Sub-theme 22: Organizations, Language/s and Mobility/ies

Wilhelm Barner-Rasmussen
Åbo Akademi University School of Business and Economics, Finland
Marjana Johansson
University of Essex, United Kingdom
Martyna Śliwa
University of Essex, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Two decades ago, Marschan et al. (1997, p. 591) first drew attention to the importance of language(s) for and in internationally active organizations, arguing that language ‘permeates virtually every aspect of… business activities’. This is now an established area of research, with language recognized as an organization-level concept (e.g. Barner-Rasmussen, 2003; Brannen & Doz, 2012).
Over the years, our understanding of the topic has shifted from conceiving language as a technical skill and a potential ‘barrier’ to be overcome (e.g. Harzing & Feely, 2008; Lauring & Klitmøller, 2014) through the adoption of a seemingly ‘neutral’ communicative tool such as corporate lingua franca (Brannen & Doz, 2012), to a consideration of the power dynamics associated with both linguistic diversity and with attempts to standardize language use in organizations (e.g. Peltokorpi & Vaara, 2012; Śliwa & Johansson, 2014). Consensus is growing that the simultaneous use and blending of multiple languages – exemplified by concepts such as multilingua franca (Janssens & Steyaert, 2013), hybrid language use (Steyaert et al., 2011) and translanguaging (Langinier & Ehrhart, 2015) – are ‘facts of life’ in many organizational settings, carry multiple benefits related to inclusivity, diversity and creativity, and hence should be encouraged (Lüdi et al., 2013).
These developments notwithstanding, organizational research focusing on language(s) is far from maturity, and many theoretical and methodological questions remain. For example, the recent ‘historical turn’ in organization studies (Booth & Rowlinson, 2006; Stager Jacques, 2006; Rowlinson et al., 2014) has yet to be reflected in language-related research, despite offering obvious potential for a better grasp of the societal context of organization-level language issues. Current empirical phenomena related to the even more recent ‘mobility turn’ (Sheller & Urry, 2006; Jeanes et al., 2015) also pose significant language-related challenges for organizations, societies and researchers. This is especially true for the effects of current large-scale transnational mobility – both voluntary and involuntary – but also other forms of mobility/ies require attention by organizational scholars willing to engage with their inherently political nature, and highlighting their inherent ambiguities. This is important both in the general context of the 2017 EGOS Colloquium’s overarching interest in the Good Organization, and specifically in terms of the recognized but as yet underexplored links between language(s) and organizational inclusivity and diversity on one hand (Ogbonna & Harris, 2006; van Laer & Janssens, 2011; Louvrier, 2013), and language(s) and organizational outcomes on the other (e.g., Śliwa & Johansson, 2014).
This sub-theme accordingly invites conceptual and empirical submissions that advance constructive dialogue on language(s) in organizations by engaging with topics such as, but not limited to:

  • Historicizing language in organizations. What does an awareness of the historical conditions that have shaped contemporary multilingual settings contribute to our understanding of linguistic hierarchies, in/exclusions and cultural associations evoked, for example, in interactions between speakers from different linguistic backgrounds or speaking with different accents?
  • The interplay or tension between languages and language policies at organizational and societal level. Language policy and use may differ significantly between an organization and the society in which it is embedded. How do organizational members draw on patterns and policies governing language in the surrounding society to influence organizational language use?
  • Innovative methodologies for studying language-related issues in organizations. What methodological approaches can be adopted to facilitate a deep understanding of linguistic dynamics and its variegated effects, ranging from the social to the psychological and physiological? What can organizational scholars learn from other disciplines, especially those with a long-standing tradition of empirical investigation of language(s)?
  • The role of national and organizational language policies in the era of an unprecedented influx of migrants to European countries. What kind of language policies can best serve the interests of European civic society and European organizations? Should English be adopted as a pan-European lingua franca and a communicative vehicle for enabling inclusion and participation of migrants in their new communities, or should resources be dedicated to local language tuition? What are the arguments for different solutions? Do they vary depending on the assumed time frame and target groups?



  • Barner-Rasmussen, W. (2003): Knowledge Sharing in Multinational Corporations: A Social Capital Perspective. PhD dissertation, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Booth, C., & Rowlinson, M. (2006): “Management and organizational history: Prospects.” Management & Organizational History, 1 (1), 5–30.
  • Brannen, M.Y., & Doz, Y.L. (2012): “Corporate languages and strategic agility: Trapped in your jargon or lost in translation?” California Management Review, 54 (3), 77–97.
  • Harzing, A.-W., & Feely, A.J. (2008): “The language barrier and its implications for HQ-subsidiary relationships.” Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 15 (1), 49–61.
  • Janssens, M., & Steyaert, C. (2014): “Re-considering language within a cosmopolitan understanding: toward a multilingual franca approach in International Business Studies.” Journal of International Business Studies, 45 (5), 623–639.
  • Jeanes, E., Loacker, B., Śliwa, M., & Weiskopf, R. (2015): “Mobilities in contemporary worlds of work and organizing.” Ephemera, 15 (4), 705–723.
  • Langinier, H., & Ehrhart, S. (2015): When local meets global: Translanguaging practices in a cross-border organization. Paper presented at EGOS 2015 Colloquium in Athens.
  • Lauring, J., & Klitmøller, A. (2015): “Corporate language-based communication avoidance in MNCs: A multi-sited ethnography approach.” Journal of World Business, 50 (1), 46–55.
  • Louvrier, J. (2013): Diversity, Difference and Diversity Management: A Contextual and Interview Study of Managers and Ethnic Minority Employees in Finland and France. PhD dissertation, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Lüdi, G., Höchle, K., & Yanaprasart, P. (2013): “Multilingualism and diversity management in companies in the Upper Rhine Region.” In: A.C. Berthoud, F. Grin & G. Lüdi (eds.): Exploring the Dynamics of Multilingualism: The DYLAN Project. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 59–82.
  • Marschan, R., Welch, D., & Welch, L. (1997): “Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management.” European Management Journal, 15 (5), 591–598.
  • Ogbonna, E., & Harris, L.C. (2006): “The dynamics of employee relationships in an ethnically diverse workforce.” Human Relations, 59 (3), 379–407.
  • Peltokorpi, V., & Vaara, E. (2012): “Language policies and practices in wholly owned foreign subsidiaries: A recontextualization perspective.” Journal of International Business Studies, 43 (9), 808–833.
  • Rowlinson, M., Hassard, J., & Decker, S. (2014): “Research strategies for organizational history: A dialogue between historical theory and organization theory.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 250–274.
  • Śliwa, M., & Johansson, M. (2014): “How non-native English-speaking staff are evaluated in linguistically diverse organizations: A sociolinguistic perspective.” Journal of International Business Studies, 45 (9), 1133–1151.
  • Sheller, M., & J. Urry (2006): “The new mobilities paradigm.” Environment and Planning A, 38 (2), 207–226.
  • Stager Jacques, R. (2006): “History, Historiography and Organization Studies: The challenge and the potential.” Management & Organizational History, 1 (1), 31–49.
  • Steyaert, S., Ostendorp, A., & Gaibrois, C. (2011): “Multilingual organizations as ‘linguascapes’: Negotiating the position of English through discursive practices.” Journal of World Business, 46 (3), 270–278.
  • Van Laer, K., & Janssens, M. (2011): “Ethnic minority professionals’ experiences with subtle discrimination in the workplace.” Human Relations, 64 (9), 1203–1227.
Wilhelm Barner-Rasmussen is Professor of Business Administration at Åbo Akademi University School of Business and Economics, Finland. His research interests include language, multilingualism, boundary spanners and knowledge sharing in internationally active organizations.
Marjana Johansson is Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Essex, UK. She is interested in organizational processes of identity construction including language, organizational inequalities, intersectionality, and work in academia.
Martyna Śliwa is Professor of Management and Organization Studies at the University of Essex, UK. She is interested in issues of language and Englishization within contemporary organizations, migration and transnationalism, and intersectionality.