Round Table: Networks of Meaning: Identity Productions across Digital and Print Media
Ph.D. Candidate in Management Information Systems at the University of Oklahoma
Organizational identity evolution can occur slowly over time, or dramatically in response to identity challenges (Clark et al., 2010)1. Managing identity evolution is critical for identity coherence and consequent legitimacy. The complexity of identity evolution management has increased with the widespread adoption of digital media. In particular, the Internet increases organizations’ exposure to critical voices, facilitates information availability to unintended audiences, promotes networking between activists and other stakeholders, and accommodates digital archives as permanent records of organizations’ publications (Hatch & Schultz, 2002)2. Further, in this information age, isomorphic pressures dictate that organizations publish an unprecedented breadth and detail of information, through a variety of media. Beyond providing required disclosures, such communication is highly symbolic. In fact, a primary function of discursive action is to shape the meanings audiences attribute to organizations, specifically meanings about organizational identity, i.e., “who” the organization is and is becoming (Gioia et al., 2000)3. In statements made across communication media, organizations construct for themselves “iron cages” as statements made constrain organizations’ future actions (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983)4. These “iron cages” constrain what organizations can say about themselves in the future and the strategies that they can enact. This constraint limits organizations’ ability to evolve their identities into who they want to become.
While publications can act as “iron cages,” the nature and strength of their constraint on organizations’ identity evolution may depend on the type of media, type of organization, and type of information. The purpose of my research is to understand how different types of organizations use digital and print media in forging and evolving their identities. Specifically, my research addresses the following research questions:
- What are the differences in how organizations represent their identities on print versus digital media?
- How do different media afford organizations the ability to evolve their identities over time?
- How do different types of organizations – those operating primarily in the economic versus social sphere – manage their identity displays and evolution differently?
In addressing these questions, I employ a case study approach to theory development. To support the objective of understanding how types of media can be and are used to address challenges in forging and evolving identity, I am studying different types of organizations on a spectrum from primarily economic values to primarily social values. To quantify identity, I conceptualize identity as schema. Schemas are comprised of concepts such that some concepts are more or less salient than others and there exist relationships between concepts. In this way, identity schemas are networks of concepts. Thus, I am coding ten years of organizations’ archived websites for relevant concepts (e.g., stakeholders addressed and values espoused) as those concepts are identified. Using a “networks of meaning” analysis, I will represent identity schema over time as relationships among more or less salient concepts. Last, I will use Internet searches and ABInform articles to construct a timeline of identity challenges faced by organizations that might have triggered identity evolution and interpret the networks of meaning in light of those timelines.
This research will contribute to development of IS theories explaining different media affordances for mass communication as well as the processes through which organizations evolve their identities over time. It also will address a gap in the literature relating to how symbolic content can enable political resources such as identity definitions, while potentially forging bars on an “iron cage.” This research will make a methodological contribution by demonstrating how website archives and networks can be used to understand organizational identity evolution through examination of changes in the salience of and relationships between concepts in identity schemas over time.
1 Clark, S. M., Gioia, D. A., Ketchen, D. J., & Thomas, J. B. (2010). Transitional identity as a facilitator of organizational identity change during a merger. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(3), 397-438.
2 Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2002). The dynamics of organizational identity. Human Relations, 55(8), 989-1018.
3 Gioia, D. A., Schultz, M., & Corley, K. G. (2000). Organizational identity, image, and adaptive instability. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 63-81.
4 DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 147-160.
Amber Young is a PhD Candidate in Management Information Systems at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on mass media, specifically website affordances for organizational identity management and digital media affordances for cyberactivism and democratized public discourse. Her work has appeared in the proceedings of International Conference on Information Systems, the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, and Americas Conference on Information Systems and has been presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Her research has garnered attention from NOAA where researchers seek to understand how media can be used to mobilize action during extreme weather events and the Chickasaw Nation where tribal leaders use media for both corporate and cultural purposes. She is revising manuscripts for MIS Quarterly and Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice and has a manuscript under review at Information Systems Journal.
Amber Young is a candidate for the ISQA faculty position.