Professor Cynthia Stohl

Between 9 and 14 of April, we had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Cynthia Stohl as a guest researcher at our department. Cynthia Stohl is a distinguished professor of organizational communication and the past director of the Center for Information Technology and Society at the University of California Santa Barbara.

The subject of her visit concerned a joint research project with two of our team members Claartje Ter Hoeven and Scott Banghart. The team, along with Paul Leonardi and Michael Stohl developed a survey to measure the attributes of visibility and their relationship with organizational transparency. They have already conducted the survey in the US and are writing up the results for publication. As a next step, they are now planning to conduct the survey in the Netherlands. During her visit, Cynthia Stohl presented a guest lecture for students and faculty about her current research on visibility and used the week to connect with students and faculty to exchange and explore new ideas.


Cynthia Stohl completed her bachelor studies in English literature in 1969 and worked as a public school teacher before starting her PhD in 1978 at Purdue University, Indiana. After finishing her dissertation in 1982 she proceeded working at the department before eventually becoming a full Professor in 1993 and head of the department in 1998. In 2002, she moved to California to become professor for organizational communication at the University of California Santa Barbara. Here, she served from 2015-2018 as the director of the interdisciplinary Center for Information Technology and Society. She has received several awards and recognitions from the academic community for her research and teaching. She was elected president of the International Communication Association in 2012-2013. Her research covers the areas of Group Communication, Organizational Communication, Globalization and International Organizations, Networks and Collective Action.


We sat down with her to talk about her view on past and future developments of the academic field and why for her being a professor is the best job in the world.


You have been doing communication research for about 40 years. How did you see the field develop and how did your work change over time?

For my dissertation in the late 70s I was studying the social networks of children and families in pre-schools. Back then, our understanding of social networks was completely different from social networks today . They were simply the structure of face-to-face interactions of people. My approach on assessing these relationships was based on either observations or self-reports and surveys., There were virtually no other ways to get the data . Today, with the emergence of technology, the development and  our understandings of social networks ha s completely changed. Now there are many  methodologies for measuring networks , including  getting data from  social network platforms  utilizing big data sources,,  or using digital tracking devices Another change I have seen ref;ccts  globalization. When I began, we were talking about internationalization. It reflected the first generation  when research was thinking about cultural differences and intercultural communication But over time we had to also start thinking  about the processes of economic, social and cultural integration that were happening globally. And this reflected a tsecond generation of research that is concerned with the question on how organizations organize to address globalization. Then as  new technologies started to emerge and became ubiquitous a third generation of organizational communication emerged, which changed the perspective from the organization to the dynamic processes of organizing. So, these two developments, the emergence of digital technology and globalization, really changed for me what social networks were, and even what an organization was


Going from your views on past developments to the future. How do you see the field of organizational communication evolinge?

There are many things that I think are happening. One thing is that we  have moved from just studying corporate organizations to NGOs, non-profit organizations and collective action organizations. This means that our concept of what organizational communication is changing radically. Now it encompasses all organizing. In terms of the future I think we will be looking more and more at hybrid forms of organizing such as governmental agencies doing social services but also acting in ways that are similar to profit oriented or profit-making organizations. Collective actions will still need organizations, but this will be in concert with new types of partnerships And this structural change of organizations to hybridity and fluidity will change our way of doing work in organizations. And I am hopeful that our field of corporate communication will be at the cutting edge of this and that we are leading the way. We can show that it is not only structures that are changing but actual communication dynamics that change. So, as our field develops we will have to deal more and more with the complexity of multiple forms of organizations.


What do you like most about being a professor?

I love my job! I think the best job in the world is to be a professor. And there are at least four reasons. First, I am getting paid to research things that I find interesting, important and want to know more about. You can be constantly engaged in the world and bring this into your work. Few other jobs offer this kind of variety and relevance. The second thing I love is teaching. I find it exciting and inspiring to be around students. When you teach at the university you can learn so much from your students. The third thing I love is being consistently surrounded by smart people who think critically about the world. It’s a constant journey of learning. And I find that people in the faculty of communication are generally caring and generous, which makes work really enjoyable. And lastly, being a professor allows me to be very flexible, to work on projects at different places in the world, like I am doing right now. I highly recommend being a professor.

Find out more about Cynthia Stohl .