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The Spatial Construction of Corporate Ideology in English and German

Crilly, Donal; (2018) The Spatial Construction of Corporate Ideology in English and German. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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In this dissertation I investigate the links between spatial language in corporate discourse and the responses of corporations to contested social issues. The empirical context centres on the debate surrounding the role of the firm in society. In German-speaking countries, this question is often answered differently than in English-speaking countries. Whereas shareholder interests are assigned priority in the UK and USA, German executives give greater focus to the well-being of stakeholders, including employees and communities. I analyse a corpus of over 1,000 letters to shareholders and supplement the corpus with substantial data on corporate actions and with the results of two sets of experiments. There are three central findings. The first is that individual labels are linked to spatial representations. Labels, such as responsibility, that can be used as count nouns, become associated with bounded entities, including physical objects. Labels, such as sustainability, that are used as mass nouns, become associated with unbounded entities, including motion. The former are linked to a more bounded (specific) and more fixed (entrenched) range of meanings than are the latter. The second finding relates to the ways in which labels are connected in discourse. Whereas inclusive language is used to bridge potentially competing ideas, exclusive language is widely used to juxtapose such ideas. Thus, on average, firms that use exclusive language in their corporate communication prioritise shareholder returns over their social responsibility. Nonetheless, comparative analyses of English- and German-language letters to shareholders suggest that in German exclusive language is also used to create nuanced arguments that qualify the conditions under which firms may have to attend more to shareholders’ interests or to the interests of their stakeholders. Thus, many German firms that use exclusive language achieve both shareholder returns and social performance. The third finding relates to the use of analogies between time and space. I demonstrate that two core ways of mapping time to space (ego-moving frames and time-moving frames) prompt different decisions when there is a tension between the present and the future. Ego-moving frames make the future appear less proximate than do time-moving frames and prompt decisions that privilege short-term returns over long-term returns. The effect of the time-moving frame on perception of the future is especially discernible in German because perspective markers in German emphasise the advent of the future event. The contribution underscores the relevance of the spatial perspective in corporate discourse by accounting for the contested nature of labels (that differ in terms of the associations they become linked to), the nature of ideological arguments (that differ in terms of the spatial relations used to link units of content), and the perception of agency that underpins calls to action (that comes to the fore in analogies between time and space).

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Spatial Construction of Corporate Ideology in English and German
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10055764
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