Accomplishing sustainability, local contexts, and field positioning: sustainability practitioners' communicative work

Rahul Mitra, Purdue University

Abstract

This project examined the communicative practices that constitute sustainability work, from the perspective of those who "do" such "green jobs." According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Sommers, 2013), there were more 4 million green jobs in the country, comprising of green goods and services, and green technologies and practices, in 2011. Nevertheless, a standard definition of green jobs is lacking, coupled with some confusion about what exactly sustainability practitioners need to emphasize in and for their jobs. The current project thus sought to bridge this gap, from an organizational communication perspective. It posed three main research questions: (1) what are the communicative practices utilized by sustainability practitioners to accomplish their work? (2) how do sustainability practitioners position their work through these communicative practices? (3) how do sustainability practitioners find their work meaningful? ^ The study used a multi-phased research design, comprising of in-depth interviews, textual analysis of practitioners' curriculum vitae (CVs), and participant observations at four different case studies. In response to the first research question, an analysis of interviews and CVs revealed nine communicative practices, as well as the tendency sometimes to define work as wholly divorced from communication. In response to the second research question, practitioners were noted to use 20 discursive resources to construct four broad subject positions of sustainability work: discovery, enlightenment, legitimacy, and consumption. For each subject position, both general descriptions—drawing from the interviews and CV analysis—and specific invocations—from the four case studies—are presented. Finally, in response to the third question, an analysis of the interviews and case studies showed that sustainability practitioners negotiated their work as meaningful on three bases: the processes, impacts, and careers of sustainability work. The project makes several important contributions to organizational communication, related to the study of communicative practices, discursive positioning theory, accomplishment of work in emerging professions, and meaningful work. Specifically, it traces the normative and contextual aspects of communicative practice, problematizes strategy and dialogue through practices of translating, connects communicative practices to the subject positions discursively created by actors, advances a fluid "cloud" based interpretive schema for negotiating subject positions, and moves beyond the "positive bias" of meaningfulness of work to note how it is negotiated not despite but through various structural constraints. Moreover, it offers practical implications concerned with the communicative aspects of sustainability, strategic collaborations among stakeholders, enrichment of sustainability research and learning, career branding for practitioners, and policymaking on green jobs.^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

Patrice M. Buzzanell, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Sociology, Organization Theory|Sustainability

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