The iconography of universities as institutional narratives

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The countries are Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Germany, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Luxemburg, Mongolia, Panama, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, USA, and Vietnam.

  2. 2.

    Even if most of these universities do not have their motto marked on the icon, often they still have a message conveyed in a “tag line” that they commonly include in their media communication.

  3. 3.

    For example, the nineteenth century tale of the French model of the university (with its strict state control), while eclipsed by the Humboldtian model, still shaped a uniquely French university system (Musselin 2004).

  4. 4.

    For example, the icon of the University of Tokyo is reminiscent of a Ginkgo leaf thus referring to its Asian context.

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Gili S. Drori.

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Drori, G.S., Delmestri, G. & Oberg, A. The iconography of universities as institutional narratives. High Educ 71, 163–180 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9894-6

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Keywords

  • University
  • Organizational iconography
  • Identity narratives
  • World society
  • Institutionalism