control often takes precedence over representation of conflicting interests or long-term company and community health.
  3. Co-determination, on the other hand, epitomizes participatory democracy.
  4. Public decisions can be formed through strategy, consent, involvement, and participation—the four cells depicted in the model.
  1. Strategy—overt managerial moves to extend control.
  1. Deetz contends that managers are not the problem—the real culprit is managerialism.
  2. Managerialism is a discourse that values control above all else.
  3. Any focus on individuals diverts attention from a failed managerial system based on control.
  4. Forms of control based in communication systems impede any real worker voice in structuring their work.
  5. The desire for control can even exceed the desire for corporate performance.
  6. The quest for control is evident in the corporate aversion to public conflict.
  7. Strategic control does not benefit the corporation, and it alienates employees and causes rebellion.
  8. Because of these drawbacks, most managers prefer to maintain control through workers’ voluntary consent.
  1. Consent: Unwitting allegiance to covert control.
  1. Through the process that Deetz calls consent, most employees willingly give their loyalty without getting much in return.
  2. Consent describes a variety of situations and processes in which someone actively, though unknowingly, accomplishes the interests of others in the faulty attempt to fulfill his or her own interests.
  3. Discursive closure suppresses potential conflict.
  1. Certain groups of people may be classified as disqualified to speak on certain issues.
  2. Arbitrary definitions may be labeled “natural.”
  3. Values behind decisions may be kept hidden to appear objective.
  1. Involvement: Free expression of ideas, but no voice.
  1. Truth emerges from the free flow of information in an open marketplace of ideas, and an information transfer model of communication worked well when people shared values.
  1. Freedom of speech guaranteed equitable participation in decision making.
  2. Persuasion and advocacy were the best ways to reach a good decision.
  3. Autonomous individuals could then make up their own minds.
  1. The information transfer model does not work well in today’s pluralistic, interconnected world.
  2. Free expression is not the same as having a “voice” in corporate decisions, and knowledge of this difference creates worker cynicism.
  3. Deetz suggests that in present-day corporate practices, “the right of expression appears more central than the right to be informed or to have an effect.” 
  4. Voice means expressing interests that are freely and openly formed, and then having those interests reflected in a joint decision.
  1. Participation: Stakeholder democracy in action.
  1. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical, but not just negative.
  2. Meaningful democratic participation creates better citizens and social choices while providing economic benefits.
  3. The first move Deetz makes is to expand the list of people who should have a say in how a corporation is run.
  4. Deetz advocates open negotiations of power among those who have a stake in what an organization does.
  5. There are at least six classes of stakeholders, each with unique needs: Investors, workers, consumers, suppliers, host communities, and greater society and the world community.
  6. Since some stakeholders have taken greater risks and made longer-term investments than stockholders and top-level managers, Deetz believes these stakeholders should have a say in corporate decisions.
  7. Managers should coordinate the conflicting interests of all parties—be mediators rather than persuaders.
  8. He stresses that diversity among stakeholders generates productive interaction and creativity instead of merely reproducing what’s always been.
  9. Deetz offers nine conditions that must be met in order for diverse stakeholders to successfully negotiate their needs and interests.
  1. Avoiding meltdown—Putting theory into practice
  1. Given entrenched managerial power and privilege in corporations, most economic observers are skeptical that the workplace participation Deetz advocates will become reality.
  2. But Deetz’ recent work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might give naysayers cause for pause.
  3. Deetz’ ultimate goal is to reach a point where all stakeholders voluntarily do the right thing because they see it’s in their own interest or the interests of those they love.
  1. Critique: A quality critical theory, but is workplace democracy just a dream?
  1. Applied to organizational life, Deetz’ critical approach is an exemplar of what this type of interpretive theory should be.
  2. He clarifies the harmful values of managerialism, provides a new understanding of managerial control, sets a reform agenda, offers rich qualitative data to support his theory, has generated a wide community of agreement, and presents it with wit and humor that makes the theory aesthetically pleasing.
  3. However, many organizational scholars regard the possibility of managers voluntarily giving up power as unrealistic.
  4. As CCO theorist Robert McPhee (ch. 23) puts it in his ironic summary of Deetz’ theory, “If we just didn’t find it natural and right and unavoidable to hand power over to managers, everything would be different and all our problems would be solved.”
  5. Deetz understands the difficulty in altering entrenched power, but the number of problems like those faced in nuclear power plants may put the forces of a changing world on the side of collaboration between management and workers. 
  6. Deetz’ summary of his life work emphasizes his desire to remove “structural and systemic features of life” that hinder “creative mutually beneficial choices.”


You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

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Chapter 24Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stanley Deetz views multinational corporations as the dominant force in society.
  2. Deetz’ critical communication theory seeks to unmask what he considers unjust and unwise communication practices within organizations.
  3. His theory advocates “stakeholder participation.” He believes that everyone who will be significantly affected by a corporate policy should have a meaningful voice in the decision-making process.
  1. Corporate colonization and control of everyday life.
  1. Corporate-speak increasingly creeps into our personal lives, and can become more meaningless as the words stand in for what we really mean to say.
  2. Corporate influence also extends into employees’ home life.
  3. That pervasive influence isn't necessarily all bad—they can use their clout for good.
  4. But corporate control has sharply diminished the quality of life for most citizens.
  5. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical in that he questions whether corporate practices that have now become commonplace have downsides for the corporation itself, as well as the broader communities in which we live.
  6. Deetz wants to examine communication practices in organizations that undermine fully representative decision making and thus reduce the quality, innovation, and fairness of business decisions.
  1. Information or communication; Transmission or the creation of meaning.
  1. Deetz challenges the view that communication is the transmission of information, a view that perpetuates corporate dominance.
  2. He contends that each line item in an annual report is constitutive—created by corporate decision makers who have the power to make their decisions stick.
  3. Deetz offers a communication model that emphasizes the role of language in shaping social reality.
  1. Language does not represent things that already exist; it produces what we believe to be “self-evident” or “natural.”
  2. Corporations subtly produce meanings and values.
  1. Deetz offers a 2 x 2 model that contrasts communication as information vs. communication as creating reality, and managerial control vs. codetermination.
  2. Managerial control often takes precedence over representation of conflicting interests or long-term company and community health.
  3. Co-determination, on the other hand, epitomizes participatory democracy.
  4. Public decisions can be formed through strategy, consent, involvement, and participation—the four cells depicted in the model.
  1. Strategy—overt managerial moves to extend control.
  1. Deetz contends that managers are not the problem—the real culprit is managerialism.
  2. Managerialism is a discourse that values control above all else.
  3. Any focus on individuals diverts attention from a failed managerial system based on control.
  4. Forms of control based in communication systems impede any real worker voice in structuring their work.
  5. The desire for control can even exceed the desire for corporate performance.
  6. The quest for control is evident in the corporate aversion to public conflict.
  7. Strategic control does not benefit the corporation, and it alienates employees and causes rebellion.
  8. Because of these drawbacks, most managers prefer to maintain control through workers’ voluntary consent.
  1. Consent: Unwitting allegiance to covert control.
  1. Through the process that Deetz calls consent, most employees willingly give their loyalty without getting much in return.
  2. Consent describes a variety of situations and processes in which someone actively, though unknowingly, accomplishes the interests of others in the faulty attempt to fulfill his or her own interests.
  3. Discursive closure suppresses potential conflict.
  1. Certain groups of people may be classified as disqualified to speak on certain issues.
  2. Arbitrary definitions may be labeled “natural.”
  3. Values behind decisions may be kept hidden to appear objective.
  1. Involvement: Free expression of ideas, but no voice.
  1. Truth emerges from the free flow of information in an open marketplace of ideas, and an information transfer model of communication worked well when people shared values.
  1. Freedom of speech guaranteed equitable participation in decision making.
  2. Persuasion and advocacy were the best ways to reach a good decision.
  3. Autonomous individuals could then make up their own minds.
  1. The information transfer model does not work well in today’s pluralistic, interconnected world.
  2. Free expression is not the same as having a “voice” in corporate decisions, and knowledge of this difference creates worker cynicism.
  3. Deetz suggests that in present-day corporate practices, “the right of expression appears more central than the right to be informed or to have an effect.” 
  4. Voice means expressing interests that are freely and openly formed, and then having those interests reflected in a joint decision.
  1. Participation: Stakeholder democracy in action.
  1. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical, but not just negative.
  2. Meaningful democratic participation creates better citizens and social choices while providing economic benefits.
  3. The first move Deetz makes is to expand the list of people who should have a say in how a corporation is run.
  4. Deetz advocates open negotiations of power among those who have a stake in what an organization does.
  5. There are at least six classes of stakeholders, each with unique needs: Investors, workers, consumers, suppliers, host communities, and greater society and the world community.
  6. Since some stakeholders have taken greater risks and made longer-term investments than stockholders and top-level managers, Deetz believes these stakeholders should have a say in corporate decisions.
  7. Managers should coordinate the conflicting interests of all parties—be mediators rather than persuaders.
  8. He stresses that diversity among stakeholders generates productive interaction and creativity instead of merely reproducing what’s always been.
  9. Deetz offers nine conditions that must be met in order for diverse stakeholders to successfully negotiate their needs and interests.
  1. Avoiding meltdown—Putting theory into practice
  1. Given entrenched managerial power and privilege in corporations, most economic observers are skeptical that the workplace participation Deetz advocates will become reality.
  2. But Deetz’ recent work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might give naysayers cause for pause.
  3. Deetz’ ultimate goal is to reach a point where all stakeholders voluntarily do the right thing because they see it’s in their own interest or the interests of those they love.
  1. Critique: A quality critical theory, but is workplace democracy just a dream?
  1. Applied to organizational life, Deetz’ critical approach is an exemplar of what this type of interpretive theory should be.
  2. He clarifies the harmful values of managerialism, provides a new understanding of managerial control, sets a reform agenda, offers rich qualitative data to support his theory, has generated a wide community of agreement, and presents it with wit and humor that makes the theory aesthetically pleasing.
  3. However, many organizational scholars regard the possibility of managers voluntarily giving up power as unrealistic.
  4. As CCO theorist Robert McPhee (ch. 23) puts it in his ironic summary of Deetz’ theory, “If we just didn’t find it natural and right and unavoidable to hand power over to managers, everything would be different and all our problems would be solved.”
  5. Deetz understands the difficulty in altering entrenched power, but the number of problems like those faced in nuclear power plants may put the forces of a changing world on the side of collaboration between management and workers. 
  6. Deetz’ summary of his life work emphasizes his desire to remove “structural and systemic features of life” that hinder “creative mutually beneficial choices.”


You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

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