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Laying Down Paths in Talking with a Dutch Canadian Organizational Communication Ethnographer

Interview with Boris H. J. M. Brummans by Marie-Claude Plourde
Boris H. J. M. Brummans et Marie-Claude Plourde
p. 1-26
Traduction(s) :
Tracer des chemins en conversant avec un ethnographe de la communication organisationnelle néerlando-canadien [fr]


Cette entrevue trace des chemins de Boris Brummans, ethnographe en communication organisationnelle, dans une conversation avec Marie-Claude Plourde.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 This title is inspired by Francisco Varela’s idea of “laying down a path in walking” (see Varela, 1 (...)

1Thank you kindly, Boris, for agreeing to do this interview with me1. I’m one of the many people who’ve had the pleasure of reading your work, which is infused with sensibility, care, and humbleness. I’m also one of the many people who are indebted to you and who are grateful for your teaching. I’ve learned so much about organizational ethnography from you. Through this interview, I’d like to share with readers some of the key moments that constituted your academic trajectory. Thus, I hope this interview will inspire new ways of doing research and open the minds of young (and not-so-young) academics to the richness of qualitative organizational research. I also hope to sensitize readers to creative ways of conducting ethnographic fieldwork, deskwork, and textwork (see Yanow, 2000).

2Let’s start from the beginning: You began your academic path in organization studies, and then turned to communication studies. Today, you’re a professor of communication, with a special focus on qualitative methods, especially ethnography, who is associated with the Montréal School of organizational communication—one of the major approaches to research on the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) (see Brummans et al., 2014). Please tell us about the evolution of your career: What led you to communication, and then to ethnography? And how did you get associated with the Montréal School?

3Thank you for this question. I started as a psychology student at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. After my propaedeutic year, I seriously considered switching to philosophy. But I decided not to pursue a career in philosophy, because, at the time, I was afraid that I wouldn’t find a job. So, I switched from psychology to policy and organization studies. I was familiar with organizational questions because my dad was an organizational consultant. Having become familiar with this field through him, I developed an interest in things like organizational culture, conflict management, and so on. The policy and organization studies program was a real blessing, for it gave me a good understanding of organizational theory and social science methods.

  • 2 In the 1990s, there were no bachelor programs in the Netherlands. At the age of 18, you entered a p (...)

4Toward the end of my master’s program2 in policy and organization studies, I took courses with Professor Wim de Moor, a professor in psychology who was interested in organizational communication. I found out later that Professor de Moor had done a sabbatical at Purdue University with people like Cynthia Stohl and Dennis Mumby, who were faculty members at Purdue at the time. So, he was channeling everything he had learned during his time at Purdue to the students in his courses. He wrote a couple of Dutch books on organizational communication and conflict management as well, which I read and loved. This is how I was first introduced to the work of Karl Weick. I read Weick’s The Social Psychology of Organizing (see Weick, 1979) for the first time during that period. Discovering Weick was amazing, because it enabled me to see how philosophy and theory could be used to understand organizations. It was around that time that I started writing my master’s thesis on organizational identity from a communicative perspective. While writing my thesis, I found a book, entitled Organizational Communication, by Peter Manning (see Manning, 1992). Manning was a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University (MSU), in the US. His book was very interesting. It looked at organizations from a post-structuralist perspective—I remember it introduced me to Jean Baudrillard, whose book, Simulacra and Simulation (Baudrillard, 1994 [1981]), blew my mind. Email communication had just started at that time. Thus, I decided to send an email to Peter Manning. To my surprise, he replied and, after we had been corresponding for a while, he encouraged me to come to MSU and do a second master’s in the Department of Communication—he would serve on my committee as an external member from the School of Criminal Justice.

5I was fortunate to receive a study abroad scholarship from the Dutch government and off I went to MSU. My intention was to learn more about qualitative research there, because in the Netherlands, I had been trained in quantitative methods. When I arrived at MSU, a professor asked me: “So which statistic courses are you going to take?” I discovered that this was one of the most quantitative programs in the communication field in the United States! I remember seriously thinking of quitting and returning home. But then I thought to myself: “Well, I’ve received this generous scholarship, Peter Manning is here, and the Communication program looks great. I’m probably going to learn a lot here in the next two years. So why not make the best of this opportunity?” It turned out that I wasn’t mistaken: I learned a great deal about quantitative research and was privileged to work with James Dearing on his diffusion of innovations research—James Dearing was a student of Everett Rogers, who wrote the foundational book on this subject (see Rogers, 1995).

6Which is great, I presume, because all this knowledge gave you a great overview of different kinds of methodologies. Did your quantitative training help you become a better qualitative researcher?

7Yes, absolutely. Many graduate programs require students to take both, quantitative and qualitative courses, and I think that’s really wise. Obviously, at some point, you’re going to have a preference for one or the other, probably. There are very few people who do mixed methods research—it requires a lot of thought and skill—but I think it’s good to learn both.

8At the end of the master’s program at MSU, I became much more familiar with organizational communication studies in the US, and I still wanted to learn more about qualitative methods. I applied to various PhD programs and got accepted to Texas A&M University. In 2000, this was a particularly interesting place in terms of organizational communication research, because Katherine Miller was there, as well as Charles Conrad, Marshall Scott Poole, and Linda Putnam. I was very fortunate to have been accepted into this program: I was trained and mentored by those four exceptional organizational communication scholars, and I was able to take qualitative methods courses with Yvonna Lincoln, the co-editor of The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (see Denzin & Lincoln, 2017). Yvonna Lincoln taught me a great deal about qualitative methods and ethnography, and I worked with Kathy (Katherine) Miller and Linda Putnam as my co-advisors.

9Toward the end of my PhD, I started looking for a job, and there was an announcement about a position at Université de Montréal (UdeM). I had learned some French before, but lost most of it. Hence, I deleted the email about the Montréal job. However, my co-advisor, Linda Putnam, said: “Well, maybe you should contact James Taylor and François Cooren. Maybe it’ll be possible for you to learn the language while you work there.” I followed her advice and both, Jim (James) and François, encouraged me to apply. When I interviewed, I had a very good feeling about the department, and I was honored that they decided to hire me. The university gave me 18 months or so to learn the language before I started teaching, which was extremely generous.

10When I started at UdeM, I had already read—and reread and reread—James Taylor’s and François Cooren’s Communication Theory articles (see Cooren & Taylor, 1997; Taylor, 1995, 2001; Taylor et al., 1996). They were fascinating to me. I don’t think I quite understood everything, but their writings were—and still are—inspirational, and to be working with these people was like a dream for me. When I started working as an assistant professor at UdeM, I felt like I entered a lengthy post-doc. Every day of the week, I was learning French with people much younger than I was. There was some pressure on me because I had to learn the language in order to teach. And when I wasn’t learning French, I was doing data analysis sessions with Jim, François, Chantal Benoit-Barné, and Daniel Robichaud. They were teaching me so many things about different types of discourse analysis, ethnomethodology, actor-network theory, and so on. That was about the time I published my first chapter for the book Communication as Organizing (see Brummans, 2006). That chapter was on the “Montréal School,” because this expression was bandied about, and the school was emerging. Thus, I was part of this wave.

11I think the expression “Montréal School” had been used in a previous publication. I don’t know exactly which one, but I think Dennis Mumby or somebody else had already mentioned and used this term. It seemed interesting to write something about the Montréal School, because during my PhD, I had become interested in the formation of academic fields, like the organizational communication discipline. More particularly, I had become interested in how scholars’ writing practices—or “textwork,” to use John Van Maanen’s term (see Van Maanen, 2011a, 2011b)—contribute to the constitution of such fields. I used what I had learned from my dissertation research to write that chapter about how the Montréal School was being constituted through various communication practices. My doctoral dissertation drew on Pierre Bourdieu’s writings on reflexivity in academia (see Bourdieu, 1988, 2000; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). So, I used those ideas in that chapter as well. It took me much longer to publish something that was actually based on my doctoral dissertation, though (see Brummans, 2015): A paper on the communicative constitution of an academic field was difficult to publish. My co-advisors, Katherine Miller and Linda Putnam, had warned me about that. But I was quite pigheaded and continued with this subject because it fascinated me. I guess this pigheadedness says something about me in general. I remember, when I applied for my master’s program at MSU, there was a wonderful professor in Netherlands who wrote a letter of recommendation for me, and she used the word “pigheaded.” There’s a kind of stubbornness in what I do, and I often do things that are not necessarily very smart professionally. For example, when I arrived at UdeM, I had to apply for research grants as an assistant professor. I had always been interested in Buddhism. Thus, I completely moved away from my dissertation research and decided to study the constitution of a Buddhism monastery in Northern India. For my career as an assistant professor, that perhaps wasn’t the best move, at least initially. But I always try to follow my intuition and the things I feel passionate about.

12I believe that in the long run, those choices are richer!

13They’re the most gratifying, yes. I feel that I’m extremely lucky to have made it in academia thus far, and it’s for a large part due to the wonderful help of other people: my mentors, all the people I’ve already mentioned, and many more. Despite my pigheadedness, I’ve managed to get this far thanks to these individuals.

14It’s striking how much Weick is a vector for many people in the organizational communication discipline. At some point, it seems, the path of almost everyone I know in the field has been illumined by his work.

15That’s true. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to meet him in person. He’s always been a person I read, and I’ve always been very interested in the person behind the text. That was also part of my interest in looking at textwork for my doctoral dissertation: I interviewed twelve leading organizational communication scholars about their work practices to learn more about who they are and how they do their work. I’ve never been able to get to know Weick in that way.

16I really love the next question, which brings us closer to the theme of the interview. According to you, what’s the place of ethnography in organizational communication research?

17That’s indeed a wonderful question. I’ve written a very brief response to an essay about this for Management Communication Quarterly (MCQ), guest-edited by Bryan Taylor from the University of Colorado Boulder (see Taylor et al., 2021). As this essay shows, ethnography has always been part of the organizational communication discipline. In the 1980s and 1990s, Nick Trujillo, Bud Goodall, and several other ethnographers were very influential in the field. They brought attention to the value of ethnography for organizational communication research, and they wrote some wonderful, classic articles and books (see Goodall, 1991, 1996; Trujillo, 1992, 1993). I should not forget to mention Sarah Tracy’s work, too. Sarah wrote a superb ethnographic article on emotional labor on a cruise ship (see Tracy, 2000).

18I think there has always been a natural fit between ethnography and organizational communication, especially since the interpretative and critical turns in organizational communication studies in the 1980s (see Kuhn, 2005; Putnam, 1983). However, doing ethnographic work is extremely time-consuming and it requires a deep, prolonged engagement “with your whole being or becoming,” so to speak. It’s challenging to do this kind of research for doctoral students who want to finish their PhD within four years, and it seems even more challenging to do ethnographic work as your academic career progresses. I think John Van Maanen once said that people who have tenure usually don’t have time to do ethnographic fieldwork anymore. So, not that many organizational communication researchers end up conducting full-fledged ethnographic studies.

19I must admit that the same is true for me: My fieldwork experiences are increasingly vicarious experiences—I experience fieldwork through the students I’m advising. I’m still craving to go into the field myself. I really miss going to India and Taiwan, where I’ve done most of my ethnographic work. Also, working with Doctors Without Borders in Africa, together with François Cooren, Frédérik Matte, and Chantal Benoit-Barné was wonderful (see Cooren, Brummans, & Charrieras, 2008; Cooren, Matte, Benoit-Barné, & Brummans, 2013). But because of my family and because of other academic responsibilities, it has become more and more difficult to go away for weeks or months at a time, to have the time to become a part of a culture, of an organizational culture.

20Now, to go back to your question: I naturally think about communication, organization or organizing, and ethnography together. I couldn’t separate them from each other. Even when I’m doing “non-ethnographic” qualitative research, I’m always influenced by the ethnographic experiences I’ve had in the past. In other words, I always try to get to deeper, “thicker” (see Geertz, 1973) levels of understanding. To understand communication, especially its role in the constitution of organizations, it’s very difficult for me not to think about it in terms of ethnography, because of the way I view communication. I’ll talk more about that view later on, but let me say for now that my way of thinking is influenced by the turn toward the material and materiality, and, more recently, the turn toward affect (see Kuhn, Ashcraft, & Cooren, 2017). I appreciate those turns. I love analyzing transcripts, but I always thought something was missing. In the transcripts I created, I always tried to include—between the double parentheses—contextual elements, feelings, or actual objects that I had observed in the field. When I started working at UdeM, people like François Cooren and James Taylor were bringing the question of materiality into their discursive analyses of organizations and organizing processes. Nowadays, multimodal conversation analysts are trying to do this as well (see Mondada, 2019). However, focusing on transcripts alone seems limiting, because in ethnography, you collect so much more than recordings of meetings and conversations: fieldnotes are very important; I always take lots of photos; and sometimes I film other things than meetings or conversations. Also you, yourself, are having experiences as an ethnographer that are extremely important and, in my opinion, need to be an integral part of the entire research process, including the analysis.

21The communication “data” created through ethnographic fieldwork experiences aren’t only linguistic in nature. They’re also extralinguistic, even though it’s difficult to get at that with our current data collection and analysis methods. In my current work, I’m trying to develop new methods to examine the linguistic and extralinguistic dimensions of organizational experience, an experience that includes but also surpasses the experiences of human beings. Instead of focusing on human experience alone, I’m trying to bring attention to events or specific linguistic and extralinguistic moments in the constitution of an organization. This requires a focus on relations: how organizations take form and transform as fields of relation through events.

22Thank you. Like you said, we’ll talk more about your current ideas in a moment. First, I’d like to reorient our conversation and talk about your ethnographic work on Buddhist organizations, such as Rizong monastery in Ladakh, India, and the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, whose headquarters are in Taiwan. Where did this interest in Buddhist organizations come from?

23That’s a very good question, but it’s very difficult to pinpoint where that interest originated. I remember that my parents gave me a book about Zen Buddhism when I was sixteen or seventeen—I think it was the book Everyday Zen (Beck, 1989). I must have indicated to them that I was interested in Buddhism. My dad was very much into the self-help movement of the 1980s. He would read books by authors like Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins, books on neuro-linguistic programming, and other things. After he had finished them, he would pass them on to me. So, my interest in Buddhism must have started during those years. Reading Buddhist books by myself, I attempted to meditate too. However, growing up in a small village in the Netherlands, there was no one to teach or guide me. I was a complete amateur—and, in many ways, I still feel like I am.

24Since then, it feels like Buddhism has always been part of my life. In some moments, it shifted to the background and in other times, especially when life was challenging, it would come back to the fore. For example, when my dad passed away, around the time I was hired at UdeM, it came back because I felt I needed a framework in my life to make sense of what was going on, and to help me make decisions. I’ve always found Buddhism extremely inspiring, life-affirming, even though it focuses your attention on life’s fleetingness and impermanence. There are many different Buddhist schools, but in its essence, it wants you to question everything, even question the words of the Buddha himself. In that regard, I find this philosophy very wise, intelligent, and practical. It’s not meant to be dogmatic. I mean, of course, you can make it dogmatic, but the ways in which I engage with it is in terms of its openness—its ability to open the mind, or to reconnect you with the mind’s natural openness and emptiness.

25The way you talk about Buddhism is interesting. To me, it explains your love for ethnography. I mean, what you said about Buddhism could easily apply to ethnography: being open-minded, being close to people, being interested in people, wanting to get to the bottom of things and relations.

26Yes, I see many parallels too. Buddhism informs a lot of what I’m doing, whether in my academic work or the ways in which I relate to people and other beings around me. Buddhism has become a real foundation in my life. My more recent interest in process philosophy is an extension of this. I see many parallels between Buddhism and writers like Alfred N. Whitehead and William James. When I’m reading Whitehead or James, I see many ideas that have great resonance with Buddhist philosophy. It’s like process philosophy is giving me a new vocabulary to talk about things I’ve been interested in since 2004, when I first started studying Buddhist organizations (see Brummans, 2022).

27And how does your interest in Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist organizations, and CCO research express itself in your work?

28When I arrived at UdeM, the Montréal School and the CCO approach were emerging. So, I was very much surfing that wave together with a number of other people. My idea was to use CCO theorizing to study the constitution of a Buddhist monastic institution—a total institution in Goffman’s (1961) terms. Initially, I was simply interested in the way Buddhists organize, and not in mindfulness per se. Karl Weick published an article with Ted Putnam in the Journal of Management Inquiry in 2006. In this article, they compare a Western view of mindful organizing, which generally focuses on high reliability organizations, with a Buddhist-inspired view way of mindful organizing (see Weick & Putnam, 2006). The way they talked about mindful organizing gave me a good reference point to start publishing some of my research on Buddhist organizing. Articles on Buddhist organizations were difficult to sell on the academic market, but mindful organizing already existed as a concept, thanks to Weick. Thus, this concept enabled me to frame my work. Then, the mindfulness movement started happening (and in a way it’s still happening). Organizations like Google, and many others, started trying to bring Buddhist mindfulness into their ways of organizing. However, I wasn’t really interested in how organizations could “import” Buddhist mindfulness; ultimately, I wanted to study how Buddhists—those who are practicing Buddhism in their everyday life—organize. Hence, my research has focused on Rizong monastery in the Indian Himalayas, and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian organization, in Taiwan. In these ethnographic studies, my aim was to learn things that could be useful for us here in the West and in other parts of the world, but I was not necessarily interested in translating or importing those ideas into Western organizational cultures. Like Ronald Purser (see Purser, 2019; Purser & Milillo, 2015), I find that kind of importation very problematic. We shouldn’t forget that mindfulness is just one part of Buddhist practice. Mindfulness is part of a larger philosophy. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to take a little piece of an ancient philosophy and try to run with it in another culture. I mean, you can, but I’m critical about that.

29I really liked your article, “The Road to Rizong” (see Brummans, 2012). It helped me understand Buddhism and traditional Buddhist monastic organizations. The notion of “non-action” was very vague to me at first. Initially, it didn’t seem compatible with non-dual, processual views to me. In your article, you included an illuminating excerpt from Eleanor Rosch (2008; in Brummans, 2012, p. 439), where she compares non-action to “spontaneous action.” That really clarified this concept for me. Being mindful means that we’re able to engage spontaneously in action; we’re “fully in contact with the realities and needs of the situation and unencumbered by the strategies of the self-centred ego or by preconceptions or methods” (Rosch, 2008, p. 153; in Brummans, 2012, p. 439).

30“The Road to Rizong” describes one of your five visits to Rizong monastery in Ladakh. In 2008, you experienced a natural disaster that severely damaged the monastery. In another article, published in MCQ in 2014 (see Brummans, 2014), you note that this experience enabled you to finally “let go,” and that it helped you get a clearer understanding of Buddhist teachings. You also wrote in your 2012 article that “Buddhist scholars and practitioners see the self’s continuous drawing of distinctions, even if they are new, as the cause of our suffering since it cuts us off from the interdependently arising conditions that constitute us and everything else” (Brummans, 2012, p. 435). I take this to mean that we should see (and accept) ourselves as part of an inseparable flux.

31During the disaster, it seems that you experienced this feeling of being a complete part of what was going on. Following your account, it seems to me that you could feel what was “right action” as you observed and interacted with the monks. As you wrote, “[You] acted without losing [your] poise, panicking, or being obstructed by clinging to a rigid sense of self. [Your] center appeared unshakable, and it looked like [you] knew exactly what to do, even though [you] had never been in this situation before” (Brummans, 2012, p. 439). Can you talk more about this episode and the feelings you experienced? In other words, I’m wondering if you can find words to express the feeling of being part of an inseparable flux.

32Thank you for this wonderful question. First, let me say that it’s a bit uncomfortable for me to hear the quote where you inserted the pronoun “you” where I had written “the monks.” Because I don’t think I was as wise and mindful in my actions as the monks were. I also think it’s important not to idealize or romanticize the monks and the nuns of the community I’ve had the privilege to study and be part of. That kind of “othering” is very problematic, especially in ethnographic research. They’re human beings like we all are, and I hope the article didn’t create an exotic, idealized, romanticized version of them. Moreover, I definitely did see worry, fear, and so on, on the faces of the monks while things were happening. But I did feel that, somehow, they were prepared for this kind of situation. I mean, not prepared in an intentional way, like “OK, tomorrow a landslide is going to happen and we’re going to be ready for it.” But more in terms of a life attitude in general. Maybe I should explain here that Buddhism starts with the idea that everything is impermanent. Even mountains change and aren’t permanent.

33According to Buddhism, we suffer because we cling to the idea of permanence: the permanence of our own selves, of the selves of others, of everything around—and inside—us. Things around us often look pretty permanent, but they actually aren’t. The Rizong monks grow up with that perspective of impermanence. Their whole way of living and sensing, of being and becoming, is based on this idea. I witnessed this during the landslide. They were much more able to let go and not be preoccupied by superficial things. I wasn’t able to do this myself. When water started coming through the walls of my room, my first instinct was to pack up all my belongings, especially my passport and things like that. In my mind, without a passport, I was never going to be able to get out of there. I didn’t see that kind of behavior among the monks. I felt this created a real contrast between the monks and me. I had to learn to follow their lead.

34This may sound strange, but eventually you get used to being in the disaster. The rain kept pouring down, the ground was shacking, and there was lightning. I was thinking: “Is everything going to disappear with me in it?” Even though this kind of idea crosses your mind, you get used to it at some point. You start to settle into the situation. The monks were so connected to one another, and so caring throughout this event. They kept coming to check on me. At some point, I ended up in front of a little temple—I describe this in the 2012 article (see Brummans, 2012). In the temple, there were sacred Buddhist statues that were extremely important for the monastery, and I saw that the monks were doing everything they could to protect those statues. They were treating them like they were sentient beings. I found the ways in which the monks communicated with the statues so inspiring that I also became more and more interested and focused on protecting the statues. It became my principal task amid the unfolding events. The monks would come and check on me and on the statues during the disaster. I could sense that they were very caring.

35Because the monks’ ways of being or becoming were so inspiring, I started thinking about myself in a different way. There are many moments in which I felt that people were not focused on themselves. Maybe this is true in many disaster situations, right? Maybe this is not typical for a Buddhist context, and you could be critical of my article in that respect. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, similar acts of compassion and wisdom could be observed. I used my understanding of Buddhism to make sense of what happened in Rizong monastery, but what I experienced is probably transferrable to other, non-Buddhist contexts.

36What I hear you say is that, in some ways, you had accepted that you had no control over what was happening, and you stopped seeing yourself in the future. The disaster made you be in the here and now, be open to what was happening.

37Open and very aware of interdependence, of the fact that your own actions have consequences for others but also for you, and that you are in situations together; you’re in the same boat, so to speak. Especially in an isolated community like the monastery, this interdependence is present every day, but during the disaster our sense of interdependence was heightened.

38This can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. During these times, which are extraordinary and unfortunately very painful in many ways, paradoxically, you also feel very alive. This kind of extreme situation forces you to focus on impermanence, and I think that’s the beauty of Buddhism. If we could focus on this impermanence all the time, as the monks do, we would probably start living very differently. That’s what I experienced during the disaster: I felt extremely alive during that event and also after it. This idea of aliveness or vitality has become important to me: How can we make this part of organizational communication research? This is one of the questions Camille Vézy and I have written about (see Brummans & Vézy, 2022). You must go beyond language to get to that kind of aliveness or vitality. As Daniel Stern shows, we can express aliveness or vitality in language (see Stern, 2010), but it gets expressed in many other ways as well. Again, we’ll talk about this a bit more later in the interview, I think.

39Did this event—the disaster and the shift that took place in you—cause you to change your ontological, epistemological, and axiological posture? Did it cause a turning point in your academic work, including how you teach? In your teaching, I noticed that you listen a lot to students and you have a soothing, comforting presence. In your classes, students experience a sensation of a slower pace (which doesn’t mean less learning), compared to many other teachers.

40Thank you very much for these kind words. It’s extremely gratifying to hear that from somebody who has taken a class with me. It’s difficult for me to know how I come across as a teacher, but it’s very important for me to create this kind of atmosphere in a classroom. Even in my writing, that sense of space, openness, and slower pace is exactly what I’m hoping to accomplish. I think about teaching in terms of writing. I’ve lived in India and Taiwan, and I’ve had the opportunity to teach in Japan during my sabbatical. What I learned from living in these cultures is that “less is more.” That’s an idea I use all the time in my teaching, and I try to apply it in my writing too. For example, the response for the MCQ essay on organizational ethnography I mentioned earlier (see Taylor et al., 2021) consists of seven haiku—I didn’t write official haiku, but rather poetry inspired by haiku. By responding with poetry that shows the openness, space, and emptiness around the words, so to speak, I wanted to help MCQ readers think differently about the ways in which we do academic work and create knowledge.

41Especially in Ladakh, I learned a lot about less is more, about silence, about not-doing or “non-action,” as Eleanor Rosch calls it (see Rosch, 2008). My Buddhist teacher would often tell me to stop reading, to stop meditating, or not to engage with Buddhist philosophy altogether, because that’s not where the learning happens after some time. So, the question becomes: “How can you bring that into your research?” One way is to do more with fewer words; becoming more concise and using different ways of expressing what you’ve learned in the field. I also try to use the idea of interdependence as a starting point for my research. George Marcus talks about the complicity between the ethnographer and the people they’re studying (see Marcus, 1997, 2001). For me, it’s more about interdependence. As I mentioned, relationality or eventfulness is increasingly important in terms of how I understand the construction of knowledge. So, how do events like the Rizong disaster create particular conditions for the production of knowledge? It may sound strange, but thanks to this event, to this disaster, I was able to learn so much, and the monks also learned a great deal from it. I already said this in the article (see Brummans, 2012), but I think we should try to learn from disasters, from challenging things in life. Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher who wrote the well-known book, When Things Fall Apart (see Chödrön, 2000), talks about the importance of focusing on the moments when things fall apart, because those moments present opportunities to really learn something.

42I totally agree with your point of view. I’ll spare you the details, but just to say that some difficult things happened to me about ten years ago. However, one or two years after what I call my “accident,” I was able to see that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. So I totally agree and understand what you’re saying.

43It’s wonderful that you can see the value in that horrible experience. I suppose that my interpretation of Buddhism, and the disaster I experienced in Ladakh, has also changed my views of life. In that way, these experiences can become very beneficial, not only for yourself, but also for other people. You become much more open toward other people with the kind of mindset Pema Chödrön describes.

44Yes, I agree. What you’ve just said creates a nice bridge to the next question: I believe that you meditate, right? Does your fieldwork become a form of meditation? Do you think mindfulness makes you more focused as a researcher, observer, ethnographer? Or even, following Rosch’s idea of “spontaneous action,” does it make you a better “participant observer” (see Moeran, 2009)?

45The article I published in MCQ in 2014 is all about this (see Brummans, 2014). It’s about how Buddhist mindfulness—the way I define it—can be used in qualitative organizational communication research. This reflection was part of a forum on the backstage of qualitative organizational communication research, guest-edited by Sarah Tracy. I do think that Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness practice can be very valuable for qualitative researchers in any discipline (see also Brummans, 2022).

46I’ve read some work by Alan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar, who writes about mindfulness (see Wallace, 2011). Like Ron Purser, Wallace is critical of watered-down versions of mindfulness in the Western world. For him, mindfulness means “bearing in mind”: bearing something in mind; being very discerning. I define mindfulness in a similar way in terms of being aware of interdependence and impermanence. I think that being discerning, or being aware of how we are in relation to other beings, or being aware of how we become who we are as relations with other beings, is really valuable. And, to come back to your question, I think meditation can be very useful as a practice for people who do ethnographic work, because ethnographers aim to gain insight into phenomena by “being there,” observing, inscribing, drawing, and so on. So developing awareness or attention skills can be very helpful to heighten your awareness, not only in your fieldwork, but also in your deskwork and textwork (see Yanow, 2000).

47Regarding textwork, I’d like to talk more about the ways you write. I noticed changes in tone in your different articles, even when comparing different texts about mindfulness you’ve written. For example, comparing the text you published in Anthropology of Consciousness in 2008 (see Brummans, 2008) and the one you published in Journal of International and Intercultural Communication with Jennie Hwang in 2010 (see Brummans & Hwang, 2010), the former is written in a first-person style, while the second one is written in a third-person style. In the first one, I sense a rhythm, as in poetry, and I thus feel that you’re closer to the reader. In the second one, you and Jennie sound more like traditional academics. The style is more impersonal. Are you changing styles to address different audiences and different types of journals? I imagine there are approaches to ethnographic writing that you prefer, or with which you feel more comfortable. How do you manage to switch from one style or genre to another? Do you take pleasure in this switching?

48That’s a wonderful question too. My approach to writing never purely depends on academic publishing requirements. Sometimes, you’re invited to write something for a specific edited book or journal and it’s clear that they prefer a particular style or genre. In that case, it’s not very difficult to adapt yourself. But in other times, you very much get to decide the style of the text you’re writing. This shows that “We Are Many,” to cite Pablo Neruda’s famous poem (see Neruda, 1970). That we are many becomes especially clear when you’re writing, because writing is a dialogic process and practice. Umberto Eco talks about this (see Eco, 1992, 1994): When you’re writing, you keep an imaginary reader in mind. And when a reader is reading, they also converse with an imaginary author in their mind. I like that idea. So writing is dialogic for me, because I always have a particular reader or audience in mind to whom I want to communicate something. That dialogue is the starting point in my writing. Thus, what message or idea I want to communicate to whom influences the style of my writing. The different voices you read are different personas. They’re all “me” and they’re all “not me.” That sounds like a Zen Buddhist koan (see Low & Purser, 2012; Tarrant, 2008)! There is no “me,” no central processing unit: me, my, I…it changes all the time. That’s why I initially said to you that I was uncomfortable with doing this interview, because once it gets published, my ideas have already moved on!

49I really enjoy writing ethnographic texts. Sometimes, they’re more personal, written in a first-person style, so my personal experiences are a starting point to produce knowledge. However, these experiences are very relational in nature too. These autoethnographic articles are never just about me; they’re always about relations, about the independencies through which I and others get constituted. I like writing those, because I hope that readers can identify with those experiences in some way, and that living these experiences through reading them can help readers think, feel, change.

50One of the articles I’m most happy with is the article I wrote about the textual agency of my father’s euthanasia declaration (see Brummans, 2007a), mainly because of the feedback people have given me about that article. First of all, it doesn’t happen very often that people will tell you what they think about your work, except for anonymous reviewers, of course—and very few people actually end up reading your academic work anyway. I did get some nice comments about that article, though. People told me reading it had been useful for them, because it helped them think through euthanasia, through what they would want at the end of their lives. People from different walks of life told me that after reading that text, they started to have a clearer idea about what they wanted to do in terms of ending their life—or in terms of not actively intervening in this process. Learning that your work makes some difference and has actual consequences for people feels like a real accomplishment and blessing for any academic.

51How were you able to publish this kind of very personal work?

52I must thank Yvonna Lincoln, whom I mentioned earlier, who taught me qualitative methods. For one of her advanced qualitative methods doctoral seminars, she asked us to collect whatever we wanted to create a kind of experimental piece. My grandfather was really interested in poetry and kept a personal diary. To do the assignment, I contacted my grandmother in Netherlands and asked her to send me the last two or three weeks of his writings, before he died. Based on this, I wrote an article called “Reconstructing Opa: Last Meditation of a Meteorologist” (see Brummans, 2003), for my Opa (grandfather in Dutch) started each of his diary entries with the weather of the day. In this paper, I tried to reconstruct my grandfather through my reading of his diary entries, engaging in the kind of imagery dialogue that Umberto Eco describes. I represented each day’s entry in the form of a short poem and each poem’s title was the weather for that day.

53After reading that final paper, Yvonna Lincoln encouraged me to send it to Qualitative Inquiry for review. To my great surprise and delight, it got accepted. As I say in the author’s note of that article, that was the first time I felt liberated to write in a different way academically. I had always written poetry, but to be able to publish my poetry in an academic journal was really liberating. Since then, Qualitative Inquiry has been a venue that allows me to play with different styles or genres, with different forms of expression. And now I’m increasingly playing with different styles in other journals as well. For example, I had never seen poems in MCQ. So I decided to publish the mentioned haiku in this journal (see Taylor et al., 2021). I’ve also recently written a visually creative text on noticing mindfully in process organization studies for the book Noticing Differently, edited by Barbara Simpson and Line Revsbæk (see Brummans, 2022). To create the images for this chapter, I worked with my brother and sister in-law, who are graphic design artists in San Francisco. Thus, I’m also increasingly interested in experimenting with different visual styles of expression.

54You’ve already provided part of the answer to the next question. You said that you’ve always written poetry. How did you develop your writing skills? I read an interview with Tim Ingold (see Ingold & Vionnet, 2018). He said that it was very difficult to write, even though it seems easy when you read his work. First of all, I wanted to ask if you agree with Ingold? Second, are there scholars who inspired you to pursue your writing of “non- academic” texts?

55I’ve always written poetry and I’ve also always kept a diary. Many people in my family write. I already mentioned my grandfather, but my father wrote a lot as well. In my family, we always write things to each other, especially poems for special occasions. I started writing in English when I was young, because I fell in love with the language. I also always read a lot: poetry, fiction, books about psychology, spirituality, and so on. I started to emulate the authors I liked in my writing. Therefore, it’s difficult to pinpoint who actually influenced my writing.

56Academically, my co-advisor, Kathy Miller, introduced me to work by Eric Eisenberg (see Eisenberg, 1998, 2001), Bud Goodall (1991, 1996), and other inspirational organizational communication scholars—Sarah Tracy (see Tracy, 2000)—who have a wonderful writing style. Kathy Miller’s own style is very nice too (see Miller, 2002). And so reading those authors influenced me a lot. I had the opportunity to meet some of these people as well, and to talk with them about writing.

57And can we say that when you discovered Ingold’s Being Alive and Making (see Ingold, 2011, 2013), you kind of found an equal?

58Well, I wouldn’t dare to compare myself with somebody like Ingold, because he’s much more brilliant than I am. When you read Ingold, there’s a fluidity and rhythm, but also depth. I’ve always looked for that, and that’s what I find so beautiful when I read Ingold’s work. Most people develop their own way of writing, their own voice. When I’m reading, I’m always trying to sense the author. Reading is thus not only dialogic on a linguistic level, but also on an affective, corporal level. It always feels like I’m sitting across the author I’m reading, and we’re having a conversation. In other words, I’m not just trying to imagine the author linguistically, but also affectively, corporeally. Let’s take Karl Weick, for example. I’ve seen many photos of him. So, when I read him, I see him; he’s in front of me. Tim Ingold as well, because I’ve seen him on YouTube a couple of times: I know how he talks, his manners and mannerisms. All these authors I read, I feel they’re part of a cumulative process, which will never end, and they’re all nourishing me in terms of developing who I’m becoming as a writer and as a human being. Hopefully, my writing will pass on to others as well. It feels like I’m part of a lineage. In Buddhism, lineage is very important. I feel I’m privileged to be part of an academic lineage composed by all these authors, teachers, and mentors, all the people I’m working with, and the students I’m working with as well. Writing and creating knowledge, we’re all doing this together. It’s entirely collaborative. Even though it looks like there are individual stars in academia, some scholars who get spotlighted more than others, I think our work really is a collective effort.

59As Deleuze would say, we have thousands of conceptual friends (see Deleuze & Guattari, 1991)!

60We talked about how you developed your writing. Now, I’d like to talk more about how you teach ethnographic writing. I read the article you wrote with my PhD advisor, Consuelo Vásquez, on strategies for teaching ethnographic writing (see Brummans & Vásquez, 2016). I recognized some of the strategies presented in the first stage you describe, because I took your seminar in 2015. I specially remember an exercise that asked us to produce a drawing. The drawing had to express something about our fieldwork. I drew a superhero. This theme became the breadcrumb trail in my text. This exercise was so striking to me! Could you explain briefly to readers what these teaching strategies are and how you developed them? How long have you been using them? Do you have some stories to share about these strategies that could give us more insight into their usefulness?

61When I was taking Yvonna Lincoln’s qualitative method courses, at some point, she asked us to go to a public space and to sit there without any note-taking tools; we just had to observe what was going on for one hour. Subsequently, we had one week to write a twenty-page, single-spaced account of what we had observed. For the second exercise, we were asked to go to a different place and do the same exercise while taking notes. She was constantly asking us to write memos to reflect on these experiences; to compare our experiences of observing while taking notes with observing without taking notes. We also had to do a full-fledged case study. My case study focused on Texas A&M University custodial workers to understand how they were making sense of their work: What does it mean to be a custodial worker? How do they make sense of cleaning toilets and things like that on a university campus? For this assignment, Yvonna Lincoln asked us to go into the interviews without a recorder, to just take hand-written notes. She wanted us to become efficient in terms of note-taking, in terms of soaking it all up and absorbing what was happening without relying on technology. What I learned then was extremely handy later in Ladakh, because there was no electricity in the monastery. I had my camera, but the batteries died quickly and I had to rely on these more traditional methods to create my data. I think it’s really important not to rely too much on technology in your fieldwork—technology easily catapults you out of what you’re experience, out of “being or becoming there,” as we all know so well these days, since we’re always glued to our screens.

62I use a lot of these same exercises when I teach qualitative methods. I learned a lot of them from Yvonna Lincoln. However, when I got to design my own courses, I went wild with my experimentations! I decided to create courses in which experimentation, creativity, imagination, and risk-taking are encouraged and cultivated, and in which students get to share these experiences. I try to direct students’ attention away from focusing on getting a good grade toward getting an enriching experience. I ask them to take risks and do something they otherwise wouldn’t do—for example, drawing, as you experienced when you took my seminar in 2015. When I was really young, I remember that somebody gave me a book about mind mapping. It entails creating diagrams of what’s in your mind—diagrammatic expressions of your mind’s processual content, you could say—and those have become the basis for my teaching. Every course, I try to create a mind map on the blackboard with the students, and I ask them to do the same in the journal they keep for my course. Thus, I encourage creative ways to represent what’s happening in their minds, in their thoughts, feelings, bodies, because I think it’s extremely useful for learning qualitative research, as well as later on when you’re doing your research as a more experienced researcher.

63I always found that nothing is too wild or crazy in learning because people love doing things that are out of the ordinary. Sarah Tracy has written a wonderful methods book (see Tracy, 2020) that shows how much creativity and imagination goes into qualitative inquiry, which is not to say that it’s not rigorous. The book offers so many real-life examples with which readers can identify. These kinds of books show what’s happening in the “kitchen” of a qualitative researcher, so to speak. I think methods courses need to provide insight into the backstage of research and enable students to experience the doing of research. As Erin Manning says, the word “methods” suggests a process that’s too “methodical”; she prefers to think of it in terms of techniques (see Manning, 2016). I like this view.

64I just thought about this: You never exactly know to whom you’re addressing yourself when you’re teaching. Every student has their particular interests and ways of learning. So I think it’s wonderful how you try to open up different paths or trajectories for students, because it enables you to touch each student in a different way.

65Yes, I love Francisco Varela’s (1987) idea of “laying down a path in walking.” It’s a real privilege to get the chance to accompany students in laying down their paths in walking.

66We’re now entering the last part of the interview. In what follows, I’d like to redirect our conversation to your most recent work on organizational becoming—a becoming you treat as a continuous processual experience where corporeality, feelings, affect, surrounding conditions, and the intensity of certain brief moments are vital. The central question in this work is: “How can the eventful nature of communication in the constitution of social collectives with different degrees of organizationality be studied in both its linguistic and extralinguistic richness?” (Brummans & Vézy, 2022).

67Whitehead has started to influence your processual thinking about organizations. Brian Massumi and Erin Manning—well-known contemporary process philosophers—have guided you through this inquiry. What new ideas have emerged from your reading of Whitehead, Massumi, and Manning? Do they allow you to see previous fieldwork experiences in a new light?

68To start, maybe I should say more about how I came to Whitehead. As I said earlier in the interview, while analyzing transcripts was inspiring and instructive, I always felt something was missing. Clifford Geertz (1973) talks about “thick description” in ethnography, and transcripts don’t seem “thick” enough, so to speak. I remember having many conversations with François Cooren about this. So, for many years, I’ve been trying to find ways to bring in other kinds of data into research on the communicative constitution of organizations, for example by including field notes, images, and so on.

69In 2019, Bryan Taylor, Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, invited me to come and give a guest lecture. He was teaching a graduate seminar on organizational ethnography, and he had the wonderful idea of inviting four or five organizational communication scholars to give guest lectures on topics related to organizational ethnography. We were also invited to participate in the actual seminar during our visit. It was a wonderful opportunity and, of course, I immediately said yes. The topic I was asked to talk about was ethnography and CCO research. I also had to talk about the material turn in organizational communication and organization studies. As soon as I said yes, I thought: “Oh, my goodness! How am I ever going to talk about all this in a coherent way?!” I only had six or seven months to prepare for that visit.

70There’s a beautiful phrase in Buddhism: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” (see Gyatso, 2002/2015, p. 114). It has always intrigued me. Emptiness and form are inextricably linked with one another, which is an interesting starting point for thinking about the formation of things, how things take shape. Jennie Hwang, Pauline Cheong, and I published an article in Organization Studies on the role of Buddhist mantras in the materialization of the Taiwanese Tzu Chi Foundation’s organizational discourse (see Brummans, Hwang, & Cheong, 2020). Through my work on this article, I had started thinking more about the question of organizational formation. So I thought: “Let’s work with this idea of form is emptiness and emptiness is form. How can we use this to think about the formation of organizations?” I also started rereading Robert Chia’s work on organizational becoming. In his writings from the 1990s, Chia drew on Eastern philosophies like Taoism and Buddhism (see Chia, 1995). Thus, Chia was an inspiration for me, but I still didn’t exactly know how to start my guest lecture. Therefore, I decided to email Brian Massumi: “I’ve been invited to talk about organizational formation. Here’s a sentence that I like: ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.’ How would you approach this subject?”

71He replied: “You should start reading Whitehead,” and he gave me a Whitehead reading guide. “You can start reading Whitehead’s magum opus, Process and Reality (Whitehead, 1978), but you will probably give up after the first page. It’s much better to start with parts of his other books,” Brian suggested. He also added that it’s important to read Whitehead’s original writings, rather than merely secondary sources on Whitehead, however insightful they may be. The whole summer of 2019, I read Whitehead in conjunction with some secondary sources, such as Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria (see Shaviro, 2009). I also started reading more of Brian’s work and then I discovered Erin’s writings. I became fascinated by William James as well—for Brian and Erin, James and Whitehead go together: Brian published a beautiful book, Semblance and Event, in which he talks about the convergence between James and Whitehead (see Massumi, 2011).

72Through all this reading, I started thinking more about the role of communication in the formation and transformation of organizations. I started seeing the importance of focusing on the linguistic as well as the extralinguistic, of paying close attention to how events express themselves. While I was working on this, I had many conversations with Camille Vézy, a doctoral advisee who was conducting an organizational ethnography of an AI start-up here in Montréal. Camille has a deep understanding of philosophy and qualitative research. So our conversations nourished my thinking and we eventually decided to co-author a chapter for The Routledge Handbook of the Communication Constitution of Organization together (see Brummans & Vézy, 2022), based on the lecture I gave at the University of Colorado Boulder.

73When I gave the presentation in November of 2019, it went very well, and I was very pleased. During the Q&A, Bryan Taylor asked me to define more clearly and explicitly what I meant by “communication.” Thereafter, I started reading Brian’s writings on communication as expression (see Massumi, 2002, 2019). Viewing communication as expression focuses attention on how things become expressed linguistically and extralinguistically through events. It’s like a change in figure and ground: If we start with the event, or the occasion, or the micro-moment as the constitutive force, then we’re no longer interested in already existing, pre-formed beings or entities, whether they’re human or other-than-human. Communication takes center stage. That was very eye-opening.

74In the chapter I wrote with Camille, we work with this idea of communication as a form of expression; how events express themselves and how, in so doing, social collectives with varying degrees of organizationality (see Dobusch & Schoeneborn, 2015) are formed and transformed. Leonhard Dobusch and Dennis Schoeneborn’s article on organizationality looks at what it means for a social collective to be “organizational”: When do we call a social collective an organization, and what criteria does it need to meet to become an organization? Hence, their organizationality concept was really useful for us.

75Our chapter starts with a vignette about the eventful formation of Rizong monastery in Ladakh. While I was doing my fieldwork, I found a book that describes the monastery’s foundation (see Jivaka, 1961). It’s a beautiful story: A merchant who later becomes a Buddhist lama was traveling through the mountains of Ladakh. At some point, it started to rain. He dug a hole, so his mules would have something to drink. When returned to that same place several weeks later, he discovered that water was still there, even though Ladakh is notoriously hot and dry in the summer. The specific moment of discovering that the water was still there felt very auspicious to the merchant; it had much spiritual significance. He interpreted it as a sign that he needed to build a monastery there. So this moment set in motion a whole chain of actions, of communicative actions: He returned to the nearby village, told people about the auspicious event, and they started building the monastery together. Ultimately, the monastery where I did my fieldwork got built. That very moment is thus important for understanding the eventful formation and transformation of this particular social collective. It shows that many elements played a role in Rizong’s becoming: not just the language the merchant used to convince people to help him build the monastery, but also his thirsty mules, the hot sun beating on them while they were walking, the mountainous environment. Everything needs to be taken into account in order to understand the constitution of this monastery. Realizing this, I started to become very attentive to micro-moments, and I tried to think of techniques to examine them in ways that are as “thick” as possible, linguistically and especially extralinguistically. It fits really well with my understanding of Buddhist mindfulness: becoming very discerning, very focused on and aware of interdependencies between all different constituents.

76That’s very inspiring! I liked the chapter you wrote with Camille a lot. So you’re now developing new ethnographic methods to deepen our understanding of organizational becoming and thereby aim to advance CCO scholarship. You conclude your chapter with different methodological techniques for tracing this becoming, which are very “sensory.” Could you talk more about this?

77I think that in terms of data collection methods, we’re often still stuck in subject-object relations, even if we think about our relations with the people we study as collaborations (see Marcus, 1997, 2001). My question is: How can we go beyond these subject-object relations in our ethnographic fieldwork, deskwork, and textwork? What becomes important is to attune to what you referred to as “conditions of becoming,” rather than to subjects and objects—individual “units,” so to speak, whether human or other-than-human. It becomes important to describe the conditions that give rise to the events that ultimately play a particular constitutive role in the formation and transformation of a social collective. In order to describe those conditions, it becomes important to use things like “thick description,” as Geertz mentioned (see Geertz, 1973). However, are there ways to think about that even more relationally? In our chapter, we introduce different techniques to describe and visually represent the conditions that give rise to an organization. Let me talk about one of these techniques.

78We’re very indebted to Erin Manning who wrote the wonderful book, Always More Than One (Manning, 2013). Through this book, I discovered the work of Fernand Deligny. In the 1950s, Deligny decided to work with people who are on the autism spectrum. He brought them together in a community in the Cévennes mountains in southern France and wanted to meet them “on their own terms,” so to speak—without forcing them to live within the psychiatric framework that existed at that time. So Deligny wanted to meet the people in his community on their own terms and to understand them in their own terms—to understand them through their own forms of expression. Deligny started drawing the movements of the people within this community (see Deligny, 2015). A beautiful film, Ce Gamin, Là (Victor, 1976), was made about this. You can watch it on YouTube. Seeing this film and these wonderful drawings, which are hard to describe in words, I started thinking: “How insightful would it be to follow people in organizational settings and trace their movements?” I started thinking about visually representing how people move in an organization and analyzing these trajectories in ethnographic CCO studies. So, I started to play with this myself: I remember making a drawing of the trajectory to my son’s daycare. Every day, my son and I would go to the daycare situated next to the building where I work. Making that drawing was a surprisingly gratifying experience, because it made me more mindful of the “field of relation”—to use Brian’s term (see Massumi, 2015, p. 200)—that enables us to become who we are as father and son every day. After drawing the map, it became impossible not to appreciate our little daily journey, even when it was raining, or when my son didn’t want to go—or when I didn’t want to go, because I was tired. I became much more appreciative of this becoming-together in those particular moments.

79In light of this experience, I think that using this kind of drawing or mapping to understand organizational formation is interesting, not only for academic purposes, but also for organizational members themselves: If you were to ask people in an organization to make this kind of drawing, wouldn’t it make them more aware of fields of relation? Wouldn’t it make them more aware of the interdependencies through which everything unfolds? I see real potential here.

80In Canada, there’s a discipline called “research-creation.” I suppose it exists in other parts of the world under other names. I have wonderful colleagues in my department who work in this field, such as Natalie Doonan, Aleksandra Kaminska, and Tamara Vukov. I talked with each of them about this tracing idea and they gave me all sorts of wonderful reading suggestions. Through their guidance, I became fascinated with other ways of representing fieldwork experiences, so Camille and I are ending the chapter with a discussion on this.

81That’s great! I understand that what you’re trying to do is to see these new techniques not as modes of transmitting the results of your data analyses, but as ways to bring readers into your fieldwork experiences. I think that’s exactly the aim of research-creation: they’re trying to bring people into new contexts. I think it’s wonderful to try and find ways to bring people into unfolding organizational fields of relation, so they can gain deeper insight into the communicative constitution of organizations.

82Absolutely. I guess that has always been my goal. Before, I was only trying to do that through creative forms of writing; like I said, by bringing readers into a dialogic process and creating a relation with them as imaginary persons. But now I’m wondering if we can also find other ways to bring people in, to bring them into the events through which social collectives are brought forth, even though they’ve already happened; to give them a taste, or a sense, of what occurs during these key formative moments. I think that would be very useful. And, again, it can have huge benefits for people in organizations, to cultivate mindfulness in organizations.

83As you explained, the idea of tracing is recurrent in the chapter you wrote with Camille. This tracing feels rather poetic. Don’t you think this way of representing data will be an obstacle to the dissemination of knowledge?

84Absolutely! What can I say? I guess my pigheadedness is coming back here. When I started reading Whitehead and corresponding with Brian, I felt like I had been hitting a wall in terms of my work. So the invitation from the University of Colorado Boulder came at the right time for me, because I wanted to do something new. I wanted to do things differently. I had already used poetry in my academic writing. I had even published a few short articles in Qualitative Inquiry that consisted entirely of poems (see Brummans, 2007b, 2009). I used poetry because it was the only way to get at the non-conceptual emptiness that Buddhism talks about. I guess William James refers to this as “pure experience,” Deleuze calls it the “virtual,” and Whitehead the “potential.” Poetry helped me to write about this.

85Obviously, I hope that people will read my work and that it will be useful for them. Publishing is a means to communicating these ideas to other people, but sometimes you run into problems: Some people are very resistant to new ideas; reviewers and/or editors can be very resistant. However, there are so many journals now that encourage you to experiment, that are encouraging new ways of representing and expressing. So, eventually, you find ways to communicate your ideas, regardless of how “radical” they me seem at that point in time—radicality is always relative, isn’t it? Sometimes, you just need to think beyond what’s accepted in your field. Unfortunately, this kind of experimentation is often not encouraged, especially for people who are trying to get academic tenure. As said, I’ve always been too pigheaded, in this regard, but this pigheadedness has given me many extremely enriching, wonderful experiences.

86What you’ve said is very encouraging for young scholars like me, and I’m glad that I have a doctoral advisor (Consuelo Vásquez) who encourages me to explore and do what I want to do. I don’t even feel the need to be pigheaded with her! Let’s end with this final question: What are your next challenges in terms of developing your new ethnographic approach to study the communicative constitution of organizations?

87I want to develop the ideas Camille and I have introduced in our chapter further and to put them into practice in different contexts. Whitehead wrote a beautiful book entitled Adventures of Ideas (see Whitehead, 1967). The title inspired the title of our chapter. As I mentioned, our chapter ends with new avenues for ethnographic CCO research: Adventurous techniques that have never been put into practice. My aim is to start working with these techniques in actual organizational ethnographies; to start practicing what we’re preaching in the chapter, so to speak, and to see what these techniques can do, where they lead us. It’s going to be lots of trial and error, and I’m looking forward to that learning process. I’d also love to return to Rizong monastery, once our young kids are a bit older, so I can try out these techniques and gain deeper insight into the monks’ ways of organizing. When I was doing my fieldwork, I played around with the idea of becoming a monk. I went through a period in which I didn’t want to return to Canada and continue my academic work. I felt a real tension, a push and pull. I was thinking: “What’s the point of doing academic work if I can be a full-time monk?” I still feel this tension sometimes, but not that much anymore, because I can practice Buddhism here as well. I don’t have to be in the Indian Himalayas for that, even though it’s a very inspiring environment. So those dualistic feelings have dissipated over the years. However, I’d love to go back to Rizong with my sons and my wife, and visit the monks. The ways in which the monks and I have become related are very profound, and it feels like this relational field extends beyond the boundaries of space and time.

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1 This title is inspired by Francisco Varela’s idea of “laying down a path in walking” (see Varela, 1987).

2 In the 1990s, there were no bachelor programs in the Netherlands. At the age of 18, you entered a propaedeutic year and then went straight into a master’s program.

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Boris H. J. M. Brummans et Marie-Claude Plourde, « Laying Down Paths in Talking with a Dutch Canadian Organizational Communication Ethnographer »Communiquer, 36 | 2023, 1-26.

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Boris H. J. M. Brummans et Marie-Claude Plourde, « Laying Down Paths in Talking with a Dutch Canadian Organizational Communication Ethnographer »Communiquer [En ligne], 36 | 2023, mis en ligne le 17 avril 2023, consulté le 06 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Boris H. J. M. Brummans

Professor of communication (Université de Montréal)

Boris H. J. M. Brummans (PhD, Texas A&M University, 2004) is a Professor in the Département de Communication at the Université de Montréal. His research interests include agency, mindful organizing, organizational communication, organizational ethnography, and process philosophy. He has contributed chapters to several edited books and his articles appear in international peer-reviewed journals such as Communication Monographs, Human Relations, Information, Communication & Society, Management Communication Quarterly, Organization Studies, and Qualitative Inquiry. His edited volume, The Agency of Organizing: Perspectives and Case Studies(published by Routledge), received the 2018 Outstanding Edited Book Award from the Organizational Communication Division of the National Communication Association and he served as an Associate Editor of Management Communication Quarterly from 2015 to 2019. Currently, he is Chair of the International Communication Association's (ICA) Organizational Communication Division.

Marie-Claude Plourde

Communication lecturer (Université du Québec à Montréal & Université d’Ottawa)

Marie-Claude Plourde received her PhD from the Département de communication sociale et publique at the Université du Québec a Montréal in 2023. Currently, she is a lecturer in the communication departments of UQAM and the University of Ottawa, where she teaches courses on organizational communication. Her research interests include affect theory, architecture, organizational communication, and the environment. She has contributed chapters to edited books and and her articles appear in journals such as CommuniquerCompositeQuestions de communicationRecherches en communication, and Scholarly and Research Communication.

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