The Constitution of Highly Reliable Practices: Materializing Communication as Constitutive of Organizing



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National and international crises in the early 21st Century, whether natural, technological or man-made, emphasize the need for highly reliable organizations (HROs) to conduct emergency response in a relatively error-free way. Urban search and rescue units provide a pivotal intermittent role in these high-risk environments. Traditional HRO research focuses on a concept known as "collective mind" -- heedful interactions of responders that accomplish reliability. Rather than focusing on collective mind, this study uses a practice-based communication approach to examine the material interplay of bodies, objects, and sites using ethnography and grounded theory. In-depth interviews, participant observations, and organizational documents were coded and contrasted to find patterns in material interplay. More specifically, this study examines how these material features interact to orchestrate reliable practices through ecological coherence, a bonding of multiple forces to construct meaning and improvisation. The study has implication for HRO theory through focusing on the role of the body rather than emphasizing cognitive judgment in collective action. Collective body shifts the discussion of mindful processes to embodied practices and offers insights into the ways responders enact safety and perform responses in dynamic, high-risk environments.