Sub-theme 48: More to Talk About: Unexpected Roles of Language in Organizing

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

Call for Papers

To communicate something that convinces, surprises, resonates with, or simply makes sense to others hinges on a history of language use. That history serves to interrelate communities, communications, practices, and vocabularies such that one person can tell others something, be understood, and they can take action together. In the interdisciplinary community engaged in studying organizations, examining language use is now common and a great source of insight. Yet the number of empirical approaches and theoretical discussions is multiplying more rapidly than opportunities for cross-fertilization and integration. The goal of this sub-theme is to provide a forum for bringing together a variety of empirical and theoretical approaches to language. Juxtapositions are often a source of either integration or innovation, if not both. Both will advance our ability to understand organizations.
One of the primary opportunities for integration is to bridge the divide between structure and process, between words, narratives, meanings, metaphors, frames, repertoires, codes, vocabularies and so forth on the one hand and discourse, rhetoric, speech acts, sensegiving, translating, and so forth on the other hand. There are a few efforts to bridge structure and process already underway, such as work on narratives and narration (Vaara, Sonenshein & Boje, 2016), work on frames and framing (Cornelissen & Werner, 2014), and work on vocabularies and communication processes (Ocasio, Loewenstein & Nigam, 2015). But there is much more to be done on these efforts as well as alternative approaches to consider.
A further opportunity for integration is to bring together methodological approaches into a research toolkit. We study individual words, types of words, the items to which words apply, and word co-occurrences. We study types of communications, types of communicators, and types of communicative situations. We use qualitative and quantitative approaches, using old and new methodologies. Examining the same dataset using more than one methodological approach encourages weighing these approaches’ distinctive capabilities and identifying their complementarities, and is another great bridging opportunity.
Additional possibilities might be:

  • What is the pattern of emotional language use in organizations? Do some collectives have more emotionally laden vocabularies than others?

  • What words from one organization or collective spread to other audiences? How does that shape when and why those audiences think about the initiating collective?

  • What aspects of language use change rapidly and what aspects change slowly? How does this relate to Schein’s levels of culture?

  • Does copying how leaders talk foster rising in organizations? What aspects of their talk?

  • What does it mean for word use to resonate? Can latent categories, dimensions, or topics predict resonance?

  • Whose talk and which texts shape meanings? What ways do we have to trace the influence of a speaker or communication, and how can these help us understand coordination or change in organizations?

  • What happens when what a word indicates switches from bad to good or good to bad? What happens when frames flip? For example, the positive view of Enron changed rapidly into a negative view. What disappeared along with the positive view and why?

In short, we seek research that explicitly seeks to fit together different aspects of language so as to develop more innovative and more integrated understandings of organizations and organizing. Surprise us!



  • 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.
  • Ocasio, W., Loewenstein, J., & Nigam, A. (2015): “How streams of communication reproduce and change institutional logics: The role of categories.” Academy of Management Review, 40 (1), 28–48.
  • Vaara, E., Sonenshein, S., & Boje, D. (2016): “Narratives as Sources of Stability and Change in Organizations: Approaches and Directions for Future Research.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 495–560.


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.
William Ocasio is the John L. and Helen Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA. With Patricia Thornton he received the W. Richard Scott Award for the best scholarly research article by the OOW section of ASA, and the George R. Terry Award from the AOM. His current research focuses on institutional logics, vocabularies, and organizational and field-level attention. He is currently a Senior Editor at ‘Organization Science’.
Eero Vaara is a Professor of Management and Organization at Aalto University School of Business in Helsinki, Finland, a Permanent Visiting Professor at EMLYON Business School, France, and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Lancaster University, UK. His research interests focus on organizational, strategic and institutional change, strategic practices and processes, multinational corporations and globalization, management education, and methodological issues in organization and management research. He has worked especially on discursive and narrative approaches.