THE DARK SIDE OF COMMUNICATION
Recent years have seen a veritable upsurge in research into organizational communication, PR communication, corporate communication, branding communication etc. And whereas this voluminous strand of research has delved ever deeper into the instrumental nature of organizational/corporate communication, little attention, outside organizational discourse studies, has been devoted to seriously examining what happens when we allow organizational/corporate communication to constitute the reality in which we live. Be it as employees or – in a wider sense – as citizens of late-modern societies. Organizing and hosting the conference The Dark Side of Communication, the newly established Communicating Organizations Research Group at Aalborg University, Denmark, takes a decisive step towards filling that research gap.
Internally, i.e. when an organization communicates with its employees, communication is an instrument of management. In that capacity communication serves many different purposes; a dominant and recurring purpose, however, is that of socializing employees into the mission, vision and values of the company. Communications are pivotal in the training of new employees, basically in turning ‘outsiders’ into ‘insiders’, as well as continuously nudging all employees – new and old alike – to ‘live’ the values of the company. Internal communication understood as an instrument of management, then, is also always a form of social control. Externally, i.e. when an organization communicates to external stakeholders on which the organization is dependent – costumers, clients, policy makers, news media etc. –, then that, needless to say, is not a neutral portrayal of the company. A cornerstone of any modern-day company’s PR and / or branding communication, for instance, is the shaping of a favorable impression of the company in the minds of its stakeholders.
From this understanding of organizational/corporate communication, we derive two formative observations. First of all that professional communication is not – in fact: cannot be – neutral, but is inherently biased. Secondly, that the professional communicator wields tremendous influence over employees (as well as other stakeholders). This non-neutrality of organizational/corporate communications combined with the power of the organizational/corporate communicator, when it comes to constituting organizational reality, is, in essence, what we refer to as “the dark side of communication”. With The Dark Side of Communication as the theme of our conference, we wish to explore and substantially deepen our understanding of what dark side communication activities ‘are’ and what they ‘do’ in or with reference to organizational contexts.
The expression “the dark side” seems to have become a portmanteau term for all things unwanted. In strategic communication, “the dark side” pertains to (corporate) communication perceived as intentionally ambiguous – and maybe unlawfully so. In organization studies, “the dark side” encompasses deviant or even harmful organizational behavior. In interpersonal communication, “the dark side” deals with immoral, dysfunctional or malicious communication. In sum, by calling forth “the dark side” of communication we evoke a sort of Manichean discourse of light vs. dark, in casu: of good vs. evil communication. If we look at communication activities in organizational and/or professional contexts in lieu of this, it seems to be a question of whether communication is seen as manipulatory, i.e. as “dark”/evil, or emancipatory, i.e. as “light”/good. This, in turn, effectively stigmatizes dark side communication activities as vehicles for the (organizational or corporate) propagation of suppression of unwanted ethical, political, and ideological voices and discourses.
With this conference, we wish explore and problematize issues such as, but not limited to:
- What may constitute dark side communicating activities? And why?
- Where do we find dark side communicating activities? And why?
- How do we analyze dark side communicating activities?
- Why are organizations (ostensibly) making use of dark side communicating activities?
- How do we – as scholars as well as citizens – evaluate dark side communicating activities?