Talking the talk: Does language really construct organizations or is it just talk?

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With the linguistic turn in organizational studies (e.g. Alvesson et al. 2008; Bamberg & Andrews 2004; Coreen 2015; Kuhn 2017), the way we think of organizations has changed. In this perspective, communication (as discourse, narratives, etc.) is the organization, involving members’ continuous construction and negotiation of organizational identity (Alvesson and Willmott 2002). The arguments advanced for this understanding of organizational structure have, however, often been of a theoretical nature, and so, the aim of this presentation is to bring the discussion into the realm of real-life organizations. Based on the study of two different organizations (Holmgreen 2020, 2021), I will discuss what it means when we say that organizational identity is constructed, i.e. How does it work? What does it take for this to happen? How is it visible to the analyst? And how do we uncover it?
The data for the analysis will be official documents and interview excerpts from the two organizations, a bank and an airport, which, together, illustrate real-life identity constructions in discourse and the challenges with identifying them. With this, the wider aim is to propose a tentative methodology for working with discourses and their implication across the organization.
Providing insight into the theoretical and empirical aspects of organizational discourse heightens the awareness of the mechanisms that make an organization. However, identifying specific discourses and their organizational effects is often a difficult endeavour, and the proposed methodology should be seen as a first step towards establishing a framework which may inspire future students of business and management to take a critical approach to studying language use in organizations.

Holmgreen, Lise-Lotte. (2020). Leadership identities: Whose construction? Text & Talk, 40: 5-28.
Holmgreen, Lise-Lotte. (2021). Narrating organisational identity: Staff positions in a fast-growing local Danish Airport. Narrative Inquiry. DOI:
Alvesson, M., Ashcraft, K.L., & Thomas, R. (2008). Identity matters: Reflections on the construction of identity scholarship in organization studies. Organization, 15(1), 5-28.
Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (2002). Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies, 39, 619-644.
Bamberg, M., & Andrews, M. (2004). Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Cooren, F. (2015). Organizational Discourse. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Kuhn, T. (2017). Communicatively constituting organizational unfolding through counter-narrative. In Sanne Frandsen, Kuhn, Timothy, & Lundholt, Marianne W. (Eds) Counter-Narratives and Organization (pp. 17-42). New York: Routledge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventABC Vienna. Association for Business Communication: Regional Conference: Europe, Africa, and Middle East - WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Wien, Austria
Duration: 19 Aug 202128 Aug 2021


ConferenceABC Vienna. Association for Business Communication
LocationWU (Vienna University of Economics and Business)

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