The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Struggle over "Who We Are" – A Discursive Perspective on Organizational Identity Change

Virpi Hämäläinen

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU2 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 19th of October, 2007, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-951-22-8906-6)   [929 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-951-22-8905-9)


The study focuses on organizational identity change in the acquisition context from a discursive perspective. Organizational identity answers the question of "who we are" as an organization. Traditionally, organizational identity has been approached as a set of features that organizational members consider central, distinctive, and enduring about their organization. Recent research, however, has challenged the centralness and enduringness of organizational identity, and there has been a call for more dynamic and fragmented views of organizational identity. Despite this call, most of the existing studies give an overly simplistic view of organizational identity and its change viewing stability as a desired state of organizations and ignoring the issues of power involved in identity construction processes.

The objective of this study is to understand organizational identity change as a discursive phenomenon and to provide a description of it. In this study, language is seen as the very arena where identity construction occurs. Organizational identity is constructed in the interaction between multiple actors, and this process is inherently linked to issues of power, since different articulations of "who we are" serve different interests and are related to certain ideological underpinnings. The study explores the construction of organizational identity in a local Finnish telecommunications company during its takeover by a national telecommunications group. The empirical data consist of one-on-one and group interviews, intranet discussions, company's internal communication material, and media articles produced before, during, and after the acquisition over a 5-year time-span.

The study suggests that social actors construct, destruct, transform, and sustain different identity articulations in their use of various discursive strategies. Furthermore, social actors are capable of using different discourse types to produce desired identity articulations in suitable contexts. Three different discourse types used by social actors in their argumentation were identified in data. These discourse types were economic-rationalistic discourse, power discourse, and cultural discourse. In addition to identifying different discourse types and discursive strategies, the study also examined their use in the acquisition context, thus examining the situational variation of argumentation. As a result of this analysis, the study suggests that the identity of the social actor, the historical time, and the social arena for language use are related to the choice of discourse types and to which discursive strategies are used in the argumentation. Depending on which discourse types and discursive strategies are employed and to what purpose, organizational identity is constructed in different ways in language use.

A discursive view described in this study increases understanding of organizational identity change as a much more dynamic, fragmented, political, and complex phenomenon than earlier research has suggested. It highlights the role of time and place in organizational identity construction, thus describing identities as situated constructs, which vary depending on where, when, and by whom they are articulated. By describing identity construction as a phenomenon that happens in the interaction between multiple social actors, the study also suggests that identity change processes are more difficult to manage from the "top" of the organization than earlier research has suggested.

Keywords: organizational identity, organizational discourse, change, critical discourse analysis

This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for Your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.

© 2007 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26