Where history, visuality, and identity meet: Institutional paths to visual diversity among organizations

Achim Oberg, Gili S. Drori, Giuseppe Delmestri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Seeking an answer to the question "how does organizational identity change?" we analyze the visual identity marker of universities, namely logos, as time-related artifacts embodying visual scripts. Engaging with the Stinchcombe hypothesis, we identify five processes to the creation of visual identities of organizations: In addition to (1) imprinting (enactment of the contemporary script) and (2) imprinting-cum-inertia (persistent enactment of epochal scripts), we also identify (3) renewal (enactment of an up-to-date epochal script), (4) historization (enactment of a recovered older epochal script), and (5) multiplicity (simultaneous enactment of multiple epochal scripts). We argue that these processes work together to produce contemporary heterogeneity of visualized identity narratives of universities. We illustrate this, first, with a survey of the current-day logos of 814 university emblems in 20 countries from across the world. Second, drawing on archival and interview materials, we analyze the histories of exemplar university logos to illustrate the various time-related processes. Therefore, by interjecting history - as both time and process - into the analysis of the visualization of organizational identity, we both join with the phenomenological and semiotic analysis of visual material as well as demonstrate that history is not merely a fixed factor echoing imprinting and inertia but rather also includes several forms of engagement with temporality that are less deterministic. Overall, we argue that enactment engages with perceptions of time (imaginations of the past, present, and future) and with perceptions fixed by time (epochal imprinting and inertia) to produce heterogeneity in the visualization of organizational identity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)71-99
Number of pages29
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2018 by Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Historization
  • Imprinting
  • Multiplicity
  • Organizational history
  • Organizational identity
  • Renewal
  • Visuality


Dive into the research topics of 'Where history, visuality, and identity meet: Institutional paths to visual diversity among organizations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this