Withholding communication - a relational approach to silence in an inter-organisational project group in the UK

Mumford, Clare (2015). Withholding communication - a relational approach to silence in an inter-organisational project group in the UK. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000aff4


This thesis takes an exploratory look at the phenomenon of silence in the ethnographic setting of an inter-organisational project, to review how project group members talk about their own practice of silence within the ongoing process of project delivery. The research swaps a transmission model of communication, which has been used in much of the previous work on silence in the field of organisational behaviour, for a dialogic model of communication, which prioritises temporal contingency and local processes of meaning-making in order to explore how participants develop the social significance of silence.

Firstly, the thesis shows how participants discursively construct silence as an emergent phenomenon connected with the development and maintenance of social relationships through the lifecycle of the project. I identify three common-sense storylines (Davies and Harré, 1990) - each with a different underpinning logic: of relating, of representing, and of doing - which provide discursive resources by means of which participants position their practice of silence within the management of different types of relationship.

Secondly, the thesis covers how silence emerges in various forms over the course of the project lifecycle: as discrete acts of withholding but also as outcomes of other processes of social interaction. What emerges from the use of a dialogic model of communication is a potential new approach to silence in organising processes, which focuses less on silence as a discrete entity produced by an agentic individual and more on its temporal and embodied features in a way that may help to integrate some of the diverse organisational and management perspectives on the topic.

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