Organizational Identity-Power in Practice: The Rhetorics of University Identity

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation explores how various versions of a university's identity"including the leadership-sponsored brand as well as alternate rhetorics of organizational identity"shape the policies and practices of the university itself through the lenses of rhetoric and power. While the concept of organizational identity has been studied from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including marketing, organizational communication, graphic design, and organizational behavior, they all seem to have a common goal: maintaining the status-quo of management's control over all perceptions of the organization's identity. Most organizations however, do not have a single monolithic identity, especially large, decentralized organizations like universities. Alternate rhetorics of identity exist, but these management-centered approaches do not allow for their role in shaping organizational identity or practice. The rhetorically-grounded approach that guides this dissertation, however, which is based on identity-formation through identification as well as the role of rhetoric as a method of determining the most appropriate and effective ways of moving people to action, acknowledges the role of these alternate identity-rhetorics in organizational life and recognizes their potential impact on organizational activity.

Through three cases of organizational decision making and policy creation at Virginia Tech, this dissertation explores the ways that the various rhetorics of identity within the university (including the official, leadership-sponsored brand and other versions of organizational identity held by university members) contradict, reflect, and co-construct each other and organizational practice. Through ethnographic interviews with members of the Virginia Tech community, participant-observation of a brand training program, and analysis of various visual, verbal, and multimodal texts related to each case study, this project explores these many rhetorics of organizational identity as they struggle for the power to shape the institution. This dissertation encourages researchers, teachers, and practitioners of professional and technical communication to recognize alternative organizational identity-rhetorics because of their potential power to shape the organization. Specifically within educational institutions, this project suggests that branding initiatives be critiqued as potentially hegemonic forces that repress these alternative identity perspectives, which may provide necessary incentives or conduits for organizational growth.



rhetoric, organizational identity, branding, professional communication, power