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Transnational immanence: the autopoietic co-constitution of a Chinese spiritual organization through mediated communication

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Information and communication technologies are often cited as one major source, if not the causal vector, for the rising intensity of transnational practices. Yet, extant literature has not examined critically how digital media appropriation affects the constitution of transnational organizations, particularly Chinese spiritual ones. To address the lack of theoretically grounded, empirical research on this question, this study investigates how the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation (Tzu Chi), one of the largest Taiwan-based civil and spiritual nonprofit organizations among the Chinese diaspora, is co-constituted by various social actors as an operationally closed system through their mediated communication. Based on an innovative theoretical framework that combines Maturana and Varela's notion of ‘autopoiesis’ with Cooren's ideas of ‘incarnation’ and ‘presentification’, we provide a rich analysis of Tzu Chi's co-constitution through organizational leaders' appropriation of digital and social media, as well as through mediated interactions between Tzu Chi's internal and external stakeholders. In so doing, our research expands upon the catalogue of common economic and relational behaviors by overseas Chinese, advances our understanding of Chinese spiritual organizing, and reveals the contingent role of digital and social media in engendering transnational spiritual ties to accomplish global humanitarian work.
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Keywords: Asia; Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation; Taiwan; authority; autopoiesis; communicative constitution of organizations; information and communication technologies; nonprofit; social media; transnationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Arizona State University, AZ, Tempe, USA 2: Département de Communication, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Publication date: January 2, 2014

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