When I speak with communication managers, the conversation very often steers towards the question of what to do with the contradictory relation between the instrumental logic of organisations on the one hand, and the communicative practices of people in a community on the other. It seems to me that the heart of the question really is: what is communication? We are confronted with two mutually exclusive faces of the communicative process, but we cannot do without either. The communication director is, perhaps more than anyone else in the organisation, the one whose job it is to manage this contradiction, this tension. In fact, most decision making processes require a mediation of this tension. Those involved need to be able to have a dialogue that is accessible and, at least as an operative fiction, power-free; otherwise, there is no mutual recognition, and not even a basis for creating legitimate decisions. On the other hand, the functional requirements of the organisation, or the state for that matter, dictate a logic that is often beyond the control of the participants. An old problem; in a way, nothing more than the nature of power itself.
Establishing a communications utopia
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Johan Siebers is a senior lecturer in the english language and linguistics at the University of Central Lancashire, UK, and a visiting fellow at the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies of the School of Advanced Study at London University. He holds a PhD in philosophy from Leiden University, Germany. He has also worked as director of communication for the global HR function of Royal Dutch Shell.