Higher Education

, Volume 71, Issue 2, pp 163–180 | Cite as

The iconography of universities as institutional narratives

  • Gili S. DroriEmail author
  • Giuseppe Delmestri
  • Achim Oberg


The coming of “brand society” and the onset of mediatization spur universities to strategize their visual identity and pay particular attention to their icon. Resulting from branding initiatives, university icons are visual self-representations and material-cum-symbolic forms of organizational identity. In this work we ask: What identity narratives are conveyed through the organizational iconography of universities? How do narratives combine in this iconography? Drawing upon content analysis of Internet front-page icons of 826 universities from 22 countries, we identify four identity narratives: guild-like classic narrative, professional scientific narrative, localized narrative, and organizational narrative. Second, we show that such visual self-representations of university identity appear as products of broad historical themes. Last, we consider the relations between the four visualized identity narratives, showing evidence for iconographic sedimentation between the compatible guild-like classical, professional, and local-national narratives, along with iconographic abrasion of the logic of managed organization on the former. We discuss such findings in relation to the historical studies of the institution of the university.


University Organizational iconography Identity narratives World society Institutionalism 



This study is generously supported by two grants awarded to Gili S. Drori, from the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 812/12) and the European Commission’s Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (PF7-People-2012 322041).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gili S. Drori
    • 1
    Email author
  • Giuseppe Delmestri
    • 2
  • Achim Oberg
    • 2
  1. 1.The Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.WU Vienna University of Economics and BusinessViennaAustria

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