Sourcing Organizational Authority at Shadowed Organizations

The sign in front of the Hope Resource Center on a grassy setting
The Hope Resource Center in Knoxville, Tennessee is an example of a crisis pregnancy center. (Photo: stmaryathens/Flickr)

Rebecca A. Costantini, an assistant professor of communications at Texas A&M University, and Anna W. Wolfe, an associate professor of organizational communication and associate head of graduate studies at Texas A&M, discuss their recent article, “Authorial Incongruity and Organizational Presence(s): A Ventriloquial Analysis of Shadowed Organization,” published in Management Communication Quarterly.

What motivated you to pursue this research?

Rebecca A. Costantini: This research materialized from Anna’s Spring 2018 organizational communication seminar in my second year of graduate coursework at Texas A&M. Anna’s training as an organizational communication scholar ignited my curiosity and interest in the field’s various critical theoretical and methodological frameworks. Anna’s encouragement and mentorship ultimately led to the development of this paper.

Anna W. Wolfe: In addition to being Rebecca’s seminar instructor in Spring 2018, I was also her dissertation adviser. I viewed working on this piece as a valuable opportunity to engage in extended theoretical arguments with each other and to navigate a writing and revision process together. Additionally, this project was intriguing to me because of the complementary nature of our partnership: the context of the study brought Rebecca’s expertise in reproductive healthcare organizations into conversation with my expertise in hidden organizations. Our shared commitment to relationality and interest in ventriloquial approaches gave us a common language to use in talking about our interpretations of the data. 

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Costantini: I have always had a deep investment in reproductive healthcare-related issues and organizations. So, it was serendipitous to develop and write this paper with Anna in a region of the United States where reproductive healthcare is considered most controversial and contested. And we focused on a particular organization type called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs are a contentious, complex presence because they attempt to dissuade people from receiving abortion care by distributing dubious and debunked information about the negative effects of abortion procedures. CPCs are particularly compelling because they are recognized organizations within local communities, but also at the state level, where support and funding is strong.

Wolfe: During our writing and revision process, the state of Texas has been incredibly busy passing, challenging, and defending several pieces of legislation with the goal of tightly restricting access to abortions. One of the most notable examples came on May 19, 2021, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation banning abortions from the moment a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Under the pressure of legislative restrictions, many abortion clinics across the state have closed. Meanwhile, crisis pregnancy centers are proliferating. It seemed to me that, to really understand the reproductive healthcare landscape in Texas at this particular moment in time, it’s critically important that we more deeply examine how these organizations function and the role they play in addressing and/or exacerbating disparities in society.

Were there any surprising findings? In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Costantini: Our paper aimed to answer the question, “How are sources of organizational authority made present in the context of a crisis pregnancy center?” What we found is that there are four primary sources of authority that continually inform a CPC’s existence: medical, religious, philanthropic, and educational. And part of what we have found and reported on in this paper is that authorities are never absent; they are always simultaneously present. Therefore, it is the incongruity between the material manifestations of authority that call for sensemaking. The existing literature on presentification tells us that authority is either materialized or it is not. What we are advancing in this paper is that multiple sources of authority exist at the same time. One or more sources of authority are never identified. It is the incongruity between authority sources that makes authority co-present.

Rebecca Constantini, left, and Anna Wolfe

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?

Wolfe: I would say the most challenging aspect was completing the piece during a global pandemic! As a mother to two young children, I have lost almost all of the childcare support I normally relied on to complete my work. This publication means so much because it was accomplished in the wee hours of nights and mornings, through incredible feats of collaboration, and with the support of loving partners who provided vital resources of time, food, and caring for children.

Costantini: COVID-19 really changed how we approached research and writing. They became secondary for a while when survival and attending to life-related things were—and still are—critical. That is why I appreciated our collaborative relationship. Anna and I worked so well together, bouncing ideas off of one another and even venting and sharing frustrations at times. We made sure to center care and boundaries, too. Collaborations have their pros and cons, of course, but there is so much value in partnerships.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Costantini: This advice is for anyone in any discipline, and I think you’ll agree with me on this, Anna: stick with your ideas and see them through. Easier said than done, sure, but hear us out. Our manuscript began as a seminar paper in 2018. That same year, we submitted a revised paper to MCQ and received a rejection. We decided to submit the paper again in 2019 and received an acceptance in August 2021. The process is a long and frustrating one, but believe in your research.

Wolfe: Yes, absolutely! As much as possible, strive to develop an agonistic relationship with criticism–struggle against it, wrestle with it, allow yourself to be challenged by it, but do not be defeated or destroyed. Remember that you do not have to acquiesce to every revision request, and at times it may be appropriate to advocate for yourself and defend your choice to defy others’ advice. However, have the humility to consider that criticism may be justified and that your argument may be strengthened by treating the review process as an opportunity for dialogue—an interaction in which you may change others’ minds, but only if you are open to being changed as well.

What is the most important/influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

Wolfe: This is a tough one, but one text I keep circling back to over and over again is Dis/Organization as Communication: Exploring the Disordering, Disruptive and Chaotic Properties of Communication (edited by Consuelo Vásquez and Tim Kuhn). The need to resist the ‘organizing bias’ (Bisel, 2009) in our research is more evident than ever during this last year, and I have found this book to be a helpful reminder to always ask of every instance of organizing, ‘For whom might this be disordering, disruptive, or chaotic?’ This critical question attunes me to the dimensions of power that are always at play”

Costantini: I agree, Anna. Vásquez and Kuhn’s edited text is essential! Part of my research also considers space/place, so over this past year, Matt Wilson’s New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map and Radical Cartographies: Participatory Mapmaking from Latin America (edited by Bjørn Sletto, Joe Bryan, Alfredo Wagner, and Charles Hale) helped me to bridge connections and interrogate tensions that exist between organizational communication and critical geography, two fields that have more in common than they think.

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Rebecca Costantini and Anna Wolfe

Rebecca A. Costantini is an assistant professor of Communication at the University of the Sciences. Anna W. Wolfe is an associate professor of Communication at Texas A&M University.

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