Sub-theme 28: Translating Discourses: Text, Change and Organization

Bill Doolin
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
David S. Grant
University of Sydney, Australia
Robyn Thomas
Cardiff University, UK

Call for Papers

This sub-theme will explore different ways of thinking about discourse in relation to the notion of translation, in order to provide innovative insights into change and the (re)assembly of organizations. As Czarniawska & Sevón (1996) observe, social and organizational reality can be described in many different languages, making translation a key concept for understanding organizational change.

In its literary sense, translation refers to translating texts between languages. Yet other meanings of translation exist. If all the world is text, then bodies, artifacts, routines, institutions and organizations also require translation. In this sense, translation involves unpacking the dominant discursive constructions used to produce meaning for these texts. Further, new or alternative discourses have translating properties in the sense of providing new readings or understandings that have the potential to create change or enact new organizational realities, "open[ing] up strange and ambivalent spaces not yet defined" (Clegg et al., 2006: 314). Fundamental to this discursive struggle for meaning is a consideration of power relations – "because translation is never innocent" (Chávez, 2009: 25).

Translation has also been invoked as a concept implying both transformation and transference in the circulation of ideas, practices or things (Czarniawska, 2009). The translation of ideas into actions and eventually institutions, involves both linguistic and material objects. Here discourse intersects with sociomateriality in the construction and performance of organization. As Latour (1993: 5) notes, "rhetoric, textual strategies, writing, staging, semiotics – all these are really at stake, but in a new form that has a simultaneous impact on the nature of things and on the social context, while it is not reducible to the one or the other."

In yet another sense, and as discourse analysts, we translate discourses. These analyses have the potential to make an important contribution towards understanding processes of organizing and making sense of change in our increasingly complex, interdependent, and local-global world. At the same time, however, this increases the need for researchers to exploit the propensity for discourse analysis to encourage reflexivity (Grant & Hardy, 2003).

We invite empirical, theoretical and reflective contributions that address discourse and translation in all its senses. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The interplay of discourse, power and sociomaterial relations in creating privileged translations of organizations, and an appreciation of the dynamics involved in establishing the alternative discourses necessary for constructing organizational change.
  • How discourse is involved in translating perceived crises and challenges in areas such as:
– The systems and institutions that underpin and regulate global business and financial markets
– Global warming, climate change, sustainability and the environment
– Globalisation and cultural change, relations between developed and developing economies, when East meets West, immigration and human rights
– Work, career and identity in the 'new economy' or 'knowledge society'
  • How we assemble the future – how organization is envisioned, constructed and translated in discourses and imaginaries around new technologies, such as bioinformatics, new genetics, nanotechnology, alternative energy, and social media.
  • What roles discourse analytic approaches and analysts do, could or should play in translating and negotiating meaning in organizational and societal change.


Chávez, K.R. (2009): "Embodied translation: dominant discourse and communication with migrant bodies-as-text." Howard Journal of Communications, 20 (1), 18-36.
Clegg, S.R., D. Courpasson & N. Phillips (2006): Power and Organizations. London: Sage.
Czarniawska, B. (2009): "Emerging institutions: pyramids or anthills?" Organization Studies, 30 (4), 423-441.
Czarniawska, B. & G. Sevón (eds.) (1996): Translating Organizational Change. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Grant, D. & C. Hardy (2003): "Struggles with organizational discourse." Organization Studies, 25 (1), 5-13.
Latour, B. (1993): We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Bill Doolin 
David S. Grant 
Robyn Thomas