Organizational compassion as a complex social relational process

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The past two decades have seen a growing acknowledgement of the significant role played by emotion in organizations, with a consequent emergence of interest in organizational compassion. The most in-depth body of research on organizational compassion has been conducted by academics associated with the fledgling Positive Organizational Scholarship community. While this literature has spurred scholarly theorising and research of compassion, a gap in this literature is its under-acknowledgement of compassion as a complex social relational process enmeshed in power dynamics. A related limitation is the lack of appropriate acknowledgement that as a social phenomenon, the outcomes of compassion relations are a mix of positivity and negativity. To the contrary, much of the literature assumes compassion to be an inherent psychological trait, or an eternal moral imperative, that leads to positive individual and collective outcomes. I have sought to demonstrate through theoretical and empirical research that organizational compassion relations are inseparable from social relations of power. The findings of these studies have been written up as five articles submitted to organization and management journals and then collected together for submission as a dissertation by publication. Two articles are theoretical, while three present the findings of empirical research using narrative and discursive methodologies. Narrative methods were used in two studies to analyse the same interview data collected from 25 employees from 18 organizations. The interviews concerned the support provided to them (or the lack of support) when the Brisbane CBD was evacuated in January 2011 due to the flooding of the Brisbane River. The fact that the interviewees were from different organizations allowed comparison of narratives from different organizational settings, during a time of crisis that affected the entire community. Cross comparison of these narratives provided an opportunity for deeper insight into the power dynamics of organizational compassion, in both structural and practical aspects. In a further study, discursive analysis was applied to naturalistic data available through 278 user comments from two online news articles. The unsolicited user comments from each case provided divergent arguments indicating that legitimacy as a giver or receiver of compassion is highly contested and is embedded within power considerations of privilege, obligation, control, and exploitation. The overall contribution of this thesis is to provide theoretical frameworks as well as empirical observations analysing the variables that contribute to the social construction of organizations deemed more or less compassionate and, in so doing, providing an empirically supported sociological definition of organizational compassion.
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