COORSO (COmmunicating ORganizational SOcialization)

Aktivitet: Andet


Organizations as Key Sites of Human Identity Formation
Today, “organizations are [seen as] key sites of human identity formation in modern society” (Mumby, 2013,
p. 47), which, in turn, makes the modern corporation “the primary institution for the development of our
identities, surpassing the family, church, government, and education systems in this role” (Mumby, 2013, p.
47, cf. Deetz 1992). A feature of late modernity that has led Deetz to coin the phrase “corporate colonization”
of the individual’s life world (Deetz, 1992). Living in an era where the corporate colonization of the
employees’ life worlds is the norm and where the organization has become a key site of human identity
formation, implies that the responsibilities of good corporate governance (e.g., Solomon, 2007) have
expanded dramatically compared to previously. In that sense organizations have truly become sites of power
and control (cf. Mumby, 2013, p. 47), i.e., institutions which affect individual’s identity and life in a direct and
fundamental way – a state of affairs which in and of itself calls for applying a critical approach to
organizational communications/discourses/narratives/interactions/practices. For if indeed companies seek
to influence the identity formation of their employees – and they do – then the scope of any company’s
social, societal as well as ethical responsibilities towards its employees is widened significantly as a result.
Organizational Socialization Communication from a Critical Perspective
For any organization, it is crucial that it attracts recruits and employs the ‘right’ employees. Whereas
attracting and recruiting what appears to be the ‘right’ employee is necessary, the act of hiring is not in and
of itself sufficient to ensure that the new employee masters the task s/he is hired to perform, neither that
s/he is on par with the mission, vision, and values of the organization. In order to secure this extensive kind
of alignment, the organization’s strategic HRM function typically sets up and runs an elaborate organizational
socialization program that is “identified as the primary process by which people adapt to new jobs and
organizational goals” (Chao, O'Leary-Kelly, Wolf, Klein, & Gardner, 1994, p. 730). Activities, in sum, that are
designed to guide (and if need be: to correct) not only employee behavior, but indeed employee identity
formation. From a sociological point of view this insight is mirrored in what DiMaggio and Powell refer to as
“the process of homogenization” leading to, as it were, “isomorphism” (DiMaggio and Powell 1983: 149).
Contrary to what one might intuitively expect, these homogenizing HRM activities are not limited to the
induction or “onboarding” phase in which an organizational newcomer is introduced to the organization – its
work, culture and ideology. They do in fact accompany any employee in any organization for the duration of
the employee’s organizational life cycle, i.e., during the HRM phases of attracting, hiring, motivating &
developing, and letting go (e.g., Torrington et al., 2017).
In the extant literature, organizational socialization is typically “identified as the primary process by which
people adapt to […] jobs and organizational goals” (Chao et al., 1994:730). This, in turn, entails that
organizational socialization communication mirrors the management and/ or HR initiatives undertaken to
facilitate this adaptation. Needless to say, the research field of organizational socialization has undergone
quite a development since its first modern formation (e.g., Berlew and Hall, 1966). But – even so – van
Maanen’s description of organizational socialization as “people processing” (van Maanen, 1978) remains a
cornerstone of organizational socialization theory. Organizational socialization is prototypically a people
A new research network at ComOrg (, Aalborg University, Denmark
processing endeavor during which a “reactive newcomer” (Morrison, 1993) would be “molded” into shape –
sometimes there is even talk of “breaking in”. These descriptions as well as the ensuing discourses have
proven formative for the field. And even if such (blatantly) functionalist discourses may not be comme il faut
in late modernity, the notion of “people processing” has proven to be quite resilient in (all) managerialist
approaches to employee socialization (see Chao et. 1994:730 as well as Kramer & Miller for relatively
comprehensive overviews). As a recent testimony to that, Kastberg and Ditlevsen have unearthed an overall
pattern in the organizational socialization materials of a major player in the pharmaceutical industry. This
material (whether it be websites, videos or documents) unabashedly calls for what is referred to as a
conflation of individual and organizational identity (Kastberg and Ditlevsen 2020 in print). Thus, the network
aims to challenge the adaptation paradigm of mainstream managerial research. Identity approaches in
particular are able to overcome the presupposed functionality of socialization as adaptation to a pre-defined
organizational ‘entity’. We argue that alignment with such an imagined entity might equally result in
‘dysfunctional’ submission processes that prevent organizations from developing, learning and innovating.
In turn, organizational resistance, not adaptation would be a ‘functional’ response of the individual.
Empirically, that requires an unbiased exploration of multiple structures and processes of identification, overidentification,
dis-identification and schizo-identification (Dukerich et al., 1998). Both the identity of the
newcomer and the identity of the organization turn into ‘moving targets’ which are constituted,
reconstituted and contested through polyphonic, individual, organizational and – not least – societal
communication processes (Scott & Myers, 2010; Trittin & Schoeneborn, 2017). This understanding reflects
what has come to be known as the post-structuralist turn in organizational studies, in which communication
becomes constitutive of the organization (Cooren, 2015; Svenningson & Larsson, 2006).
This is a perspective that allows for the transformation of a static understanding of identity into dynamic
processes of identifying or dis-identifying with social entities (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002; Cheney et al.,
2014). Employees develop different forms and a fluid degree of attachment to an organization. The wide
variety of organizational socialization communication activities alluded to find their expressions in an equally
wide variety of genres, discourse, narratives, media and modalities. That is also why the concept of
‘communication’, when speaking about organizational socialization communication, is – and must be – a
portmanteau term. On the one hand it encompasses, in principle, all instantiations of meaning-making
endeavors, be they subsumed under such labels as communications, discourses, languages, narratives,
practices, media & modalities etc.; on the other hand, ‘communication’ is seen as a discipline in its own right.
And whereas ‘communication’ – in both senses – is pivotal to the network’s investigations into organizational
socialization communication, “no man is an Island”, as John Donne would have it, and neither is
‘communication’. As is obvious from the above, any real-life instance of organizational socialization
communication is embedded in an organizational as well as a management context. Disciplinarily speaking
we envision this context to be one in which organizational socialization communication is perpetually
suspended in a web of three parent disciplines, i.e., theories pertaining to communication / communicating,
theories pertaining to organizations / organizing, and theories pertaining to management / managing.
Insights from all three parent disciplines both permeate and inform the investigations carried out by the
network; and the web is per se testimony to the network’s intentional wish for intellectual cross-fertilization.
The degree to which any one disciplinary field is actualized and/or prevalent depends on the concrete
research interest at hand.
A new research network at ComOrg (, Aalborg University, Denmark
Institutional framework, research goals and milestones
- To establish an international research network with the aim of conducting critical investigations into
core communicative aspects of organizational socialization, COORSO.
- To obtain funding for COORSO research activities, i.e.:
o Network member symposia
o Researcher exchange programs
o PhD courses
o International conference(s)
o Publications (papers, handbooks, and text books)
- To use the COORSO research network as an impetus and a hub for furthering research collaborations
Research Management Team at Aalborg University
Prof. Peter Kastberg, PhD, head of the network
Assoc. Prof. Jochen Hoffmann, PhD
Assoc. Prof. Lise-Lotte Holmgreen, PhD
Assoc. Prof. John G. McClellan, PhD
Ass. Prof. Mia Thyregod Rasmussen, PhD
Strategic International partners
Prof. Dennis Mumby, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
Prof. David Boje, New Mexico State University, USA
Doc. Charlotte Simonsson, Dpt. of Strategic Communication, Lund University, Sweden
Prof. Emilie Bourlier-Bargues, CleRMa, ESC Clermont, France
Assoc. Prof. Guro Sanden, Dpt. of Applied IT, Gothenburg University, Sweden
Strategic National Partners
Assoc. Prof. Marianne Grove Ditlevsen, strategic communication research environment, Aarhus
University Assoc. Prof. Karl-Heinz Pogner, Dpt. of Management, Society, and Communication,
Copenhagen Business School
Assoc. Prof. Klarissa Lueg, assoc. Prof. Ann Starbæk Bager, Center for Narratological Studies, The
University of Southern Denmark, Kolding
Assoc. Prof. Flemming Smedegaard, strategic communication research environment, The University of
Southern Denmark, Odense
Prof. Sine Just, Dpt. of Communication and Humanistic Science, Roskilde University Center
Doc. Vibeke Thøis Madsen, Danish School of Media and Journalism, Center for Communication and

Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (2002). Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the
appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies, 39, 619-644.
Berlew, D. E., & Hall, D. T. (1966). The socialization of managers: Effects of expectaions of performance.
Administrative Science Quarterly, 11(2), 207-223.
Chao, G. T., O'Leary-Kelly, A. M., Wolf, S., Klein, H. J., & Gardner, P. D. (1994). Organizational
Socialization: Its Content and Consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(5), 730-743.
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communication. Advances in theory, research, and methods (pp. 695-716). 3rd ed., London, UK: Sage.
A new research network at ComOrg (, Aalborg University, Denmark
Cheney, G.; Christensen, L. T.; Zorn, T. E.; & Ganesh, S. (2011). Organizational communication in an age of
globalization (2nd ed.).Waveland Press, Inc.
Cooren, F. (2015). Organizational Discourse. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Deetz, S. A. (1992). Democracy in an age of corporate colonization: developments in communication and the
politics of everyday life. New York: State University of New York Press.
DiMaggio, P. J. and Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective
rationality in organizational field. American Sociological Review, 48: 147–160.
Dukerich, J. M., Kramer, R., & McLean Parks, J. (1998). The dark side of organizational identification. In D. A.
Whetten & P. C. Godfrey (Eds.), Identity in organizations: Building theory through conversations (pp.
245-256). London, UK: Sage.
Kastberg, P., Ditlevsen, M. (forthcoming). The Discursive Construction of Newcomers – a Critical
Examination of the Onboarding Program of a Global Pharmaceutical Company. Working title: Language
awareness volume. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kramer, M. W., & Miller, V. D. (2014). Socialization and assimilation: Theories, processes, and outcomes, in:
L. L. Putnam & D. K. Mumby (Eds.): The Sage handbook of organizational communication: Advances in
theory, research, and methods (pp. 525-548). 3rd ed., London, UK: Sage.
Maanen, J. v. (1978). People processing: Strategies of Organizational Socialization. Organizational
Dynamics, 7, 18-36.
Morrison, Elizabeth Wolfe (1993). Longitudinal study of the effects of information seeking on newcomer
socialization. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78 (2), 173-183.
Mumby, D.K. (2013). Organizational communication. A critical approach. Sage.
Scott, C., & Myers, K. (2010). Toward an integrative theoretical perspective on organizational membership
negotiations: Socialization, assimilation, and the duality of structure. Communication Theory, 20(1), 79-
Solomon, J. (2007). Corporate Governance and Accountability. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Hoboken.
Svenningsson, S., & Larsson, M. (2006). Fantasies of leadership: Identity work. Leadership, 2(2), 203-224.
Torrington, D., Hall, L., Taylor, S., Atkinson, C. (2017). Human Resource Management. Harlow: Pearson.
Trittin, H., & Schoeneborn, D. (2017). Diversity as polyphony: Reconceptualizing diversity management
from a communication-centered perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 144(2), 305-322.
Periode2021 → …
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