Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Cissna, Kenneth

Keywords

alienation, identity, dialogue, organizational development

Abstract

Modernism is characterized by alienation from one's self and the processes by which one's self gets constructed. Organizational development (OD) is an activity that attempts to address the experience of work and to transform the historical alienation. OD practitioners are often optimistic that this transformation is possible and even is happening in the day-to-day work of OD. A group of critics, mostly academics, are skeptical about whether any real transformation is possible, arguing that OD practices are misguided extensions of modernism. In one thread of the OD literature, authors build an argument for the centrality of issues of identity in achieving this transformation. Proponents of this perspective argue that dialogic processes of reflection and co-construction are vital to participating in the production of one's self. In this study, I used participant-observation and interview approaches to investigate the ways OD consultants make sense of their work.

These approaches are managed through a perspective I call "first person," which aligns them with the dialogic principles of immediacy of presence; emergent, unanticipated consequences; collaborative orientation; vulnerability; and genuineness and authenticity. I found among the OD consultants a shared value for dialogue, an appreciation for people who are engaged, a preoccupation with identity boundaries, a commitment to the greater good, an understanding of the personal benefits they receive from their work, and a concern for fear among their clients and in themselves. Many OD consultants have chosen their roles as independent or internal consultants to escape from modern constructions of identity prevalent in organizations. OD consulting is a practice situated among multiple interests, creating complex tensions of identity and action for OD consultants. OD work itself requires consultants to be reflexive about their own and others' processes of identity construction.

OD consultants, when contrasted to critics of OD, show a tendency toward what Mikhail Bakhtin calls dialogue rather than dialectic. A dialogic orientation allows the OD consultants to work more productively on shaping the transition to postmodern consciousness. Reflexivity and self-participation are central to the success of an OD consultant. Education and professional groups should support greater understanding, inquiry, and practice of reflexivity and self-participation.

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