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What does macromorphic mean?

Joshua Barbour

Recently, a few colleagues have asked me to explain the term. Inspired by the notion of the sedimentation of discourse to describe the accretion of ideas and words into structures over time in organizing, the term borrows its form from geology and their interest the overarching characteristics of rock formations. Morphology refers to the study of shapes and shaping in natural forms (cf., morphemes - the smallest unit of language and linguistic morphology – the structuring of those morphemes in language). As opposed to terms such as micro-, meso-, or macro-level, macromorhic should imply an interest not just in the discrete phenomena occurring at each level, but in the shaping of macro-level phenomena at micro- and meso-levels. The term means to reflect the notion, for example, that institutional phenomena manifest at these other levels of human experience. For example, the regulatory, legal, and cultural frameworks that influence communication at nuclear power plants, toxic waste storage facilities, or healthcare organizations are no doubt macro-level, but they have expression in how regulators manage information, how teams of scientists, engineers, and project managers negotiate interorganizational relationships, and how teams of healthcare providers work together to provide care. These processes are not macro-level, but they are macromorphic. They are part of the building up, sustaining, changing of institutional phenomena. 

We first used the term to capture our interest in the understanding the building up of institutional and organizational phenomena in and through communication. We wrote, “Institutions can be best thought of as macromorphic patterns of behavior, beliefs, and structures within which organizations have life and much dyadic communication can be taken for granted,” and “An institutional perspective directs our attention to these macromorphic structures that influence behavior at the micromorphic level” (Lammers, Barbour, & Duggan, 2003, p. 337, 338). I have worked to elaborate this impulse in much of my scholarship on institutional beliefs and professional identity (Barbour & Lammers, 2007, 2015), organizational legitimacy (Barbour, Doshi, & Hernandez, 2015), information management and meaning making in regulatory communication (Barbour & Gill, 2014; Barbour & James, forthcoming), and interprofessional communication (Barbour, 2010; Barbour, Gill, & Dean, forthcoming). 

Image credit: "Granite outcrops at Silesian Stones Mountain in southwestern Poland." by Pudelek CC 3.0