Documents are social Actions: The importance of writing in a cooperative

Avery C. Edenfield, Utah State University


Every business creates documents such as emails, memos, policies, and governing handbooks. These organizational documents are not impartial or neutral. Even everyday writing like handbooks and emails can have social effects that ripple throughout an organization. Paying attention to documentation — how and what we write — can give insight to underlying social dynamics, and may uncover tensions or contradictions that can impact the health of the cooperative. For example, though a group may write a policy through consensus, if the original authors leave, the new group members might struggle with interpreting the original intent, or implementing the policy. For two years, I conducted a study of a cooperative where I analyzed documents, or “texts,” written by founders, the Board of Directors, and staff. Through this investigation, I learned documents’ social effects extended for years, sometimes in invisible ways.