UNIVERSITÄT OR UNIVERSITY? Organisational Identity in Translation, and Why German Universities Look Different in English

  • Stephanie Ashford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


This thesis investigates the role of translation in representations of organisational identity (OI) within the institutional field of German higher education. The increased use of English in teaching and research has been accompanied by burgeoning demand for translation in administration and marketing, with significant implications for organisational profiling and institutional positioning.

Current OI literature reflects a growing interest in the relationship between language and identity in complex organisations. However, studies are largely confined to monolingual organisations. This thesis contributes to the literature by examining the distorting effects of translation on the self-representation of German universities, as exemplars of highly institutionalised organisations with multiple stakeholders, and where a second language (L2) threatens to eclipse the first. It also builds on research in higher education branding by drawing attention to linguacultural issues that arise when universities seek to reconcile their domestic and international profiles.

The conceptual framework applies neo-institutional and critical management theory to the postmodern concept of the organisation as a text. A mixed methods research approach combining interviews, questionnaires, comparative text analysis, database analysis, semiotics, and the study of ‘linguistic landscapes’ is employed to provide data on actor dynamics (RQ1), the nature of language shift and distortions in translation (RQ2), and the strategic use of translation in profiling and positioning (RQ3). The notion of ‘translation flashpoints’ is introduced as an analytical device for studying tensions in multilingual organisations.

The investigation identifies visible and invisible actors in translation, and three categories of distortion. Rationales for translation, practices in branding and labelling, and the role of translator networks in creating sector-wide convergence in L2 profiling are discussed with reference to neo-institutional concepts of legitimacy, rationalised myths, loose coupling, and isomorphism. Attention is also drawn to the unintended consequences of institutional translation.

The thesis concludes with recommendations for identity and translation management, and topics for further research.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRobin Shields (Supervisor) & Jurgen Enders (Supervisor)

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