The Communicative Nature of Space in Organizations

The Communicative Nature of Space in Organizations

Virginia W. Kupritz (University of Tennessee, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1744-3.ch003
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This chapter examines the important role of space in communication. Design scholars have long recognized the importance of context, but few have gone further than to acknowledge that space has a communicative dimension. While design research has investigated certain aspects of communication (especially some of the symbolic properties) in organizations, it has not examined the full spectrum of symbolic and physical properties of space that affect interpersonal, group and organizational communication needs. The physical setting communicates messages through its symbolic properties. Just as importantly, it supports or impedes our ability to use visual, auditory, tactile/haptic, and olfactory cues through its physical properties that help convey and interpret messages in social interaction. Design solutions that effectively utilize symbolic and physical properties of space to accommodate interpersonal, group and organizational communication needs support organizational strategies to maximize worker opportunity to perform in today's workplace.
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I’m not sure if the horse is long or freshly dead, but either way I feel obliged to share a story from this past weekend that I think encapsulates just why so many NCA members were up in arms about the choice to hold the conference at Disney World … Communication is as much as anything about the ethical choices we make about the arrangement of our physical space (must I cite? Harvey, Innis, whatever) … The ethics apparent in the spaces of Walt Disney are utterly antithetical to communication and community, not just disconnecting visitors from the outside world, but from each other…Because my friend chose to stay at the … hotel instead of the … and because I didn’t want to give The Mouse another $15 just to park my car...I wasn’t able to talk to him. (Morris, 2012)

What does physical space have to do with communication? Just about everything—space is not just a circumstance, but an influential component of the communication process itself. Long recognized for their contributions to the field of communication, the seminal works of political economists David Harvey and Harold Innis stressed the important dimensions of time and space in communication (Comor, 2001; Janelle & Gillespie, 2004). Harvey was one of the first theorists to link our experiences of globalization to time and space. He coined the term “time-space compression” to explain the way the acceleration of economic activities leads to the destruction of spatial barriers and distances (Harvey, 1990). Just as importantly, Innis applied the dimensions of time and space to various media, to explain the nature and development of a society. Innis believed that a stable society depends on an appreciation of a proper balance between the concepts of time and space, and argued that throughout history, efforts by particular groups to assert power typically have involved efforts to control temporal and spatial conditions (including physical) of day-to-day life (Innis, 1982).

The emphasis that these renowned scholars place on the important role of space in communication mirrors the underlying theme of this chapter. For Morris (2012), the physical setting (space) of Florida’s Disney World did not symbolically connect communication with community at the National Communication Association (NCA) conference, nor did it physically support his ability to talk to his friend due to the spatial conditions. Anthropologist Edward Hall, author of proxemics and cultural contexting patterns that are widely studied by design scholars and students, is a founding leader of the environment and behavior (EB) field who pinpointed the systemic nature of communication and physical space, “Nothing occurs, real or imagined, without a spatial context, because space is one of the principal organizing systems for living organisms” (1971, p. 24). Barker (1968), another pioneer in EB research, coined the term “synomorphy” to signify that physical space and human behavior cannot be separated. Clearly, “Wherever you go, there you are—and it matters … We shape not only buildings but also the land, the waters, the air, and other life forms—and they shape us” (Gifford, 2014, p. 541).

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