Climate Risks as Organizational Problems

Constructing Agency and Action

by Theresa Castor (Author)
©2018 Textbook XIV, 132 Pages


Climate Risks as Organizational Problems: Constructing Agency and Action provides an introduction to the "Communication as Constitutive of Organizations" (CCO) approach by addressing key ideas in organizational communication such as sensemaking, decision-making, problem-formulation, and agency. This text is intended to introduce key ideas of the CCO perspective to undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars who may be new to this area. Topical chapters feature case studies related to climate crises, the environment, and weather, making this work also relevant for those with an interest in environmental communication, risk communication, crisis communication, public relations, and public health. Chapters address decision-making during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, how a state in the southeast United States handled a winter snowstorm, heatwaves as creeping crises in Europe, and freshwater policy-making. The case studies provide insight in understanding how governmental agencies "interact" with weather crises and the public.
While natural hazards are worthy of study generally because of their impact, they are also worthy of study from an organizational communication perspective. Organizations such as governmental agencies, international organizations, nonprofit organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), among others, play a role in preparing for or helping people to recover from natural hazards. Given that natural hazards are ongoing yet have a degree of unpredictability, examining how organizations respond to natural hazards provides a fitting circumstance for studying constitutive processes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • References
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part 1. Theoretical and Conceptual Background
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Communication as Constitutive of Organizations
  • Conceptual and Theoretical Roots
  • Key CCO Concepts
  • Communication
  • Constitution/Constituting
  • Organization/Organizing
  • Discourse
  • Agency
  • Materiality
  • Communicative Constitution in the Age of Climate Change
  • Outline for Remainder of the Book
  • References
  • Chapter 2. A Tale of Three Perspectives
  • The Montreal School of Organizational Communication
  • Precursor Theories
  • Texts, Conversations, and Meta-Conversations
  • Agency
  • Ventriloqual Theory
  • Summary and Critiques
  • Four Flows Model
  • Precursor Theory: Structuration
  • The Four Flows
  • Summary and Critiques
  • Luhmann’s Theory of Social Systems
  • Summary and Critiques
  • Comparing and Contrasting Across Perspectives
  • Communication
  • Agency
  • Materiality
  • Summary
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 2. Concepts and Cases
  • Chapter 3. Problem Identification and Crisis Pacing
  • Crisis Communication
  • Communicative Constitution of Problems
  • Sensemaking and Implications for Problem Construction
  • Crises and Pacing
  • Crisis as Slow-Moving: Heat Waves
  • Heatwaves in Europe: A Deadly Combination
  • Summary
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Making Sense of a Winter Storm
  • Organizational Sensemaking
  • The Process of Sensemaking
  • CCO and Sensemaking
  • The Relevance of Time in Constitutive Processes
  • Responsiveness
  • Constituting Winter Storm Leon as Disaster
  • Weather Forecasting as Pragmatic Speech Act
  • Moving From Storm to Disaster
  • Coda
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Constituting Agency: Taking Action (or Not) During the Hurricane Katrina Disaster
  • Theorizing Agency
  • Internalist and Externalist Views of Agency
  • Agency From a Communication Social Construction Perspective
  • Materiality and Agency
  • Summary
  • Case Study: Hurricane Katrina
  • Negotiating Human and Textual Agency
  • The Non Equivalency of Agency and Human Actors
  • Competing Action Nets
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Constituting Solutions: Prospective Sensemaking
  • Prospective Sensemaking
  • A Model of Prospective Sensemaking
  • Discourse and Prospective Sensemaking
  • The Great Lakes Compact
  • The Great Lakes Compact as Prospective Sensemaking
  • Bracketing
  • Articulating
  • Elaborating
  • Influencing
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 3. Conclusion
  • Chapter 7. Conclusion and Practical Lessons
  • Climate Concerns
  • The Communicative Constitution of Crises
  • The Communicative Constitution of Organizations
  • Criticisms of CCO
  • Future Directions
  • Practical Lessons
  • Attention to Language-Use and Evidence: Language and “Matter” Matter
  • Organizations Are Socially Constructed
  • Study History
  • Anticipating the Future
  • Networking
  • Improvising
  • Summary of Practical Lessons
  • Closing Notes
  • References
  • Index

| ix →


For the past decade, my research and way of thinking about organizations as communication has been strongly influenced by the Communication as Constitutive of Organizing (CCO) perspective. Although I have read a fair deal of excellent, cutting edge theorizing and research on the CCO perspective, it has been challenging for me to share this work and way of thinking with undergraduate students enrolled in my organizational communication classes. In part this has been due to the limited space in introductory text books dedicated to this perspective, and in part, it has been due to the challenges in explaining the complex ideas associated with the CCO perspective in ways that are easy to grasp for students who are new to organizational communication (see Kuhn & Schoeneborn, 2015).

I was first formally introduced to the Communicative Constitution of Organizations perspective as an attendee of the 2002 National Communication Association preconference, “Communication in Action: The Communicative Constitution of Organizations and Its Implications for Theory, Research, and Practice,” held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The papers and presentations at the preconference subsequently formed the basis for Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication, edited by Linda Putnam and Anne Nicotera (2008). ← ix | x →

However, the most significant influence for me in positioning myself as a CCO scholar was through a collaborative project with CCO scholar, François Cooren. I first met François in 2004 when he was a respondent for a paper I presented at the International Communication Association conference. François’ analysis regarding the data for the project I presented on were so insightful and interesting that I asked if he would be willing to work with me on a re-analysis of the data from a CCO perspective. He generously agreed to this collaboration, resulting in the publication of our project in a 2006 issue of Management Communication Quarterly (see Castor & Cooren, 2006).

My initial training in communication focused on social constructionism, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of communication with a primary focus on language-use in organizational decision-making interactions (see Castor, 2005). In my view, there are strong connections between discourse analysis, social constructionism, and the CCO perspective (see Bartesaghi & Castor, 2008). However, CCO and the other aforementioned areas should not be conflated given differences in many of the specific issues, concepts, and influencing theories that form the basis for CCO. A primary interest of CCO work is specifically how is the organization constituted and as such, what is it about communication practices specifically that contribute to the formation, maintenance, or even failure of an organization (see Bisel, 2010).

The purpose of this text is to introduce key ideas of the CCO perspective to undergraduate students. However, this work may also provide a useful introduction for graduate students and scholars who may be new to this area. After the introductory chapters, the main chapters of this work focus on a key topic for organizational communication generally, and for the CCO perspective in particular. These topical chapters feature case studies that thematize issues related to climate crises, the environment, and weather, therefore this work may also be relevant for students and scholars with an interest in environmental communication, risk communication, crisis communication, public relations, and public health. The case studies will also be of relevance for those interested in understanding the ways that governmental agencies “interact” with weather crises and the public.

Chapter one provides a general overview of the CCO perspective while chapter two explicates the three main CCO perspectives. While the latter chapter is intended to focus on the theories and concepts behind the CCO perspectives, based on student feedback on an earlier draft of this work, the theories without illustrative examples are challenging to understand. ← x | xi → Therefore, brief examples are provided to explain key concepts of the three main CCO perspectives.

Chapters two through six each address different key concepts in organizational communication and apply a CCO perspective to explain the key communication issues and challenges involved with each case study. These chapters are mostly based on prior research that I have conducted on a specific weather crisis or environmental issue. The analyses on Hurricane Katrina and the Great Lakes are based on work that has been published in academic journals (Castor, 2016; Castor & Bartesaghi, 2016) and the chapter on the Winter Storm was presented at the 2015 International Communication Association conference.

The concluding chapter summarizes key ideas of CCO highlighting the practical benefits of adopting such a perspective as well as potential limitations or challenges for this area to address.


Bartesaghi, M., & Castor, T. (2008). Social construction in communication: Revisiting the conversation. Communication Yearbook, 32, 3–39.

Bisel, R. S. (2010). A communicative ontology of organization? A description, history, and critique of CCO theories for organization science. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(1), 124–131.

Castor, T. (2005). Constructing social reality in organizational decision-making: Account vocabularies in a diversity discussion. Management Communication Quarterly, 18, 479–508.

Castor, T. (2016). Discursively constructing the Great Lakes freshwater. In R. Browning (Ed.), Advances in research using the C-SPAN archives (pp. 33–57). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

Castor, T., & Bartesaghi, M. (2016). Metacommunication during disaster response: ‘Reporting’ and the constitution of problems in Hurricane Katrina teleconferences. Management Communication Quarterly, 30, 472–502.

Castor, T., & Cooren, F. (2006). Organizations as hybrid forms of life: The implications of the selection of human and non-human agents in problem-formulation. Management Communication Quarterly, 19, 570–600.

Kuhn, T., & Schoeneborn, D. (2015). The pedagogy of CCO. Management Communication Quarterly, 29, 295–301. doi: 10.1177/0893318915571348.

Putnam, L. L., & Nicotera, A. M. (2008). Building theories of organization: The constitutive role of communication. New York, NY: Routledge.


XIV, 132
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 132 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Theresa Castor (Author)

Theresa Castor (PhD, University of Washington) is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She has published in Management Communication Quarterly, Electronic Journal of Communication, Discourse Studies, Communication Yearbook, Journal of Business Communication, and Communication Research and Practice.


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