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Evidencing sensemaking: a speech act theory study of metaphors in organizational mission statements

Publication Date
  • Mission Statements $X Research $Z North Carolina $V Case Studies
  • Metaphor $X Research $V Case Studies
  • Organizational Behavior $X Research $Z North Carolina $V Case Studies
  • Universities And Colleges $X Research $Z North Carolina $V Case Studies
  • Education


This study explores how metaphors deployed in university mission statements demonstrate the sensemaking process of organizational reality. One hundred thirty-two mission statements collected across the University of North Carolina system comprise the textual source of analysis for this study. Austin and Searle's speech act theory is employed to intertextually identify metaphors, which are then analyzed in line with Weick's framework of sensemaking. The elements of the sensemaking process are evidenced in hierarchical metaphors: (i) environment-screening: "environment as change (organizations as positioned, time-pacer, and wind-catcher);" (ii) enactment: "enactment as changer (the university as a plate of loose sand, professional, and mission-setter);" (iii) selection: "organization as relevance-maker (the university as teacher, researcher, server, strategist, and goal-hitter);" (iv) retention: "organization as retainer (the university as value-keeper and role-player (center, community, leader, and leader-preparer);" and (v) remembering: "organization as rememberer (the university as history-defender and principle-observer)." Together, they comprise metaphors we make sense by. By vividly framing forms, such metaphors enrich our knowledge about the organizational reality, the mission statements, the association of teaching, research and service, the relationship between the sensemaking elements, and the heuristic and ongoing nature of sensemaking.

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