An Investigation of Value Claims in Academic and Corporate ‘About us’ Texts

An Investigation of Value Claims in Academic and Corporate ‘About us’ Texts Abstract The marketization of higher education in the UK and elsewhere has attracted a great deal of attention (and criticism) from applied linguists in recent years, but there is still little linguistic evidence of its impact on the actual value system of academic institutions. As a contribution to the ongoing debate, this study compares the lexis of self-evaluation in a sample of academic and corporate ‘About us’ texts, using a combination of corpus analysis and manual inspection. The procedure identified 50 value markers belonging to eight semantic categories (Globalism, Worth, Primacy, Qualities, Impact, Delivery, Emotion, and Rootedness) whose normalized frequency (relevant occurrences) was 25 per cent higher in the academic sample. Despite differences in the distribution of individual items, such categories showed a considerable degree of overlap (77 per cent) across the two samples. Thus, universities and multinational corporations appear to prioritize a similar axiological repertoire for self-evaluation—a finding that is consistent with encroaching promotionalism but, more significantly, suggests the existence of a set of organizational values common to both academia and the corporate world. 1. INTRODUCTION Over the past two decades, a considerable number of studies have targeted the evaluative plane of communication, focusing mainly on its sociopragmatic and discursive construction. As shown by Hunston and Thompson’s (2000) highly influential volume on the subject, this area of applied linguistic research has inspired a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Despite its complexity (see Römer 2008), the language of evaluation is amenable to quantitative examination and classification in real-life settings if we focus on the semantics of evaluative lexis, that is, the actual ‘values’ it encodes. These can be inferred from lexemes high in evaluative explicitness (cf. Shaw 2004), which are invariably positive/negative in polarity or appeal to widely held beliefs. By trusting the text (Sinclair 1994: 25), values can be identified inductively rather than through a pre-established taxonomy. What constitutes a ‘value’, however, is less clear in the literature. That is partly because research on evaluative language has been more concerned with the act itself than its semantics, but may also be due to an understanding of values as something necessarily pertaining to the sphere of moral conduct (ethos).1 The view taken here is that values are semantic categories spanning judgments that range from the sphere of ethics (e.g. honesty, respect) to the practicalities of everyday life (size, affordability); interestingly, it is often the latter that tend to be signalled more often and more explicitly (see Giannoni 2010).2 This perspective is inherent in the terms parameters of value (Thetela 1997), parameters of evaluation (Thompson and Hunston 2000), evaluative categories (Swales and Burke 2003), axiological classes (Felices Lago and Hewitt 2004), semantic categories (Pérez-Llantada Auría 2008), evaluative dimensions (Bednarek 2009), semantic groups (Nishina 2011), and values (Breeze 2011) – which appear in a number of studies incorporating corpus-linguistic methods. Despite terminological differences, there is a general agreement that concentrating on explicitly value-laden lexis allows researchers to avoid a scenario where ‘nearly any word can be analyzed as reflecting an evaluation’ (Hyland 2007: 93). In more general terms, evaluative categories are an expression of cultural identity (Corson 1995), and professional communities of practice employ repertoires of shared values whose linguistic expression reinforces their social cohesion (Miceli and Castelfranchi 1989). In an early paper on the subject, Kabanoff et al. (1995: 1076) note that ‘the values concept is a powerful one because it can be meaningfully employed at all levels of social analysis—cultural, societal, institutional, organizational, group, and individual’. 1.1 Online representations of higher education Since the spread of digital media in the 1990s, the Internet has provided a major forum for organizations to define themselves, where their reputations are made and challenged. Even the smallest institutions may have an online presence, leading to a vast array of texts concerned with self-definition. Such material is particularly rich in evaluative language, as websites ‘have provided companies with a virtual shop window for communicating their ethos to a global audience’ (Isaksson and Jørgensen 2010a: 120). Higher education institutions are among the beneficiaries of this digital revolution: shifting away from print has brought their services (knowledge production, validation, and transmission) to much wider audiences at the click of a button. In many countries, this has coincided with an increasing political/financial pressure on universities to compete for fee-paying students and outside funding under what is known as the corporate or entrepreneurial model (Mautner 2005; Zhang and O’Halloran 2013). The priority given to such principles as competitiveness, economic accountability,3 and customer satisfaction can make it difficult for administrative staff and scholars to find ‘agreement on a single value set’ (Melewar and Akel 2005: 50). A survey of administrative staff at an Australian university, for example, found they were ‘more likely to find convergence in their value system with that of the students, rather than that of the academics’ and often viewed the latter ‘as eccentric individuals with under-developed interpersonal skills’ (Pitman 2000: 173). The tensions generated by the whole process are often complicated by ‘employee cynicism’ as to the actual effectiveness of top-down managerial decisions in higher education (Qian and Daniels 2008; Kleijnen et al. 2013). To promote themselves in the digital environment, university administrators have drawn widely on corporate discourse. This is particularly noticeable in the rhetoric of introductory texts (e.g. online presentations, prospectuses, student guides) that describe academic institutions and their activities. Despite offering similar ‘products’, all universities are keen to stress their distinctiveness, and do so primarily by claiming excellence in some area of their operations. For Wernick (2006: 566), the pursuit of ‘performative excellence’ is responsible for ‘the conversion of universities into machines for the production of high scores in performance indicators’; this often coincides with ‘a smooth mantling of traditional academic values with values derived from the quality philosophy’ (Anninos 2007: 318). Yet, the language of performance has been around in higher education for decades: a longitudinal study of mission statements (MSs), in-house communications, and advertisements at three US universities between 1982 and 2001 (Waggoner and Goldman 2005) found that most of the claims made in these documents focused on academic quality/academic success, which remained among the top three content categories throughout the period. The second strategy adopted by universities is to manage their image and reputation as a brand, whose main purpose is ‘to communicate or clarify what the university “does” or “is”‘ (Chapleo 2011: 416). Wernick (2006: 566) talks of ‘the objectification, and indeed monetization, of academic reputation itself as brand’. A survey of media managers at five Australian universities points to ‘considerable consistency in the impulse to harness media interventions, explicitly or implicitly, to university marketing, branding and image projection’ (Rowe and Brass 2011: 17). A similar point is made in Sauntson and Morrish’s (2011: 83) analysis of British university MSs, whose main purpose ‘appears to be an indefinable kind of “branding” in which concrete purposes and achievements are replaced by a symbolic avowal of the values of business and industry’ such as stakeholder satisfaction and employability. This chimes with the view that in promotional texts ‘it is the “corporate” identity of the university that is the marketable commodity’ (Benwell and Stokoe 2006: 119). In other words, higher education is looking to corporate models to market its services in an age of decreasing funding and increasing competition. Self-representations, whether in print or online, can provide valuable insights into this transition because, as noted by Brickson (2007: 867), ‘An organization’s identity orientation is determined […] by the traits and characteristics most salient to members when describing their organization’. Though not unrelated to experiential data, such depictions function as idealized projections (Lerpold et al. 2007), whereby organizations spell out their place in the world—self-categorization being a key aspect of the sense-making process. In a similar manner, individual academics describe their work in professional homepages where what they ‘cho[o]se to say about themselves is perhaps the most significant way of constructing an online identity’ (Hyland 2012: 314). Online descriptions may be discounted as a mere exercise in public relations, but they can impact collective behaviour, given that ‘identity constructions—who we think we are—affect which action patterns we deem appropriate and thereby our conduct—what we do’ (Degn 2015: 1179). This holds true especially when the parties involved are accountable to a wide number of stakeholders, as in the case of academic and corporate organizations. 1.2 ‘About us’ texts For easy identification of online content on the part of readers, website designers have developed a specific online space—whether an entire page or a section thereof—for self-presentation, usually titled About us (henceforth, AU). This is known to employ a ‘high proportion of evaluative vocabulary’ and occurs in most corporate websites (Breeze 2013: 154) and in academic websites (Ozturk 2011). AUs offer a broad overview of the organization, covering such aspects as its mission, ethos, and achievements. The linguistic strategies noted by Pollach (2005) in corporate AUs include ‘Stressing size without figures’, ‘Presenting claims as facts’, and ‘Appearing as agents of social/economic change’—all of which imply the use of positive self-evaluation as a persuasive device. While the literature on AUs is still scant, several authors have looked at the function and linguistic features of an older, partially related genre: the MS.4 Described at first as ‘a newly evolved genre of somewhat uncertain origins and with a somewhat uncertain future’ (Swales and Rogers 1995: 237), it came ‘to represent for the 1990s what the Ethical Code represented in the decade before’ (p. 228). According to Isaksson and Jørgensen (2010b: 226), MSs are ‘a central platform for articulating the identity of modern corporations and for disseminating a discourse of virtues and emotions to stakeholders’. Williams (2008) examined the content of 27 MSs from companies in the Fortune 1000 list and found lexis expressing excellence and goodwill (i.e. commitment to service) to be particularly prominent. In the USA and elsewhere, MSs were soon adopted by educational institutions as an opportunity to highlight their goals and values (cf. Marfleet 1996). A linguistic investigation of the MSs of 146 English universities (Connell and Galasiński 1998) found that well-established institutions were most likely to signal a commitment to excellence, whereas former colleges and polytechnics preferred to stress inclusiveness. Both groups recognized the centrality of the student-consumer, but appeared to reject the view of higher education as an industry despite ‘lexical concessions to what may be regarded as commercial discourses’ (p. 476). According to the authors, such texts are a site of ‘delicate negotiation between universities and state departments concerning the essential purposes of advanced, post-compulsory educational bodies’ (p. 458). The genre’s ‘political’ function resurfaces in Philipps’s (2013: 689) study of eight German research institutes, whose MSs spell out how each organization ‘determines its relationships with its employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, government, and community’. A recent comparison of MSs from 10 UK universities (Morrish and Sauntson 2013: 62) found that their claims to uniqueness rely on ‘a recycling of essentially the same few indefinable and semantically vague nouns and adjectives (excellence, quality, etc.)’. Unlike MSs, however, AUs are ‘digital natives’ and concentrate on identification rather than legitimation: they essentially welcome online visitors and introduce the organization by drawing attention to its main strengths. Such information is rich in reflexively evaluative claims encoding a range of (variously connotated) ‘values’ whose investigation is the object of this article. A total of 100 AUs from two types of website—academic and corporate—were compared to assess whether their lexis signalled similar priorities, as assumed by critics of the marketization of higher education in the UK (e.g. Molesworth et al. 2011). The texts were analysed with three research aims in mind: (i) to identify through corpus-linguistic methods the evaluative lexis most frequently employed in academic and corporate AUs; (ii) to explore the relative distribution of items expressing specific semantic categories or values; (iii) to critically assess the degree of convergence between academic/corporate texts, also in the light of the literature on MSs in the same domains. 2. MATERIAL AND METHODS Two well-known online directories were used to identify a range of suitable organizations: for the academic sample, the Guardian’s (2013) ‘University Guide 2014’, which lists a total of 119 UK universities; for the corporate sample, companies in the ‘FTSE 100’ list (London Stock Exchange 2013). Each entry in these directories provided a link to the organization’s official homepage, whose top-level menu was checked for evidence of AU content. Around two-thirds of the organizations surveyed were found to include an AU page or section,5 so that the search soon yielded the required total of 100 specimens (50 per sample). When selecting the material, only primary text was considered, thus excluding ‘Facts and Figures’ sections, hypertextual signposts (e.g. Click/read here), and linked content. The short AUs below—given as available online in August 2015 (text only)—are an example of the nature of such texts: Brunel University London is a world-class university based in Uxbridge, West London, and was established in 1966. Our mission has always been to combine academic rigour with the practical, entrepreneurial and imaginative approach pioneered by our namesake Isambard Kingdom Brunel. [Source: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/about] We are a focused and successful international distribution and outsourcing group with operations across the Americas, Europe and Australasia. We support businesses all over the world with a variety of products that are essential for our customers in the successful operation of their businesses. [Source: http://www.bunzl.com/about.aspx] The two groups of AUs were then processed with concordancing software to assess their respective length: the figures (Table 1) show a striking similarity between academic and corporate AUs, with the former only 3.6 per cent longer (234.54 tokens per text) than the latter (226.04 tokens). This contrasts with the very dissimilar average size reported for MSs: 83 tokens in 146 British university websites (Connell and Galasiński 1998) and 211 tokens in 27 Fortune 1000 companies (Williams 2008).6 However, variation in length within each sample was considerable, thus suggesting that AUs are a relatively unconstrained genre which, like MSs, ranges from ‘one-sentence statements to lengthy statements of several paragraphs, a full page, or multiple pages in a few cases’ (Williams 2008: 111). Table 1: Quantitative data (tokens) Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 aStandardized type/token ratio. Table 1: Quantitative data (tokens) Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 aStandardized type/token ratio. The standardized type/token ratio (STTR) is comparable in both groups of AUs, though marginally higher in the corporate sample (44.18 vs. 42.18), where lexical diversity appears to reflect the variety of industries covered by multinational concerns. To place this in some kind of perspective, it may be added that both figures are well above the average STTR of research articles (36.04) observed elsewhere in a range of disciplines (Giannoni 2010: 73). To extract value-marking lexis from this small corpus, a bottom-up approach (combining quantitative tools and manual investigation of discrete lexical items) was deemed more useful than reliance on a predefined analytical framework. The two-pronged approach adopted here consists of the following: Stage 1 (identification of evaluative types). A wordlist was generated from each sample using a concordancer for Mac OS (Anthony 2014). An inventory of ‘candidate items’—that is, tokens explicitly pointing to (positively) evaluative categories, belonging to different parts of speech—was compiled from the wordlists, concentrating on types with 10+ occurrences. The two inventories were then merged and their concordances manually examined to remove non-relevant occurrences, taking into account the phraseology and potential polysemy of candidate items, with sufficient evidence provided by the immediate co-text. More specifically, concordance lines were checked to exclude: (i) non-evaluative uses (e.g. ‘great’ in Great Britain, ‘high’ in high school); (ii) those evaluating neither the organization itself nor its activities, facilities, location, or stakeholders (e.g. great emphasis, strong economy). Stage 2 (checking for further candidates). The texts were fed into a second concordancer (Scott 2007) to obtain a list of positive and negative keywords, using each sub-corpus as a reference corpus for the other. Any potentially evaluative types were treated as further candidate items and their concordances manually checked as described in Stage 1. The purpose of this methodology is to yield a list of frequent lexemes which can subsequently be grouped into semantic categories representative of the most prominent evaluative parameters embedded in AUs. This is consistent with the fact that suitable words can be identified ‘as evaluative even out of context’ (Hunston 2011: 13). To minimize subjectivity, the procedure concentrates on items that belong to the upper end of the explicitness continuum, while taking on board the fact that corpus analysis ‘can answer specific questions about evaluative language […] but cannot identify or quantify all of it’ (p. 168). Manual investigation of wordlist items with 10+ occurrences in at least one of the samples (see Supplementary material) produced a total of 50 candidates, which were then grouped into eight categories (i.e. values) based on the following criteria: Semantic, including (near) synonyms and antonyms, if present, that belong to the same semantic field: for example, growth + development, worldwide + global. This includes morphological variants, usually different parts of speech, within the same lexical set: for example, excellent + excellence, international + internationally. Functional, bringing together qualities that are functionally ascribable to a superordinate concept: for example, success + reputation + satisfaction = Impact. This is because all three can be interpreted as evidence of the (positive) impact of an organization’s operations. Minor variables that did not qualify for a separate category were classed as ‘Qualities’ (cf. Section 3.4). The grouping of evaluative items into discrete categories is suggested elsewhere in the literature. For example, Swales and Burke’s (2003) analysis of the MICASE corpus (Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English) comprises relevance, size, strength, deviance, assessment, acuity, and aesthetic appeal. In journal descriptions, Hyland and Tse (2009: 710) find that ‘the expression of value almost always draws on positive items […] emphasizing, among other things, reach, novelty, ranking, importance, and scholarliness’. In each case, the categories chosen by authors tend to fit the rationale and distribution of the data in hand. 3. RESULTS The procedure outlined in Section 2 identified 50 evaluative types or ‘value markers’, accounting together for 1,508 tokens in the entire corpus. Of these, the actual number of relevant occurrences was 1,361, that is, over 90 per cent of tokens. All of the markers occurred in both samples, with the exception of creative, professional, ranked, employability (only in academic AUs), and listed (only in corporate AUs). Keyword analysis (Stage 2) identified very few evaluative items—a clear sign of the generic convergence of academic and corporate AUs—and no evaluative types besides those observed in Stage 1. The word value(s) itself occurs only 10 times in the entire corpus (five academic and four corporate AUs), with what counts as ‘value’—cited below in italics—suggesting three types of quality in each domain: Quality of performance. Universities: high quality research and excellent teaching, distinction in research and scholarship, excellence in all aspects of learning, academic ambition, innovation. Corporations: excellence, performance, quality, value, service, innovation. Relational qualities. Universities: empowering people, inclusive and accessible, people focused, working through partnership, supporting each other, social inclusion. Corporations: believing in people, safety, respect, simplicity, trust, teamwork, diversity, relationships. Moral qualities. Universities: fairness and integrity, honesty and openness, a concern for the environment. Corporations: integrity, accountability, sustainability. The following pages will reveal whether the lexis of AUs is consistent with such lists and which of the qualities mentioned, if any, are most prominent. The main results are given for each of the eight evaluative categories identified in the corpus (absolute figures). These are followed by a discussion of the whole data set (normalized figures) and its significance. 3.1 Globalism The six markers assigned to this category point to the international arena as a desirable aspect of the organization’s operations, thereby implying that it is a global player and compares favourably with international competitors. Table 2 lists the number of occurrences observed in each sample.7 While the totals are not dissimilar, there is variation in the frequency of specific markers, with world and international far more common in academic AUs and countries and worldwide in corporate AUs. Similarly, world and international were among the most prominent types in a corpus of British academic MSs (Sauntson and Morrish 2011). ‘International’ is also one of the seven espoused values identified in a recent study (Jonsen et al. 2015) of value statements of Fortune 100 companies. It may be added that the qualifier international was the most frequent evaluative item identified by Hyland and Tse (2009) in a multi-disciplinary corpus of journal descriptions, averaging 62.5 occurrences per 10,000 words; here the comparable figure (academic AUs) is 31.5. Table 2: Globalism markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Table 2: Globalism markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 The following anonymized examples illustrate how such markers are employed in academic vs. corporate AUs (my emphasis here and subsequently, with the two groups separated by a slash): we seek to be life changing and world shaping / we aim to become the world’s most sustainable retailer; regularly hosts international sporting events / X is an international fast moving consumer goods company; a patron of the arts and a global player; a significant global presence for over 100 years; internationally acclaimed research and outstanding teaching quality / in the UK and internationally we compete with a large number of X producers; close to 19,000 students from more than 100 countries / X operates in over 50 countries; the University of X degree is highly regarded worldwide; support to over 6 million customers worldwide. An interesting feature noticeable in these excerpts is that Globalism often co-occurs with lexis pointing to other values. In other words, there is a clustering of evaluative parameters that reinforce each other by association. The same phenomenon will be noticed elsewhere among the examples given for each value. 3.2 Worth The 11 markers in this group (Table 3) signal the general desirability or ‘goodness’ of an organization or of some aspect of its operations—several being strongly positive, possibly hyperbolic, qualifiers. In journal descriptions, Hyland and Tse (2009) refer to this value broadly as ‘Ranking’, which conflates Worth and Primacy (Section 3.3) and covers such items as excellent, major, leading, most, and best; however, they do not elaborate on the concept or provide any quantitative data. Table 3: Worth markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Table 3: Worth markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Unlike Globalism, here the difference between the two samples is considerable: most of the items (especially, excellence, excellent, quality, outstanding) are far more frequent in academic AUs, while only one (strong) is markedly favoured by corporate AUs. There are also two similar domain-specific items (ranked and listed) that express public recognition of the organization’s status, respectively, in British university rankings and on the London Stock Exchange. Examples: our traditional focus on academic excellence / delivering excellence to our customers; well known for the quality of our degrees / building quality homes, which provide the very best in design; consistently ranked in the UK’s top 40 universities; our outstanding campus and facilities / an outstanding collection of beverage alcohol brands; the right balance of excellent teaching and research / generating excellent returns from our hotels; reflected in our high levels of student satisfaction / working to high ethical standards; we have a strong professional orientation / working to build strong local businesses; X is one of the UK’s great success stories / our great range of brands; including a major expansion of our city centre campus / we have major operations in the UK; prepares them well for the rest of their lives / we are well positioned in the precious metals industry; a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange. Much has been said about the conceptualization of excellence in the corporate world. Williams (2008: 116) describes this as ‘a buzzword that permeates management literature’ and found evidence of its presence in all top company MSs. Yet, only 10 per cent of the corporate AUs presented here contained the type excellence, whose frequency in academic AUs was seven times higher. The nouns excellence and quality are known to be very prominent also in British academic MSs (Sauntson and Morrish 2011). Despite its pervasiveness in higher education discourse, however, excellence remains a rather elusive notion: a recent study of references to the concept in responses to the British Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) argues that what constitutes quality in various disciplines is tantamount to ‘a totemic religious system in which only clan members can recognize the totem’ (Abbott 2014: 151). 3.3 Primacy This group comprises seven markers expressing pre-eminence over competitors (Table 4). An organization employing such lexis claims to be (among) the best of its kind: whereas Worth embodied relative value, Primacy indicates exclusive value.8 Like Worth, it is particularly prominent in academic AUs, which are far more likely to use leading, top, and most than their corporate counterparts; on the other hand, the latter show a marked preference for the superlative largest—plausibly suggesting that dimensional primacy matters more in the corporate world than in academia. Table 4: Primacy markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Table 4: Primacy markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Examples: a leading university for graduate employment / the leading global information services company; one of the Top 50 universities in the UK / one of the world’s top dozen companies; one of Europe’s liveliest and most welcoming cities / we aim to become the world’s most sustainable retailer; recruiting the best academics in their disciplines / we aim to provide the best shopping experience for our customers; the UK’s largest integrated campus university / the world’s largest hotel loyalty scheme; the first university to welcome female students / the world’s first truly global trade book publisher; we are recognised as the only Centre for Excellence in Media Practice / the only international tobacco group with a significant… The emphasis on Primacy in AUs agrees with the high frequency of leading observed in MSs, whether corporate (Swales and Rogers 1995) or academic (Morrish and Sauntson 2011). Like other markers in this category, leading allows drafters to modulate their wording along a continuum, from the + marker to a/one of the + marker. Being overtly negotiable, the latter option mitigates claims that might otherwise be hard to prove or be superseded once published online. There are also signs, at least in the case of universities, of national proclivities in the choice of adjectives. Caiazzo’s (2011: 53) comparison of British, Indian, and international AUs found that ‘top and outstanding strongly characterise the texts from the UK subcorpus’. 3.4 Qualities The markers in this group (Table 5) signal more specific, contextually relevant traits—the most common being novelty (new, innovation) in academic AUs, and sustainability (sustainable) in corporate AUs.9 Again, their overall number is significantly higher in the academic sample, which alone includes the types professional and creative. Interestingly, ‘innovation’ is the single defining feature of quality reported in Abbott’s (2014: 158) study of British academics’ comments to the RAE, where ‘the constant theme is that excellence […] is defined by a given discipline at any moment, and that, in particular, it is whatever that discipline will at that time find new and innovative’ (my emphasis). Table 5: Quality markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Table 5: Quality markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Examples: Ensuring our students have the best experience possible / we have more than 30 years of experience to draw on; the first genuinely new university in Scotland / a greater ability to invest in new products and services; an environment that nurtures innovation and leadership / a global innovation-driven biopharmaceutical company; a large, diverse and increasingly popular place to study / items as diverse as paints, clothes and packaging; we have a strong professional orientation; we’re also known for our creative approach; committed to being an ethical and sustainable organisation / delivering high quality sustainable sales growth. Some of these items diverge semantically, as well as in frequency, across the corpus. Thus, experience refers almost invariably to the ‘student experience’ in academic AUs, while in corporate AUs half of the occurrences employ the word as synonymous with expertise. Though often included in university rankings, the student experience is in fact a rather fuzzy concept: an authoritative UK survey (Times Higher Education 2014) uses no less than 22 factors—mostly of a non-academic nature (e.g. security, social life, sports facilities)—to gauge this variable. In university prospectuses, students have been construed as ‘“demanding clients” on the look-out for the best possible university “experience”‘ (Askehave 2007: 739).10 Another word that varies significantly in meaning is diverse, mostly denoting cultural diversity in academic AUs, whereas in corporate texts it is only a synonym of different. 3.5 Impact The eight markers grouped here (Table 6) point to an organization’s ability to impact the lives of individuals and the public at large, in terms of competitiveness (success, successful, employability, opportunities, growth), perception (reputation), or coverage (all). Impact has a similar number of markers in both samples: this points to a common ethos resembling that noted in corporate websites, whose readers seek ‘some reassurance of the reliability and dependability of the company and of its concern with customers’ success and satisfaction’ (Isaksson and Jørgensen 2010a: 121). The importance of Impact agrees with the finding—based on a survey of 1,642 first-year students at a South Korean university—that ‘external prestige predicted supportive attitudes most strongly’ among respondents (Sung and Yang 2008: 370). It is also in line with a longitudinal content analysis of promotional material from three Oregon universities between 1982 and 2001, where ‘factors such as “academic quality” and “academic success” account for over half of all coded statements’ (Waggoner and Goldman 2005: 96). Table 6: Impact markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Table 6: Impact markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Examples: X has an excellent reputation among students, their parents and staff / our market-leading reputation is based on one key fact; we aim to support all our students / we offer a convenient service for all our customers; close links with employers and strength in employability; the University’s highest overall satisfaction rate / we know from satisfaction surveys that 95% of clients…; preparing our students for success in the world of work / we are committed to driving business success responsibly; we give students unique opportunities to learn / help companies increase profits by creating opportunities; to support the growth of new businesses based on ideas / delivering high quality sustainable sales growth; ensuring our students are prepared for a successful career; to create compelling retail properties in successful locations. Again, the distribution of items differs considerably. In particular, reputation emerges as a top concern for universities, while it is almost absent from corporate AUs. Another interesting instance is satisfaction, invariably encoding student satisfaction11 in the academic sample and customer satisfaction in the corporate sample, but 12 times more frequent in the former. Thus, universities are far more likely to stress their impact on stakeholders in terms of satisfaction; corporations tend instead to emphasize competitiveness, especially in terms of growth. 3.6 Other values The three remaining values, though less prominent, also deserve mention. Delivery is covered by six markers expressing an organization’s response to stakeholders’ expectations (Supplementary Material, Table S1). Apart from two attitudinal items (focus, focused) expressing strategic orientation, they all encode operational facets (support, offer, deliver, delivering) of Delivery. The fact that this value is, unusually, more marked in corporate AUs, might be explained by the greater range/amount of commodities originating from corporations, as opposed to the relatively limited offering of universities. Although the much decried commodification of higher education may be forcing universities to act as ‘factories for the production of degrees which students can purchase using real money and their brains’ (Maringe 2011: 144), they are not on a par here with the world of corporate giants. Emotion is encoded by a small group of items, with the balance very much skewed in favour of academic AUs, which are nearly four times more likely to signal this value (see Supplementary Material, Table S2). Its phatic orientation is confirmed by the frequent use of contracted verb forms after we: 23 instances in the academic vs. only 5 in the corporate sample. The top item (welcome) occurs almost exclusively in academic AUs and half of the time in headings, where it serves as a greeting (Welcome to + name of university). Presenting an organization’s website as its physical location is a frequent rhetorical device in online presentations; Benwell and Stokoe’s (2006: 254) study of a British academic homepage classifies it as a ‘metaphor of space’. The concept of commitment is also of interest because when managers claim commitment to certain goals, ‘the “saying” does not always lead to “doing”‘ (Ahmed 2007: 249). Williams (2008) refers to this as Goodwill (i.e. a commitment to serve). Rootedness is suggested by two markers indicating that an organization is firmly established in place and time (see Supplementary Material, Table S3). This implies, on the one hand, that its operations are well identifiable on a map and, on the other hand, that it is strong enough to withstand the test of time. Place rootedness is conveyed by the qualifier local, which tends to collocate with a town or region in academic AUs but with a plurality of referents in corporate AUs. 3.7 Overall distribution To properly assess the significance of these results, the total figure for each of the eight values was normalized (occurrences/10,000 words, rounded to the closest unit) and inserted in Table 7. The first result worth noting is that the overall amount of marking is 25 per cent greater in academic AUs, which are more likely to signal all values with the exception of Delivery and Rootedness. In some cases (Globalism and Impact), the difference, however, is very slight. Table 7: Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Table 7: Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Plotted in a chart (Figure 1), such figures clearly illustrate the relative weight of each value across the corpus, with the sequence observed in academic AUs only partly replicated in corporate AUs. Thus, comparatively speaking, Qualities are under-represented in corporate texts, where they rank 6th (4th in academic AUs). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) It would be wrong, however, to stress divergences between the two samples, without due consideration given to their commonalities. Apart from the fact that 45/50 markers occurred in both academic and corporate AUs, the key point is that the differences between individual values are relatively limited. To assess this mathematically, the amount of overlap was calculated as detailed in Table 8. Table 8: Convergence of academic/corporate values Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Table 8: Convergence of academic/corporate values Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 The overall level of convergence between the two samples averages 77 per cent, a fact that is clear evidence of a repertoire of self-evaluative parameters shared by academic and corporate organizations. The overlap is almost perfect for Globalism and Impact (which suggests these values are equally important to both types of organization); around average for Primacy, Worth, Rootedness, Delivery, and Qualities; and well below average for Emotion. In other words, Emotion is the only value distinctively associated with one sample, that is, academic AUs. The overlap brings to mind Kheovichai’s (2014) analysis of 60 academic job ads and 60 finance job ads from British sources, which found that both types of organization essentially claim the same qualities for themselves (Size, Reputation, Rank, Growth, Establishment). 4. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS This article set out to study what self-evaluating categories are lexicalized in online representations of academic and corporate organizations. The results suggest a substantial degree of convergence between academic and corporate texts, with a range of values that express ‘what is considered appropriate’ (Lerpold et al. 2007: 83) by institutional policy-makers. More specifically, both samples reflect the priorities and concerns of top management—which explains their emphasis on an organization’s standing (Globalism, Primacy, Worth) and its effectiveness (Delivery, Impact). Rather than a case of ideological (mis)appropriation of corporate values on the part of universities, it may be argued that the latter—like corporations—are driven by the values pursued by any major concern asserting its online presence in a competitive international environment. While the marketization of British higher education is undeniable, insofar as academic governance has become subservient to the principles of financial accountability and customer satisfaction, the claims made by British universities and corporations in their AUs illustrate a common repertoire of organizational values that occur in ‘any commercial, public or not-for-profit organization’ (Bourne and Jenkins 2014: 496). Treating corporate and academic organizations as potential equals, rather than social actors engaged in a damaging relationship, may be a step in the direction advocated by Cornelissen et al. (2007: S11), who argue that ‘identity research needs to bridge distinctions between social, organizational and corporate domains’. The material analysed in this study is clearly influenced by the genre’s promotional purpose, for website content is an example of how ‘Universities, like other public institutions in the age of privatization, quasi-markets and private-public partnerships, have become increasingly promotionalized’ (Wernick 2006: 566). Similarities within each sample may also be explained by the espoused-value ‘hygiene factor’ (Jonsen et al. 2015: 7) which drives organizations to make the same claims as their competitors—with a degree of spillover across different industries and domains. At a broader level, the marketization of higher education is consistent with the growing reliance of British society on economic criteria as a yardstick to interpret all kinds of activities (Radder 2010: 4). Critics claim that treating degree courses and research output as marketable commodities erodes the quality and independence of intellectual enquiry; turning back the clock is not an option, however, and the growing sense of frustration with these developments should not lead academics to overrate ‘the value systems of the past’ (Schuetze 2007: 442). There is an interesting mismatch between the corpus data and the lists of avowed ‘values’ mentioned in a few AUs (see beginning of Section 3): almost all of the markers belong to evaluative categories foregrounding Quality of performance, while Relational qualities and Moral qualities are only marginally represented. Whether this means that performance-oriented values have taken precedence over other considerations cannot be properly ascertained by looking at the texts alone, but certainly seems to agree with the evidence in hand. After all, relative performance (like other concerns embedded in these texts) has been an aspect of academic life for centuries, at least since universities started competing with each other to attract scholars, students, and patronage; despite its shortcomings (see Tannen 2002), rivalry has been argued to be beneficial to researchers as ‘a forceful incentive to both individual discovery and collective criticism’ (Hyland 1997: 27). AUs provide a strategically important rhetorical space for organizations to project an identity12 that is instrumental to their policies. Like the homepages of individual scholars, they express ‘something of the tensions, compromises and negotiations in this enactment of an online self’ (Hyland 2011: 296). AUs have been criticized for including, like MSs, ‘vague language which constructs non-auditable goals’ (Morrish and Sauntson 2013: 79), but it may be argued that such representations should be judged ‘on the basis of their rhetorical power’ rather than ‘their “fit” with reality’ (Christensen and Askegaard 2001: 312).13 After all, the value claims made in AUs partially function as ‘aspirational images’, as suggested by Lerpold et al. (2007: 85), that is as idealized projections used by policy-makers to push their own agenda. In so doing, they ‘act as carriers of ideologies and institutional cultures’ (Swales and Rogers 1995: 225) built around the organization’s goals, achievements, and virtues. AUs are not insensitive to external expectations either, originating primarily from students or customers/investors—a distinction that has become fuzzier in recent years, as universities increasingly ‘acknowledge the need to be student-centred or consumer-led’ (Connell and Galasiński 1998: 461) and ‘construe them [i.e. students] collectively as a source of revenue’ (Woodall et al. 2014: 51). In other words, universities are telling their external stakeholders ‘we understand what you want and we’re going to deliver it to you’ (Morphew and Hartley 2006: 469). Though largely unresearched, the response of online readers to such claims is likely to be influenced by familiarity, with a greater readiness to respond to values that are already well established, through a process of ‘emotional contagion’ (Jonsen et al. 2015: 6).14 A better understanding of the value claims made in academic AUs, as opposed to those originating from other types of organization, may be of interest to academic policy-makers, given that ‘reference to organizational values is seldom made in the domain of educational administration’ (Mueller 2014: 644). It is also important to consider Woodall et al.’s (2014: 55) argument that students evaluate the university experience essentially as a trade-off between benefits (results for the customer, service attributes) and costs (price, acquisition and relationship costs).15 Not surprisingly, all of the values identified in the corpus belong to the benefits category: by projecting an upbeat image, devoid of risks or pitfalls, universities (more or less consciously) convey a sense of ‘actorhood’ (Krücken and Meier 2006) or ‘agency’ (cf. Brickson 2007), that is a belief that they are single-minded entities capable of determining events, unswayed by external circumstances: as in advertising, it is a world of blue skies and clockwork efficiency—of unique opportunities only awaiting to be seized. It is hoped that the approach adopted in this article may in future be extended to other types of texts, both within and beyond academia, to map axiological divergences and commonalities across genres and contexts. Introductory and/or promotional genres are particularly worth investigating, as they abound in self-evaluating lexis, but the same procedure could be applied to virtually any realm of discourse. It would be interesting, for example, to research parallel corpora from different linguacultures for insights into their respective affordances. Finally, efforts could be made to uncover statistically significant correlations between the performance/size/status of an organization and its choice of espoused values (as in Jonsen et al. 2015; cf. also Sauntson and Morrish 2011). Such attempts are more likely to succeed if what counts as a ‘value’ can be linked to tangible linguistic evidence rather than treated as a mental construct. Though value-laden lexis may mark only the tip of the evaluative iceberg, contrasting its distribution and possible rationale across different settings is an effort worth making. SUPPLEMENTARY DATA Supplementary material is available at Applied Linguistics online. Acknowledgements An early version of this article was presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK, 4–6 September 2014. The author is grateful to three anonymous reviewers and to Dr J. Hellermann for their very useful comments. Notes Footnotes 1 While axiology is a relatively recent philosophical discipline (Hart 1971), there is a sizeable body of empirical work on value systems that applies Schwartz’s (1994) psychosocial model. For a comprehensive review of the definition of values in social research, see Fisher (1998: 10–22). 2 For instance, two of the most common values observed in academic discourse are relevance and size (cf. Swales and Burke 2003; Deroey and Taverniers 2012; Giannoni 2012). 3 A prominent critic of this trend implicitly recognizes the democratic merits of greater accountability, for ‘it is not always easy to distinguish between attacks upon and attempts to reconstruct traditional academic practices which are democratically rooted and those which are rooted in marketization’ (Fairclough 1995: 231). 4 When describing an organization, both AUs and MSs focus essentially on ‘who it is and what it does’ (Falsey 1989: 3) and, though distinct in purpose and origin, share certain features: a limited range of semantically vague self-promotional claims foregrounding the organization’s values and achievements, a relatively loose generic framework and a diverse audience. The literature on MSs is reported here when it targets features that occur also in AUs. 5 A few websites could not be accessed because temporarily offline or unavailable. 6 Extrapolated from the word-frequency data reported in Williams (2008: 111–12). 7 Given that the difference in length between the two samples is less than 4 per cent, the figures in Tables 2–6 are not normalized. 8 When a university is presented as superior to others, it runs the risk of appearing averse to diversity and inclusiveness. An example of this ambivalence appears in the University of Leicester’s AU, which states that ‘Times Higher Education applauded Leicester’s very different approach, describing us as “elite without being elitist”. / We were proud to be described as elite. But we were equally as proud to be described as a university that is inclusive and accessible in its academic culture’ (http://www2.le.ac.uk/about, accessed November 2013). 9 In academic AUs, where present, sustainability is primarily a moral concept (i.e. ethical and sustainable organisation; sustainable environment; environmentally sustainable). In corporate texts, it is more prominent but focuses on economic benefits, as shown by the top collocates of sustainable (i.e. development, growth). 10 The importance of social life on campus is confirmed by the use of criteria such as ‘Best party school’ in US university rankings (Askehave 1995: 741). 11 The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area state that internal quality assurance should evaluate, among other indicators, ‘students’ satisfaction with their programmes’ and the ‘employability of graduates’ (ENQA 2009: 19). 12 The importance of self-identification is confirmed by a quick look at the most frequent lexical bundles (bi-grams) in the corpus: we are ranks 4th (after in the, of the, the university) in academic AUs and 3rd (after in the, of the) in corporate AUs. 13 An important proviso to the language of official quality-related documentation in higher education (Fairclough 2006: 86) is that claims to excellence may be a rhetorical exercise without a real willingness to displace ingrained interests and beliefs. Krücken and Meier (2006: 249) admit that mission and vision statements can be ‘organizational window dressing’ because ‘Universities are prime examples of organizations which routinely adapt to external expectations without necessarily transforming them directly into organizational change’ (p. 254). 14 There is also a need for empirical work on the actual readers of these texts. For Pollach (2005: 289), corporate AUs ‘seem to be targeted at no audience in particular and their readers could truly be anybody ranging from current employees to customers, journalists or academics’. Stakeholders is a conveniently fuzzy term because it covers different types of audience. 15 The weight given to non-academic aspects in student surveys (e.g. Times Higher Education 2014) suggests that the student experience is increasingly evaluated in terms of ‘enjoyability’ (a pervasive value in marketing and the leisure industry). 16 Calculated using the formula: 100 − (weighted deviation from mean × 100). 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © Oxford University Press 2016 This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Applied Linguistics Oxford University Press

An Investigation of Value Claims in Academic and Corporate ‘About us’ Texts

Applied Linguistics , Volume Advance Article (3) – Apr 20, 2016

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Oxford University Press
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© Oxford University Press 2016
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0142-6001
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1477-450X
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10.1093/applin/amw010
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Abstract

Abstract The marketization of higher education in the UK and elsewhere has attracted a great deal of attention (and criticism) from applied linguists in recent years, but there is still little linguistic evidence of its impact on the actual value system of academic institutions. As a contribution to the ongoing debate, this study compares the lexis of self-evaluation in a sample of academic and corporate ‘About us’ texts, using a combination of corpus analysis and manual inspection. The procedure identified 50 value markers belonging to eight semantic categories (Globalism, Worth, Primacy, Qualities, Impact, Delivery, Emotion, and Rootedness) whose normalized frequency (relevant occurrences) was 25 per cent higher in the academic sample. Despite differences in the distribution of individual items, such categories showed a considerable degree of overlap (77 per cent) across the two samples. Thus, universities and multinational corporations appear to prioritize a similar axiological repertoire for self-evaluation—a finding that is consistent with encroaching promotionalism but, more significantly, suggests the existence of a set of organizational values common to both academia and the corporate world. 1. INTRODUCTION Over the past two decades, a considerable number of studies have targeted the evaluative plane of communication, focusing mainly on its sociopragmatic and discursive construction. As shown by Hunston and Thompson’s (2000) highly influential volume on the subject, this area of applied linguistic research has inspired a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Despite its complexity (see Römer 2008), the language of evaluation is amenable to quantitative examination and classification in real-life settings if we focus on the semantics of evaluative lexis, that is, the actual ‘values’ it encodes. These can be inferred from lexemes high in evaluative explicitness (cf. Shaw 2004), which are invariably positive/negative in polarity or appeal to widely held beliefs. By trusting the text (Sinclair 1994: 25), values can be identified inductively rather than through a pre-established taxonomy. What constitutes a ‘value’, however, is less clear in the literature. That is partly because research on evaluative language has been more concerned with the act itself than its semantics, but may also be due to an understanding of values as something necessarily pertaining to the sphere of moral conduct (ethos).1 The view taken here is that values are semantic categories spanning judgments that range from the sphere of ethics (e.g. honesty, respect) to the practicalities of everyday life (size, affordability); interestingly, it is often the latter that tend to be signalled more often and more explicitly (see Giannoni 2010).2 This perspective is inherent in the terms parameters of value (Thetela 1997), parameters of evaluation (Thompson and Hunston 2000), evaluative categories (Swales and Burke 2003), axiological classes (Felices Lago and Hewitt 2004), semantic categories (Pérez-Llantada Auría 2008), evaluative dimensions (Bednarek 2009), semantic groups (Nishina 2011), and values (Breeze 2011) – which appear in a number of studies incorporating corpus-linguistic methods. Despite terminological differences, there is a general agreement that concentrating on explicitly value-laden lexis allows researchers to avoid a scenario where ‘nearly any word can be analyzed as reflecting an evaluation’ (Hyland 2007: 93). In more general terms, evaluative categories are an expression of cultural identity (Corson 1995), and professional communities of practice employ repertoires of shared values whose linguistic expression reinforces their social cohesion (Miceli and Castelfranchi 1989). In an early paper on the subject, Kabanoff et al. (1995: 1076) note that ‘the values concept is a powerful one because it can be meaningfully employed at all levels of social analysis—cultural, societal, institutional, organizational, group, and individual’. 1.1 Online representations of higher education Since the spread of digital media in the 1990s, the Internet has provided a major forum for organizations to define themselves, where their reputations are made and challenged. Even the smallest institutions may have an online presence, leading to a vast array of texts concerned with self-definition. Such material is particularly rich in evaluative language, as websites ‘have provided companies with a virtual shop window for communicating their ethos to a global audience’ (Isaksson and Jørgensen 2010a: 120). Higher education institutions are among the beneficiaries of this digital revolution: shifting away from print has brought their services (knowledge production, validation, and transmission) to much wider audiences at the click of a button. In many countries, this has coincided with an increasing political/financial pressure on universities to compete for fee-paying students and outside funding under what is known as the corporate or entrepreneurial model (Mautner 2005; Zhang and O’Halloran 2013). The priority given to such principles as competitiveness, economic accountability,3 and customer satisfaction can make it difficult for administrative staff and scholars to find ‘agreement on a single value set’ (Melewar and Akel 2005: 50). A survey of administrative staff at an Australian university, for example, found they were ‘more likely to find convergence in their value system with that of the students, rather than that of the academics’ and often viewed the latter ‘as eccentric individuals with under-developed interpersonal skills’ (Pitman 2000: 173). The tensions generated by the whole process are often complicated by ‘employee cynicism’ as to the actual effectiveness of top-down managerial decisions in higher education (Qian and Daniels 2008; Kleijnen et al. 2013). To promote themselves in the digital environment, university administrators have drawn widely on corporate discourse. This is particularly noticeable in the rhetoric of introductory texts (e.g. online presentations, prospectuses, student guides) that describe academic institutions and their activities. Despite offering similar ‘products’, all universities are keen to stress their distinctiveness, and do so primarily by claiming excellence in some area of their operations. For Wernick (2006: 566), the pursuit of ‘performative excellence’ is responsible for ‘the conversion of universities into machines for the production of high scores in performance indicators’; this often coincides with ‘a smooth mantling of traditional academic values with values derived from the quality philosophy’ (Anninos 2007: 318). Yet, the language of performance has been around in higher education for decades: a longitudinal study of mission statements (MSs), in-house communications, and advertisements at three US universities between 1982 and 2001 (Waggoner and Goldman 2005) found that most of the claims made in these documents focused on academic quality/academic success, which remained among the top three content categories throughout the period. The second strategy adopted by universities is to manage their image and reputation as a brand, whose main purpose is ‘to communicate or clarify what the university “does” or “is”‘ (Chapleo 2011: 416). Wernick (2006: 566) talks of ‘the objectification, and indeed monetization, of academic reputation itself as brand’. A survey of media managers at five Australian universities points to ‘considerable consistency in the impulse to harness media interventions, explicitly or implicitly, to university marketing, branding and image projection’ (Rowe and Brass 2011: 17). A similar point is made in Sauntson and Morrish’s (2011: 83) analysis of British university MSs, whose main purpose ‘appears to be an indefinable kind of “branding” in which concrete purposes and achievements are replaced by a symbolic avowal of the values of business and industry’ such as stakeholder satisfaction and employability. This chimes with the view that in promotional texts ‘it is the “corporate” identity of the university that is the marketable commodity’ (Benwell and Stokoe 2006: 119). In other words, higher education is looking to corporate models to market its services in an age of decreasing funding and increasing competition. Self-representations, whether in print or online, can provide valuable insights into this transition because, as noted by Brickson (2007: 867), ‘An organization’s identity orientation is determined […] by the traits and characteristics most salient to members when describing their organization’. Though not unrelated to experiential data, such depictions function as idealized projections (Lerpold et al. 2007), whereby organizations spell out their place in the world—self-categorization being a key aspect of the sense-making process. In a similar manner, individual academics describe their work in professional homepages where what they ‘cho[o]se to say about themselves is perhaps the most significant way of constructing an online identity’ (Hyland 2012: 314). Online descriptions may be discounted as a mere exercise in public relations, but they can impact collective behaviour, given that ‘identity constructions—who we think we are—affect which action patterns we deem appropriate and thereby our conduct—what we do’ (Degn 2015: 1179). This holds true especially when the parties involved are accountable to a wide number of stakeholders, as in the case of academic and corporate organizations. 1.2 ‘About us’ texts For easy identification of online content on the part of readers, website designers have developed a specific online space—whether an entire page or a section thereof—for self-presentation, usually titled About us (henceforth, AU). This is known to employ a ‘high proportion of evaluative vocabulary’ and occurs in most corporate websites (Breeze 2013: 154) and in academic websites (Ozturk 2011). AUs offer a broad overview of the organization, covering such aspects as its mission, ethos, and achievements. The linguistic strategies noted by Pollach (2005) in corporate AUs include ‘Stressing size without figures’, ‘Presenting claims as facts’, and ‘Appearing as agents of social/economic change’—all of which imply the use of positive self-evaluation as a persuasive device. While the literature on AUs is still scant, several authors have looked at the function and linguistic features of an older, partially related genre: the MS.4 Described at first as ‘a newly evolved genre of somewhat uncertain origins and with a somewhat uncertain future’ (Swales and Rogers 1995: 237), it came ‘to represent for the 1990s what the Ethical Code represented in the decade before’ (p. 228). According to Isaksson and Jørgensen (2010b: 226), MSs are ‘a central platform for articulating the identity of modern corporations and for disseminating a discourse of virtues and emotions to stakeholders’. Williams (2008) examined the content of 27 MSs from companies in the Fortune 1000 list and found lexis expressing excellence and goodwill (i.e. commitment to service) to be particularly prominent. In the USA and elsewhere, MSs were soon adopted by educational institutions as an opportunity to highlight their goals and values (cf. Marfleet 1996). A linguistic investigation of the MSs of 146 English universities (Connell and Galasiński 1998) found that well-established institutions were most likely to signal a commitment to excellence, whereas former colleges and polytechnics preferred to stress inclusiveness. Both groups recognized the centrality of the student-consumer, but appeared to reject the view of higher education as an industry despite ‘lexical concessions to what may be regarded as commercial discourses’ (p. 476). According to the authors, such texts are a site of ‘delicate negotiation between universities and state departments concerning the essential purposes of advanced, post-compulsory educational bodies’ (p. 458). The genre’s ‘political’ function resurfaces in Philipps’s (2013: 689) study of eight German research institutes, whose MSs spell out how each organization ‘determines its relationships with its employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, government, and community’. A recent comparison of MSs from 10 UK universities (Morrish and Sauntson 2013: 62) found that their claims to uniqueness rely on ‘a recycling of essentially the same few indefinable and semantically vague nouns and adjectives (excellence, quality, etc.)’. Unlike MSs, however, AUs are ‘digital natives’ and concentrate on identification rather than legitimation: they essentially welcome online visitors and introduce the organization by drawing attention to its main strengths. Such information is rich in reflexively evaluative claims encoding a range of (variously connotated) ‘values’ whose investigation is the object of this article. A total of 100 AUs from two types of website—academic and corporate—were compared to assess whether their lexis signalled similar priorities, as assumed by critics of the marketization of higher education in the UK (e.g. Molesworth et al. 2011). The texts were analysed with three research aims in mind: (i) to identify through corpus-linguistic methods the evaluative lexis most frequently employed in academic and corporate AUs; (ii) to explore the relative distribution of items expressing specific semantic categories or values; (iii) to critically assess the degree of convergence between academic/corporate texts, also in the light of the literature on MSs in the same domains. 2. MATERIAL AND METHODS Two well-known online directories were used to identify a range of suitable organizations: for the academic sample, the Guardian’s (2013) ‘University Guide 2014’, which lists a total of 119 UK universities; for the corporate sample, companies in the ‘FTSE 100’ list (London Stock Exchange 2013). Each entry in these directories provided a link to the organization’s official homepage, whose top-level menu was checked for evidence of AU content. Around two-thirds of the organizations surveyed were found to include an AU page or section,5 so that the search soon yielded the required total of 100 specimens (50 per sample). When selecting the material, only primary text was considered, thus excluding ‘Facts and Figures’ sections, hypertextual signposts (e.g. Click/read here), and linked content. The short AUs below—given as available online in August 2015 (text only)—are an example of the nature of such texts: Brunel University London is a world-class university based in Uxbridge, West London, and was established in 1966. Our mission has always been to combine academic rigour with the practical, entrepreneurial and imaginative approach pioneered by our namesake Isambard Kingdom Brunel. [Source: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/about] We are a focused and successful international distribution and outsourcing group with operations across the Americas, Europe and Australasia. We support businesses all over the world with a variety of products that are essential for our customers in the successful operation of their businesses. [Source: http://www.bunzl.com/about.aspx] The two groups of AUs were then processed with concordancing software to assess their respective length: the figures (Table 1) show a striking similarity between academic and corporate AUs, with the former only 3.6 per cent longer (234.54 tokens per text) than the latter (226.04 tokens). This contrasts with the very dissimilar average size reported for MSs: 83 tokens in 146 British university websites (Connell and Galasiński 1998) and 211 tokens in 27 Fortune 1000 companies (Williams 2008).6 However, variation in length within each sample was considerable, thus suggesting that AUs are a relatively unconstrained genre which, like MSs, ranges from ‘one-sentence statements to lengthy statements of several paragraphs, a full page, or multiple pages in a few cases’ (Williams 2008: 111). Table 1: Quantitative data (tokens) Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 aStandardized type/token ratio. Table 1: Quantitative data (tokens) Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 Academic Corporate All texts 11,726 11,302 Average per text 234.54 226.04 Range 18–866 45–842 STTRa 42.18 44.18 aStandardized type/token ratio. The standardized type/token ratio (STTR) is comparable in both groups of AUs, though marginally higher in the corporate sample (44.18 vs. 42.18), where lexical diversity appears to reflect the variety of industries covered by multinational concerns. To place this in some kind of perspective, it may be added that both figures are well above the average STTR of research articles (36.04) observed elsewhere in a range of disciplines (Giannoni 2010: 73). To extract value-marking lexis from this small corpus, a bottom-up approach (combining quantitative tools and manual investigation of discrete lexical items) was deemed more useful than reliance on a predefined analytical framework. The two-pronged approach adopted here consists of the following: Stage 1 (identification of evaluative types). A wordlist was generated from each sample using a concordancer for Mac OS (Anthony 2014). An inventory of ‘candidate items’—that is, tokens explicitly pointing to (positively) evaluative categories, belonging to different parts of speech—was compiled from the wordlists, concentrating on types with 10+ occurrences. The two inventories were then merged and their concordances manually examined to remove non-relevant occurrences, taking into account the phraseology and potential polysemy of candidate items, with sufficient evidence provided by the immediate co-text. More specifically, concordance lines were checked to exclude: (i) non-evaluative uses (e.g. ‘great’ in Great Britain, ‘high’ in high school); (ii) those evaluating neither the organization itself nor its activities, facilities, location, or stakeholders (e.g. great emphasis, strong economy). Stage 2 (checking for further candidates). The texts were fed into a second concordancer (Scott 2007) to obtain a list of positive and negative keywords, using each sub-corpus as a reference corpus for the other. Any potentially evaluative types were treated as further candidate items and their concordances manually checked as described in Stage 1. The purpose of this methodology is to yield a list of frequent lexemes which can subsequently be grouped into semantic categories representative of the most prominent evaluative parameters embedded in AUs. This is consistent with the fact that suitable words can be identified ‘as evaluative even out of context’ (Hunston 2011: 13). To minimize subjectivity, the procedure concentrates on items that belong to the upper end of the explicitness continuum, while taking on board the fact that corpus analysis ‘can answer specific questions about evaluative language […] but cannot identify or quantify all of it’ (p. 168). Manual investigation of wordlist items with 10+ occurrences in at least one of the samples (see Supplementary material) produced a total of 50 candidates, which were then grouped into eight categories (i.e. values) based on the following criteria: Semantic, including (near) synonyms and antonyms, if present, that belong to the same semantic field: for example, growth + development, worldwide + global. This includes morphological variants, usually different parts of speech, within the same lexical set: for example, excellent + excellence, international + internationally. Functional, bringing together qualities that are functionally ascribable to a superordinate concept: for example, success + reputation + satisfaction = Impact. This is because all three can be interpreted as evidence of the (positive) impact of an organization’s operations. Minor variables that did not qualify for a separate category were classed as ‘Qualities’ (cf. Section 3.4). The grouping of evaluative items into discrete categories is suggested elsewhere in the literature. For example, Swales and Burke’s (2003) analysis of the MICASE corpus (Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English) comprises relevance, size, strength, deviance, assessment, acuity, and aesthetic appeal. In journal descriptions, Hyland and Tse (2009: 710) find that ‘the expression of value almost always draws on positive items […] emphasizing, among other things, reach, novelty, ranking, importance, and scholarliness’. In each case, the categories chosen by authors tend to fit the rationale and distribution of the data in hand. 3. RESULTS The procedure outlined in Section 2 identified 50 evaluative types or ‘value markers’, accounting together for 1,508 tokens in the entire corpus. Of these, the actual number of relevant occurrences was 1,361, that is, over 90 per cent of tokens. All of the markers occurred in both samples, with the exception of creative, professional, ranked, employability (only in academic AUs), and listed (only in corporate AUs). Keyword analysis (Stage 2) identified very few evaluative items—a clear sign of the generic convergence of academic and corporate AUs—and no evaluative types besides those observed in Stage 1. The word value(s) itself occurs only 10 times in the entire corpus (five academic and four corporate AUs), with what counts as ‘value’—cited below in italics—suggesting three types of quality in each domain: Quality of performance. Universities: high quality research and excellent teaching, distinction in research and scholarship, excellence in all aspects of learning, academic ambition, innovation. Corporations: excellence, performance, quality, value, service, innovation. Relational qualities. Universities: empowering people, inclusive and accessible, people focused, working through partnership, supporting each other, social inclusion. Corporations: believing in people, safety, respect, simplicity, trust, teamwork, diversity, relationships. Moral qualities. Universities: fairness and integrity, honesty and openness, a concern for the environment. Corporations: integrity, accountability, sustainability. The following pages will reveal whether the lexis of AUs is consistent with such lists and which of the qualities mentioned, if any, are most prominent. The main results are given for each of the eight evaluative categories identified in the corpus (absolute figures). These are followed by a discussion of the whole data set (normalized figures) and its significance. 3.1 Globalism The six markers assigned to this category point to the international arena as a desirable aspect of the organization’s operations, thereby implying that it is a global player and compares favourably with international competitors. Table 2 lists the number of occurrences observed in each sample.7 While the totals are not dissimilar, there is variation in the frequency of specific markers, with world and international far more common in academic AUs and countries and worldwide in corporate AUs. Similarly, world and international were among the most prominent types in a corpus of British academic MSs (Sauntson and Morrish 2011). ‘International’ is also one of the seven espoused values identified in a recent study (Jonsen et al. 2015) of value statements of Fortune 100 companies. It may be added that the qualifier international was the most frequent evaluative item identified by Hyland and Tse (2009) in a multi-disciplinary corpus of journal descriptions, averaging 62.5 occurrences per 10,000 words; here the comparable figure (academic AUs) is 31.5. Table 2: Globalism markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Table 2: Globalism markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 Academic Corporate world 84 56 international 33 21 global 30 38 internationally 13 4 countries 12 26 worldwide 4 16 Total 176 161 The following anonymized examples illustrate how such markers are employed in academic vs. corporate AUs (my emphasis here and subsequently, with the two groups separated by a slash): we seek to be life changing and world shaping / we aim to become the world’s most sustainable retailer; regularly hosts international sporting events / X is an international fast moving consumer goods company; a patron of the arts and a global player; a significant global presence for over 100 years; internationally acclaimed research and outstanding teaching quality / in the UK and internationally we compete with a large number of X producers; close to 19,000 students from more than 100 countries / X operates in over 50 countries; the University of X degree is highly regarded worldwide; support to over 6 million customers worldwide. An interesting feature noticeable in these excerpts is that Globalism often co-occurs with lexis pointing to other values. In other words, there is a clustering of evaluative parameters that reinforce each other by association. The same phenomenon will be noticed elsewhere among the examples given for each value. 3.2 Worth The 11 markers in this group (Table 3) signal the general desirability or ‘goodness’ of an organization or of some aspect of its operations—several being strongly positive, possibly hyperbolic, qualifiers. In journal descriptions, Hyland and Tse (2009) refer to this value broadly as ‘Ranking’, which conflates Worth and Primacy (Section 3.3) and covers such items as excellent, major, leading, most, and best; however, they do not elaborate on the concept or provide any quantitative data. Table 3: Worth markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Table 3: Worth markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Academic Corporate excellence 35 5 quality 30 18 ranked 22 — outstanding 18 2 excellent 14 3 high 14 17 strong 10 18 great 9 8 major 9 8 well 1 3 listed — 17 Total 162 99 Unlike Globalism, here the difference between the two samples is considerable: most of the items (especially, excellence, excellent, quality, outstanding) are far more frequent in academic AUs, while only one (strong) is markedly favoured by corporate AUs. There are also two similar domain-specific items (ranked and listed) that express public recognition of the organization’s status, respectively, in British university rankings and on the London Stock Exchange. Examples: our traditional focus on academic excellence / delivering excellence to our customers; well known for the quality of our degrees / building quality homes, which provide the very best in design; consistently ranked in the UK’s top 40 universities; our outstanding campus and facilities / an outstanding collection of beverage alcohol brands; the right balance of excellent teaching and research / generating excellent returns from our hotels; reflected in our high levels of student satisfaction / working to high ethical standards; we have a strong professional orientation / working to build strong local businesses; X is one of the UK’s great success stories / our great range of brands; including a major expansion of our city centre campus / we have major operations in the UK; prepares them well for the rest of their lives / we are well positioned in the precious metals industry; a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange. Much has been said about the conceptualization of excellence in the corporate world. Williams (2008: 116) describes this as ‘a buzzword that permeates management literature’ and found evidence of its presence in all top company MSs. Yet, only 10 per cent of the corporate AUs presented here contained the type excellence, whose frequency in academic AUs was seven times higher. The nouns excellence and quality are known to be very prominent also in British academic MSs (Sauntson and Morrish 2011). Despite its pervasiveness in higher education discourse, however, excellence remains a rather elusive notion: a recent study of references to the concept in responses to the British Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) argues that what constitutes quality in various disciplines is tantamount to ‘a totemic religious system in which only clan members can recognize the totem’ (Abbott 2014: 151). 3.3 Primacy This group comprises seven markers expressing pre-eminence over competitors (Table 4). An organization employing such lexis claims to be (among) the best of its kind: whereas Worth embodied relative value, Primacy indicates exclusive value.8 Like Worth, it is particularly prominent in academic AUs, which are far more likely to use leading, top, and most than their corporate counterparts; on the other hand, the latter show a marked preference for the superlative largest—plausibly suggesting that dimensional primacy matters more in the corporate world than in academia. Table 4: Primacy markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Table 4: Primacy markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Academic Corporate leading 47 35 top 27 1 most 17 10 best 17 17 largest 12 23 first 11 5 only 9 1 Total 140 92 Examples: a leading university for graduate employment / the leading global information services company; one of the Top 50 universities in the UK / one of the world’s top dozen companies; one of Europe’s liveliest and most welcoming cities / we aim to become the world’s most sustainable retailer; recruiting the best academics in their disciplines / we aim to provide the best shopping experience for our customers; the UK’s largest integrated campus university / the world’s largest hotel loyalty scheme; the first university to welcome female students / the world’s first truly global trade book publisher; we are recognised as the only Centre for Excellence in Media Practice / the only international tobacco group with a significant… The emphasis on Primacy in AUs agrees with the high frequency of leading observed in MSs, whether corporate (Swales and Rogers 1995) or academic (Morrish and Sauntson 2011). Like other markers in this category, leading allows drafters to modulate their wording along a continuum, from the + marker to a/one of the + marker. Being overtly negotiable, the latter option mitigates claims that might otherwise be hard to prove or be superseded once published online. There are also signs, at least in the case of universities, of national proclivities in the choice of adjectives. Caiazzo’s (2011: 53) comparison of British, Indian, and international AUs found that ‘top and outstanding strongly characterise the texts from the UK subcorpus’. 3.4 Qualities The markers in this group (Table 5) signal more specific, contextually relevant traits—the most common being novelty (new, innovation) in academic AUs, and sustainability (sustainable) in corporate AUs.9 Again, their overall number is significantly higher in the academic sample, which alone includes the types professional and creative. Interestingly, ‘innovation’ is the single defining feature of quality reported in Abbott’s (2014: 158) study of British academics’ comments to the RAE, where ‘the constant theme is that excellence […] is defined by a given discipline at any moment, and that, in particular, it is whatever that discipline will at that time find new and innovative’ (my emphasis). Table 5: Quality markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Table 5: Quality markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Academic Corporate experience 30 8 new 18 6 innovation 17 7 diverse 10 6 professional 10 — creative 5 — sustainable 3 19 Total 93 46 Examples: Ensuring our students have the best experience possible / we have more than 30 years of experience to draw on; the first genuinely new university in Scotland / a greater ability to invest in new products and services; an environment that nurtures innovation and leadership / a global innovation-driven biopharmaceutical company; a large, diverse and increasingly popular place to study / items as diverse as paints, clothes and packaging; we have a strong professional orientation; we’re also known for our creative approach; committed to being an ethical and sustainable organisation / delivering high quality sustainable sales growth. Some of these items diverge semantically, as well as in frequency, across the corpus. Thus, experience refers almost invariably to the ‘student experience’ in academic AUs, while in corporate AUs half of the occurrences employ the word as synonymous with expertise. Though often included in university rankings, the student experience is in fact a rather fuzzy concept: an authoritative UK survey (Times Higher Education 2014) uses no less than 22 factors—mostly of a non-academic nature (e.g. security, social life, sports facilities)—to gauge this variable. In university prospectuses, students have been construed as ‘“demanding clients” on the look-out for the best possible university “experience”‘ (Askehave 2007: 739).10 Another word that varies significantly in meaning is diverse, mostly denoting cultural diversity in academic AUs, whereas in corporate texts it is only a synonym of different. 3.5 Impact The eight markers grouped here (Table 6) point to an organization’s ability to impact the lives of individuals and the public at large, in terms of competitiveness (success, successful, employability, opportunities, growth), perception (reputation), or coverage (all). Impact has a similar number of markers in both samples: this points to a common ethos resembling that noted in corporate websites, whose readers seek ‘some reassurance of the reliability and dependability of the company and of its concern with customers’ success and satisfaction’ (Isaksson and Jørgensen 2010a: 121). The importance of Impact agrees with the finding—based on a survey of 1,642 first-year students at a South Korean university—that ‘external prestige predicted supportive attitudes most strongly’ among respondents (Sung and Yang 2008: 370). It is also in line with a longitudinal content analysis of promotional material from three Oregon universities between 1982 and 2001, where ‘factors such as “academic quality” and “academic success” account for over half of all coded statements’ (Waggoner and Goldman 2005: 96). Table 6: Impact markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Table 6: Impact markers (occurrences) Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Academic Corporate reputation 24 2 all 16 21 employability 12 — satisfaction 12 1 success 10 7 opportunities 9 11 growth 5 31 successful 2 10 Total 90 83 Examples: X has an excellent reputation among students, their parents and staff / our market-leading reputation is based on one key fact; we aim to support all our students / we offer a convenient service for all our customers; close links with employers and strength in employability; the University’s highest overall satisfaction rate / we know from satisfaction surveys that 95% of clients…; preparing our students for success in the world of work / we are committed to driving business success responsibly; we give students unique opportunities to learn / help companies increase profits by creating opportunities; to support the growth of new businesses based on ideas / delivering high quality sustainable sales growth; ensuring our students are prepared for a successful career; to create compelling retail properties in successful locations. Again, the distribution of items differs considerably. In particular, reputation emerges as a top concern for universities, while it is almost absent from corporate AUs. Another interesting instance is satisfaction, invariably encoding student satisfaction11 in the academic sample and customer satisfaction in the corporate sample, but 12 times more frequent in the former. Thus, universities are far more likely to stress their impact on stakeholders in terms of satisfaction; corporations tend instead to emphasize competitiveness, especially in terms of growth. 3.6 Other values The three remaining values, though less prominent, also deserve mention. Delivery is covered by six markers expressing an organization’s response to stakeholders’ expectations (Supplementary Material, Table S1). Apart from two attitudinal items (focus, focused) expressing strategic orientation, they all encode operational facets (support, offer, deliver, delivering) of Delivery. The fact that this value is, unusually, more marked in corporate AUs, might be explained by the greater range/amount of commodities originating from corporations, as opposed to the relatively limited offering of universities. Although the much decried commodification of higher education may be forcing universities to act as ‘factories for the production of degrees which students can purchase using real money and their brains’ (Maringe 2011: 144), they are not on a par here with the world of corporate giants. Emotion is encoded by a small group of items, with the balance very much skewed in favour of academic AUs, which are nearly four times more likely to signal this value (see Supplementary Material, Table S2). Its phatic orientation is confirmed by the frequent use of contracted verb forms after we: 23 instances in the academic vs. only 5 in the corporate sample. The top item (welcome) occurs almost exclusively in academic AUs and half of the time in headings, where it serves as a greeting (Welcome to + name of university). Presenting an organization’s website as its physical location is a frequent rhetorical device in online presentations; Benwell and Stokoe’s (2006: 254) study of a British academic homepage classifies it as a ‘metaphor of space’. The concept of commitment is also of interest because when managers claim commitment to certain goals, ‘the “saying” does not always lead to “doing”‘ (Ahmed 2007: 249). Williams (2008) refers to this as Goodwill (i.e. a commitment to serve). Rootedness is suggested by two markers indicating that an organization is firmly established in place and time (see Supplementary Material, Table S3). This implies, on the one hand, that its operations are well identifiable on a map and, on the other hand, that it is strong enough to withstand the test of time. Place rootedness is conveyed by the qualifier local, which tends to collocate with a town or region in academic AUs but with a plurality of referents in corporate AUs. 3.7 Overall distribution To properly assess the significance of these results, the total figure for each of the eight values was normalized (occurrences/10,000 words, rounded to the closest unit) and inserted in Table 7. The first result worth noting is that the overall amount of marking is 25 per cent greater in academic AUs, which are more likely to signal all values with the exception of Delivery and Rootedness. In some cases (Globalism and Impact), the difference, however, is very slight. Table 7: Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Table 7: Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Academic Corporate Globalism 150 142 Worth 138 88 Primacy 119 81 Qualities 79 41 Impact 77 73 Delivery 43 70 Emotion 36 10 Rootedness 12 19 Total 654 524 Plotted in a chart (Figure 1), such figures clearly illustrate the relative weight of each value across the corpus, with the sequence observed in academic AUs only partly replicated in corporate AUs. Thus, comparatively speaking, Qualities are under-represented in corporate texts, where they rank 6th (4th in academic AUs). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Distribution of values (occurrences/10,000 words) It would be wrong, however, to stress divergences between the two samples, without due consideration given to their commonalities. Apart from the fact that 45/50 markers occurred in both academic and corporate AUs, the key point is that the differences between individual values are relatively limited. To assess this mathematically, the amount of overlap was calculated as detailed in Table 8. Table 8: Convergence of academic/corporate values Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Table 8: Convergence of academic/corporate values Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 Overlap (per cent)16 Globalism 97 Impact 97 Primacy 81 Worth 78 Rootedness 77 Delivery 76 Qualities 68 Emotion 44 Average 77 The overall level of convergence between the two samples averages 77 per cent, a fact that is clear evidence of a repertoire of self-evaluative parameters shared by academic and corporate organizations. The overlap is almost perfect for Globalism and Impact (which suggests these values are equally important to both types of organization); around average for Primacy, Worth, Rootedness, Delivery, and Qualities; and well below average for Emotion. In other words, Emotion is the only value distinctively associated with one sample, that is, academic AUs. The overlap brings to mind Kheovichai’s (2014) analysis of 60 academic job ads and 60 finance job ads from British sources, which found that both types of organization essentially claim the same qualities for themselves (Size, Reputation, Rank, Growth, Establishment). 4. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS This article set out to study what self-evaluating categories are lexicalized in online representations of academic and corporate organizations. The results suggest a substantial degree of convergence between academic and corporate texts, with a range of values that express ‘what is considered appropriate’ (Lerpold et al. 2007: 83) by institutional policy-makers. More specifically, both samples reflect the priorities and concerns of top management—which explains their emphasis on an organization’s standing (Globalism, Primacy, Worth) and its effectiveness (Delivery, Impact). Rather than a case of ideological (mis)appropriation of corporate values on the part of universities, it may be argued that the latter—like corporations—are driven by the values pursued by any major concern asserting its online presence in a competitive international environment. While the marketization of British higher education is undeniable, insofar as academic governance has become subservient to the principles of financial accountability and customer satisfaction, the claims made by British universities and corporations in their AUs illustrate a common repertoire of organizational values that occur in ‘any commercial, public or not-for-profit organization’ (Bourne and Jenkins 2014: 496). Treating corporate and academic organizations as potential equals, rather than social actors engaged in a damaging relationship, may be a step in the direction advocated by Cornelissen et al. (2007: S11), who argue that ‘identity research needs to bridge distinctions between social, organizational and corporate domains’. The material analysed in this study is clearly influenced by the genre’s promotional purpose, for website content is an example of how ‘Universities, like other public institutions in the age of privatization, quasi-markets and private-public partnerships, have become increasingly promotionalized’ (Wernick 2006: 566). Similarities within each sample may also be explained by the espoused-value ‘hygiene factor’ (Jonsen et al. 2015: 7) which drives organizations to make the same claims as their competitors—with a degree of spillover across different industries and domains. At a broader level, the marketization of higher education is consistent with the growing reliance of British society on economic criteria as a yardstick to interpret all kinds of activities (Radder 2010: 4). Critics claim that treating degree courses and research output as marketable commodities erodes the quality and independence of intellectual enquiry; turning back the clock is not an option, however, and the growing sense of frustration with these developments should not lead academics to overrate ‘the value systems of the past’ (Schuetze 2007: 442). There is an interesting mismatch between the corpus data and the lists of avowed ‘values’ mentioned in a few AUs (see beginning of Section 3): almost all of the markers belong to evaluative categories foregrounding Quality of performance, while Relational qualities and Moral qualities are only marginally represented. Whether this means that performance-oriented values have taken precedence over other considerations cannot be properly ascertained by looking at the texts alone, but certainly seems to agree with the evidence in hand. After all, relative performance (like other concerns embedded in these texts) has been an aspect of academic life for centuries, at least since universities started competing with each other to attract scholars, students, and patronage; despite its shortcomings (see Tannen 2002), rivalry has been argued to be beneficial to researchers as ‘a forceful incentive to both individual discovery and collective criticism’ (Hyland 1997: 27). AUs provide a strategically important rhetorical space for organizations to project an identity12 that is instrumental to their policies. Like the homepages of individual scholars, they express ‘something of the tensions, compromises and negotiations in this enactment of an online self’ (Hyland 2011: 296). AUs have been criticized for including, like MSs, ‘vague language which constructs non-auditable goals’ (Morrish and Sauntson 2013: 79), but it may be argued that such representations should be judged ‘on the basis of their rhetorical power’ rather than ‘their “fit” with reality’ (Christensen and Askegaard 2001: 312).13 After all, the value claims made in AUs partially function as ‘aspirational images’, as suggested by Lerpold et al. (2007: 85), that is as idealized projections used by policy-makers to push their own agenda. In so doing, they ‘act as carriers of ideologies and institutional cultures’ (Swales and Rogers 1995: 225) built around the organization’s goals, achievements, and virtues. AUs are not insensitive to external expectations either, originating primarily from students or customers/investors—a distinction that has become fuzzier in recent years, as universities increasingly ‘acknowledge the need to be student-centred or consumer-led’ (Connell and Galasiński 1998: 461) and ‘construe them [i.e. students] collectively as a source of revenue’ (Woodall et al. 2014: 51). In other words, universities are telling their external stakeholders ‘we understand what you want and we’re going to deliver it to you’ (Morphew and Hartley 2006: 469). Though largely unresearched, the response of online readers to such claims is likely to be influenced by familiarity, with a greater readiness to respond to values that are already well established, through a process of ‘emotional contagion’ (Jonsen et al. 2015: 6).14 A better understanding of the value claims made in academic AUs, as opposed to those originating from other types of organization, may be of interest to academic policy-makers, given that ‘reference to organizational values is seldom made in the domain of educational administration’ (Mueller 2014: 644). It is also important to consider Woodall et al.’s (2014: 55) argument that students evaluate the university experience essentially as a trade-off between benefits (results for the customer, service attributes) and costs (price, acquisition and relationship costs).15 Not surprisingly, all of the values identified in the corpus belong to the benefits category: by projecting an upbeat image, devoid of risks or pitfalls, universities (more or less consciously) convey a sense of ‘actorhood’ (Krücken and Meier 2006) or ‘agency’ (cf. Brickson 2007), that is a belief that they are single-minded entities capable of determining events, unswayed by external circumstances: as in advertising, it is a world of blue skies and clockwork efficiency—of unique opportunities only awaiting to be seized. It is hoped that the approach adopted in this article may in future be extended to other types of texts, both within and beyond academia, to map axiological divergences and commonalities across genres and contexts. Introductory and/or promotional genres are particularly worth investigating, as they abound in self-evaluating lexis, but the same procedure could be applied to virtually any realm of discourse. It would be interesting, for example, to research parallel corpora from different linguacultures for insights into their respective affordances. Finally, efforts could be made to uncover statistically significant correlations between the performance/size/status of an organization and its choice of espoused values (as in Jonsen et al. 2015; cf. also Sauntson and Morrish 2011). Such attempts are more likely to succeed if what counts as a ‘value’ can be linked to tangible linguistic evidence rather than treated as a mental construct. Though value-laden lexis may mark only the tip of the evaluative iceberg, contrasting its distribution and possible rationale across different settings is an effort worth making. SUPPLEMENTARY DATA Supplementary material is available at Applied Linguistics online. Acknowledgements An early version of this article was presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK, 4–6 September 2014. The author is grateful to three anonymous reviewers and to Dr J. Hellermann for their very useful comments. Notes Footnotes 1 While axiology is a relatively recent philosophical discipline (Hart 1971), there is a sizeable body of empirical work on value systems that applies Schwartz’s (1994) psychosocial model. For a comprehensive review of the definition of values in social research, see Fisher (1998: 10–22). 2 For instance, two of the most common values observed in academic discourse are relevance and size (cf. Swales and Burke 2003; Deroey and Taverniers 2012; Giannoni 2012). 3 A prominent critic of this trend implicitly recognizes the democratic merits of greater accountability, for ‘it is not always easy to distinguish between attacks upon and attempts to reconstruct traditional academic practices which are democratically rooted and those which are rooted in marketization’ (Fairclough 1995: 231). 4 When describing an organization, both AUs and MSs focus essentially on ‘who it is and what it does’ (Falsey 1989: 3) and, though distinct in purpose and origin, share certain features: a limited range of semantically vague self-promotional claims foregrounding the organization’s values and achievements, a relatively loose generic framework and a diverse audience. The literature on MSs is reported here when it targets features that occur also in AUs. 5 A few websites could not be accessed because temporarily offline or unavailable. 6 Extrapolated from the word-frequency data reported in Williams (2008: 111–12). 7 Given that the difference in length between the two samples is less than 4 per cent, the figures in Tables 2–6 are not normalized. 8 When a university is presented as superior to others, it runs the risk of appearing averse to diversity and inclusiveness. An example of this ambivalence appears in the University of Leicester’s AU, which states that ‘Times Higher Education applauded Leicester’s very different approach, describing us as “elite without being elitist”. / We were proud to be described as elite. But we were equally as proud to be described as a university that is inclusive and accessible in its academic culture’ (http://www2.le.ac.uk/about, accessed November 2013). 9 In academic AUs, where present, sustainability is primarily a moral concept (i.e. ethical and sustainable organisation; sustainable environment; environmentally sustainable). In corporate texts, it is more prominent but focuses on economic benefits, as shown by the top collocates of sustainable (i.e. development, growth). 10 The importance of social life on campus is confirmed by the use of criteria such as ‘Best party school’ in US university rankings (Askehave 1995: 741). 11 The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area state that internal quality assurance should evaluate, among other indicators, ‘students’ satisfaction with their programmes’ and the ‘employability of graduates’ (ENQA 2009: 19). 12 The importance of self-identification is confirmed by a quick look at the most frequent lexical bundles (bi-grams) in the corpus: we are ranks 4th (after in the, of the, the university) in academic AUs and 3rd (after in the, of the) in corporate AUs. 13 An important proviso to the language of official quality-related documentation in higher education (Fairclough 2006: 86) is that claims to excellence may be a rhetorical exercise without a real willingness to displace ingrained interests and beliefs. Krücken and Meier (2006: 249) admit that mission and vision statements can be ‘organizational window dressing’ because ‘Universities are prime examples of organizations which routinely adapt to external expectations without necessarily transforming them directly into organizational change’ (p. 254). 14 There is also a need for empirical work on the actual readers of these texts. For Pollach (2005: 289), corporate AUs ‘seem to be targeted at no audience in particular and their readers could truly be anybody ranging from current employees to customers, journalists or academics’. Stakeholders is a conveniently fuzzy term because it covers different types of audience. 15 The weight given to non-academic aspects in student surveys (e.g. Times Higher Education 2014) suggests that the student experience is increasingly evaluated in terms of ‘enjoyability’ (a pervasive value in marketing and the leisure industry). 16 Calculated using the formula: 100 − (weighted deviation from mean × 100). 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Published: Apr 20, 2016

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