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Review of  Identitätspositionierungen der DAX-30-Unternehmen [Identity Positioning in the DAX 30 Corporations]


Reviewer: Rahel Cramer
Book Title: Identitätspositionierungen der DAX-30-Unternehmen [Identity Positioning in the DAX 30 Corporations]
Book Author: Simone Burel
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Sociolinguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 27.2473

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

This monograph is a German language book (see footnote 1) and part of De Gruyter Mouton’s series ‘Wissen und Sprache’ (‘knowledge and language’), a series featuring research in German linguistics with potential interdisciplinary impact. The aim of the series is to illustrate how societal and subject-specific knowledge is constituted and contextualized through language. Simone Burel’s book fits well into the series, as the purpose of her research is to illuminate the relevance of linguistic means for the construction and positioning of ‘Unternehmensidentität’ (‘corporate identity’) in economic discourse with a particular focus on conceptualizations of corporate identity (CI) by companies themselves. The data for the study comes from corporate websites and comprises texts drafted and disseminated by the thirty major listed companies of the German Stock Index (DAX); for empirical data analysis, the research builds on the principles of linguistic discourse analysis and proceeds along the lines of a nuanced parameter model of discourse that divides discourse into ‘Ebene der Situationalität, (‘situation plane’), ‘Inhaltsebene’ (‘content plane’), ‘Ausdrucksebene’ (‘expression plane’) and ‘Sprachhandlungsebene’ (‘pragmatic plane’). The target audience of the volume are scholars in the fields of linguistics and economics, as well as practitioners in both areas such as applied linguists, and communications and marketing managers.

The book is divided into three parts. Part A explains the theoretical and methodological approach of the study; Part B comprises the empirical data analysis, a synthesis of the findings, as well as references, an overview of the corpus and the list of tables and figures; Part C is the electronic appendix, which includes the empirical chapter ‘Diskursauffächerung: Sachverhaltskonstitution’ (‘diversification of the discourse: constitution of facts’) due to its length. Part C also includes the corpus texts in pdf and txt format.

The introductory chapter sets the scene for the linguistic study by illustrating the relevance of language and communication in the business area generally and for companies specifically, and details the leading research question of how corporate identity is constituted as an issue through the selected representational texts of the DAX 30 corporations. This overall research problem is subdivided into specific questions addressed in four layers of discourse, identified as expression-related, contents-related, functional-pragmatic and situational. The empirical part of the thesis is divided into chapters according to these levels of discourse, and they reappear in the subsequent discussion of the findings, so that they function as a guide for the reader and contribute to the study’s overall coherence.

The second chapter identifies the theoretical framework for the study and provides an up-to-date review of relevant literature on identity. Drawing on moderate constructivism (Berger & Luckmann, 2010; Felder, 2009) and semiotic theory (Felder, 2013; Ogden & Richards, 1974; Vogel, 2005), Burel illuminates the process from understanding and interpreting meaning to the creation of knowledge, for which she identifies the relationship between producer and recipient of the message as essential. The following literature review then demonstrates how corporate identity is negotiated in subject-specific discourses, spanning from less relevant theories about personal identity in psychology, to theories on collective identity in organizational theory, followed by business-specific constructions of corporate identity. This leads to the design of a model that shows how corporate identity is constituted in discourse from a linguistic perspective. According to this model, discourse on corporate identity is divided into the perspective of the company, subdivided into the projected and the perceived self, and the perspective of the outside world, both of which may change over time. In her research, Burel focuses on the projected self, excluding its temporal quality.

Chapter 3 outlines the methodological approach. Starting from Foucault’s (1974) central idea that individual knowledge is always intertwined with historical and sociocultural circumstances, the author defines discourse as a means to create knowledge through language. For her study, discourse is then narrowed to the arrangement of texts produced by the actions of business protagonists, rather than conceptualized as conversation between texts (producers) and recipients. Access to the discourse on corporate identity is via texts produced by business protagonists themselves.

Part A of the volume finishes with a description of and reflection on the process of the corpus compilation in Chapter 4. The criteria for the choice of texts correspond with the research topic and aim, so as to serve the investigation of linguistic constructions of CI from the perspective of companies by means of a synchronic excerpt from the discourse.

Part B constitutes the empirical analysis. It is divided into five chapters, of which the first four attend to the sublevels of the discourse according to the linguistic parameter model introduced in the first, and further elaborated in the third chapter: ‘situation plane’, ‘content plane’, ‘expression plane’, and ‘pragmatic plane’.

In the first chapter of Part B, the focus on the situation plane leads Burel to conclude that contextual criteria of discourse initially influence and filter its contents, in this case, the discursive area of ‘Wirtschaft’ (‘economy’), the enclosed discursive sphere DAX 30, and the thirty German companies as social actors. Her analysis of the relevant text types illustrates that they often suggest distinct classification criteria but that these vary to such an extent that it is difficult to assign the representational texts to one definite type. Then in Chapter 6, the content plane analysis demonstrates how companies explicitly claim and manage topics, subtopics, and minor concepts in representational texts, as well as model and connect even contradictory concepts to define their corporate identities vis à vis the public. In Chapter 7, an analysis of lexical choices, on the level of syntax, text and text-image conjunctions shows that the companies draw on a standardized repertoire on the expression plane to represent CI. Finally, in Chapter 8, after analyzing the communicative intentions, she concludes that corporations attain dominance and a positive self-positioning, respectively, by constituting and evaluating facts in the discourse.

The last chapter, entitled ‘Syntheses’ (‘synthesis’), gives an overview of the findings, reflects on their implications for business practice and linguistics as an applied discipline, and discusses the merits of linguistic discourse analysis. Burel concludes that, although companies strive for uniqueness and individuality, redundancy and standardization of linguistic features in the discourse prevents them from constructing distinctive corporate identities. Based on this, Burel convincingly makes the point that her findings can contribute to business practice, for example to enhance language strategies for individual businesses. Similarly, her comparison of linguistic discourse analysis and discourse analysis in other disciplines enables her to highlight the merits of a linguistic approach due to its focus on texts.

EVALUATION

Overall, Burel succeeds in achieving her goal of illuminating how companies interpret and thereby constitute corporate identity via linguistic means in a clearly circumscribed discourse. The theoretical and methodological approaches are explained in-depth and are well-suited to the linguistic analysis. The structure of the book and the empirical part, in particular, allow the reader to follow her argumentation as she moves from an analysis of overarching contextual criteria of the discourse to an in-depth analysis of content-, expression- and pragmatics-related features.

Nevertheless, the work has some shortcomings. Despite the fact that Burel’s monologic approach is consistent with her research objective of facilitating dialogue between linguists and business practitioners, it means that an investigation of social implications is lacking. In the new economy, multinational companies have been identified as the predominant business form and, therefore, constitute powerful social actors (Vaara, Tienari, Piekkari, & Säntti, 2005). Moreover, social power and control are enacted through social practices and language (Fairclough, 1992). Hence, the communicative practices of powerful social actors such as the big corporations in this research call for a critical analysis. Arguably, this would not prevent the dialogue between linguists and business practitioners that the author desires to achieve. Ideally, it would enable their discussion to contribute to advancing a more just economy.

Burel’s uncritical view of big corporations and her unawareness of changes due to globalization processes is also discernible in the overview she provides in tabular format in Chapter 5 of the corporations involved in her study. To guide the reader in interpreting the table, she explains that the firm Adidas produces goods at its German headquarters. This contradicts the fact that many companies, in fact including Adidas, have outsourced their manufacturing. Although it does not impact the findings of her linguistic study directly, it is a fact that seems relevant to research investigating the self-representations of companies, in particular in times of globalization.

Furthermore, despite covering relevant terminology such as ‘corporate communication’ and discussing the importance of communication in the business context with reference to relevant literature, language as a factor in businesses and problems related to it receive little attention in this work. In fact, ‘multilingualism’ is overlooked completely although it has become an essential part of large business ventures due to globalization processes (Marschan, Welch, & Welch, 1997). For example, large companies are now required to disseminate representational texts and corporate knowledge in languages other than the national languages of the countries their headquarters are based in. Notwithstanding the fact that the author’s focus lies on German linguistics, it is a limitation of the study that the author could have addressed.

In terms of achieving the kind of dialogue which Burel wishes to achieve, this work may in part fail to reach its stated ambition, as extensive use of linguistic terminology is a salient feature of her work. However, while the first part of the book in particular may be a difficult read for non-linguists, it is primarily part B, the empirical analysis and the critical discussion, that may yet prove useful for addressees such as business practitioners.

(Footnote 1: All translations from German into English are mine.)

REFERENCES

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (2010). Die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit (23 ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag.

Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and text: Linguistic and intertextual analysis within discourse analysis. Discourse & Society, 3(2), 193-217.

Felder, E. (2009). Sprache — das Tor zur Welt!? In E. Felder (Ed.), Sprache (pp. 13-57). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Felder, E. (2013). Faktizitätsherstellung mittels handlungsleitender Konzepte und agonaler Zentren. Faktizitätsherstellung in Diskursen: Die Macht des Deklarativen, 13, 13.

Foucault, M. (1974). Die Ordnung der Dinge. Eine Archäologie der Humanwissenschaft: Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M.

Marschan, R., Welch, D., & Welch, L. (1997). Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management. European Management Journal, 15(5), 591-598. doi:10.1016/S0263-2373(97)00038-8

Ogden, C. K., & Richards, I. A. (1974). Die Bedeutung der Bedeutung: eine Untersuchung über den Einfluß der Sprache auf das Denken und über die Wissenschaft des Symbolismus: Suhrkamp.

Vaara, E., Tienari, J., Piekkari, R., & Säntti, R. (2005). Language and the Circuits of Power in a Merging Multinational Corporation. Journal of Management Studies, 42(3), 595-623. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2005.00510.x

Vogel, F. (2005). „Aufstand “–„Revolte “–„Widerstand “. Linguistische Mediendiskursanalyse der Ereignisse in den Pariser Vorstädten, 2009.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Rahel Cramer is undertaking PhD studies in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University, Australia. Her research focuses on language choice and discursive constructions of identity in multinational corporations. Her research interests include intercultural communication, language and identity, and discourse analysis. Rahel Cramer holds an MA in Multilingual Educational Linguistics from Hamburg University. During her postgraduate studies, she has held positions as a research assistant, as a student assistant, and as a tutor at various universities.