Sub-theme 34: Something to Talk about: Building Bridges to Understand the Power of Words and Vocabularies in Organizing

William Ocasio
Northwestern University, Evanston, USA
Eero Vaara
Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland
Jeffrey Loewenstein
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

Call for Papers

Talk is the primary mode of action within organizations, professions, and fields, and the power of that talk rests on words. However, research on vocabularies (Loewenstein et al., 2012), as well as related work on frames (Cornelissen & Werner, 2014) and cultural repertoires (Weber et al., 2013), is not usually integrated with research on talk and communication to shape practice, such as work on critical discourse analysis (Phillips et al., 2004; Vaara et al., 2010), the communicative construction of organizations (Cooren et al., 2006), and rhetoric (Sillince et al., 2012). Accordingly, to understand the direct and indirect influences of language use on organizing at multiple levels of analysis, we seek to start from the perspective that words and vocabularies are foundational to discourse.

Research on words and vocabularies can help foster theoretical integration, generate significant new research, and provide a strong basis for interventions if it is connected with research on talk. For example, critical discourse analysis relies on discourses being "connected to ideologies through the assumptions embedded in the texts" (Vaara et al., 2010) to explain the power of talk. Research on vocabularies provides an account of how words are connected to institutional logics (Loewenstein et al., 2012), and so building a bridge could explain crucial aspects of why talk can be influential. As a further example, an established language game for organizational strategizing provides power to those with the greatest control over the words in the language game (Mantere, 2013), raising questions about how actors generate and claim control over words, and when and why words matter for controlling action.


These illustrative examples are just initial indications of the opportunities for putting together words and talk to understand the power of words and vocabularies for shaping thought and action. Additional possibilities might be:

  • What role do words play in enabling and constraining the actions, decisions, and commitments made through talking?
  • What vocabularies are easier to bring together in discourse and what are difficult to combine?
  • How much leeway do speakers have to talk in ways inconsistent with conventional word meanings? To act in ways inconsistent with prior discourse? And which speakers?
  • What results from talking with words from different vocabularies? Multiple frames?
  • When does rhetoric have enduring effects on the meanings of words and when is it transitory? Where does such talk occur?
  • Whose talk and which texts shape the meaning of words and what has little influence?
  • What kinds of talk shape word meanings just within organizations? Within fields? Within societies?

In short, we seek research on how words shape organizing at multiple levels of analysis by elucidating the relationship between words and talk.




  • Cooren, F., Taylor, J., & Van Every, E. (2006): Explorations in the Dynamic of Text and Conversation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
  • Cornelissen, J.P., & Werner, M.D. (2014): "Putting Framing in Perspective: A Review of Framing and Frame Analysis across the Management and Organizational Literature." Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 181–235.
  • Loewenstein, J., Ocasio, W., & Jones, C. (2012): "Vocabularies and Vocabulary Structure: A New Approach Linking Categories, Practices, and Institutions." Academy of Management Annals, 6 (1), 41–86.
  • Phillips, N., Lawrence, T, & Hardy, C. (2004): "Discourse and Institutions." Academy of Management Review, 29 (4), 635–652.
  • Mantere, S. (2013): "What Is Organizational Strategy? A Language-Based View." Journal of Management Studies, 50 (8), 1408–1426.
  • Sillince, J., Jarzabkowski, P., & Shaw, D. (2012): "Shaping Strategic Action through the Rhetorical Construction and Exploitation of Ambiguity." Organization Science, 23 (3), 630–650.
  • Vaara, E., Sorsa, V., & Pälli, P. (2010): "On the Force Potential of Strategy Texts: a Critical Discourse Analysis of a Strategic Plan and it's Power Effects in a City Organization." Organization, 17 (6), 685–702.
  • Weber, K., Patel, H., & Heinze, K. (2013): "From cultural repertoires to institutional logics: A content-analytic method." In: M. Lounsbury & E. Boxenbaum (eds.): Institutional Logics in Action. Research on the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 38. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 351–382.


William Ocasio is the John L. and Helen Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA. His current research focuses on institutional logics, vocabularies, and organizational and field-level attention.
Eero Vaara is Professor of Organization and Management at Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland, Permanent Visiting Professor at EMLYON Business School, France, and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Lancaster University, UK. His research uses discursive and narrative approaches to study organizational, strategic and institutional change, strategic practices and processes, multinational corporations and globalization, management education, and methodological issues in organization and management research.
Jeffrey Loewenstein is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Business, USA. His research examines how people generate, learn, change, and apply knowledge, primarily through studying analogy, categories, and vocabularies.