Sub-theme 43: The Power of Language(s): A Linguistic Perspective on Organizational Realities

Martyna Śliwa
Newcastle University Business School, UK
Wilhelm Barner-Rasmussen
Hanken School of Economics, Finland
Marjana Johansson
Essex University Business School, UK

Call for Papers

While the importance of paying attention to language has been widely acknowledged by organizational scholars, studies have primarily been concerned with how language is used in organizational contexts (i.e. through focus on discourses occurring within the parameters of one national tongue), rather than with situations in which different languages (i.e. national tongues) play a role in producing and shaping organizational phenomena and processes.

The fact that organization studies took a long time to discover native or national languages as a topic of study (Tietze, 2008a) still has consequences for how organization scholars approach them. Extant literature on languages in organizational contexts tends to focus on the instrumental benefits of a common or shared organizational language for communication, collaboration and information sharing. On the other hand, such instrumental views of language have been critiqued in studies showing that variations in language competence also affect careers and mobility (Piekkari, 2008) as well as the inclusion into, or exclusion from, organizational participation and decision-making (Śliwa & Johansson, 2010; Tietze, 2008b). As such, language does not only constitute a communicative tool, but exercises considerable performative power (Tietze & Dick, 2009). Notions such as linguistic capital (Bourdieu, 1991), linguistic identity (Coulthard, 2008), and linguascapes (Steyaert et al., 2011) point to the organizing capability of language, and how language, politics and power intertwine.

The aim of this sub-theme is to enrich and extend the debate on language and organizations by inviting conceptual and empirical contributions that consider the ways in which language intersects with other factors to produce organizational realities. While the effects of processes such as class, gender, nationality and race have to a larger extent been addressed in organization studies, the contribution of language(s) to establishing subject positions in conjunction with the aforementioned processes remains underexplored.

Indicative themes that might be explored in conceptual or empirical papers include, but are not limited to:

  • The possible impacts of the introduction of corporate language policies on the hierarchization of organizational identities
  • The relationship between the linguistic competence of organizational members and power relations within organizations
  • Multilingualism and approaches to language diversity in organizations
  • Effects of language on global careers and mobility
  • The role of language in the formation and perpetuation of corporate elites and other dominant social groups, and conversely language as a basis of exclusion and marginalization
  • The significance of intersections of language and other organizational processes, for example, gender, ethnicity and class for organizational identities, identification and belonging
  • Language as one resource among many in the arsenal of boundary spanners, bridgemakers, or compradors
  • Linguistic globalization and Englishization in contemporary organizations
  • Englishization of knowledge production and the shaping of academia



Bourdieu, Pierre (1991): Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Coulthard, Malcolm (2008): 'By their words shall ye know them: on linguistic identity.' In: Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard & Rick Iedema (eds.): Identity Trouble: Critical Discourse and Contested Identities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 143–155.
Crystal, David (2003): English as a Global Language. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Piekkari, Rebecca (2008): 'Language and careers in multinational corporations.' In: Susanne Tietze (ed.): International Management and Language. London: Routledge, 128–137.
Steyaert, Chris, Anja Ostendorp & Claudine Gaibrois (2011): 'Multilingual organizations as "linguascapes": negotiating the position of English through discursive practices.' Journal of World Business, 46 (3), 270–278.
Śliwa, Martyna & Marjana Johansson (2010): Multilingually competent or linguistically stranded? Paper presented at 26th EGOS Colloquium in Lisbon.
Tietze, Susanne (ed.) (2008a): International Management and Language. London: Routledge.
Tietze, Susanne (2008b): 'The work of management academics: an English language perspective.' English for Specific Purposes, 27, 371–386.
Tietze, Susanne & Penny Dick (2009): 'Hegemonic practices and knowledge production in the management academy: an English language perspective.' Scandinavian Journal of Management, 25, 119–123.


Martyna Śliwa is Reader in Organization Studies at Newcastle University, UK. She is interested in issues of language and Englishization within contemporary organizations, postsocialist transition, migration and transnationalism, and intersectionality. She has presented papers at EGOS Colloquia in Berlin (2005), Bergen (2006), Amsterdam (2008), Barcelona (2009), Lisbon (2010) and Gothenburg (2011).
Wilhelm Barner-Rasmussen is Assistant Professor in Management and Organization at Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland. His research interests include language, multlingualism, boundary spanners and knowledge sharing in multinational corporations. His work has been presented at EGOS Colloquia in Barcelona (2009) and in Lisbon (2010), where he co-convened a sub-theme on 'Englishization and Language Diversity in Contemporary Organizational Life'.
Marjana Johansson is Lecturer in Management at the University of Essex, UK. She is interested in processes of identity construction in organisations, and is currently carrying out a research project with Martyna Śliwa which addresses the internationalisation of UK academia. Aspects of the research include a critique of meritocracy and an intersectional approach to understanding the work experiences of non-national academics. She has presented at EGOS Colloquia in Amsterdam (2008), Barcelona (2009), Lisbon (2010), Gothenburg (2011) and Helsinki (2012).