Throwback Thursday: Culture of an Organization from it’s website

On this Throwback Thursday, am revisiting the idea of exploring the culture of an organization by doing discourse analysis of their website. The idea is that you can use your skills in discourse analysis to discern something about the culture of an organization in order to find out whether or not these align with your values about work, and to see whether you might want to work there!

…and am finding that I really want to do so now with another example!

The story of the Kenyan Sign Language project

Discourse Analysis aligns with intuition. So, on a first reading of this story, you may notice things like there is not a great deal of talk about job security here, in fact, what you hear about is a great deal of turnover. You also do not hear talk of tremendous access to financial resources to support innovation. What you hear is that this work was done by volunteers in their free time. Lack of resources, lack of pay, lack of job security: these are things that we would call “noisy nots” in a text. Are these things that you absolutely need in order to do a job successfully? If so, perhaps working with the Peace Corps is not the path for you.


So let’s look at how a linguistic analysis can build support for that initial intuitive response. Drawing from our linguistic toolkit:


Referring Expressions

One of the ways to begin to approach the use of referring expressions is to observe who the characters are in the world of the story. There are many of them in this story: 6 volunteers, the deaf community, parents, children, teachers. This constellation of participants is reinforced with photos involving many participants, there are even figures introduced through photos who are not figures in the story world: the actor in the film, the person videotaping her performance.   The importance of and need for collaboration in the work of this organization is one value that may be seen through the introduction of so many figures in story world.


Something else to notice about the participants is how they are presented in the world of the story. What concerns are they presented as having? Who has agency? The first sentence of each of the two paragraphs of the story for example portray the volunteers as observant, and agentive: “Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Kenya observed that the deaf community gravely lacked resources” at the beginning of the first paragraph, and the second: “the Volunteers became aware that the parents of deaf children often did not have knowledge of KSL and had difficulty communicating with their own children.” Verbs like “observed,” and “became aware” celebrate moment of recognition, and it is the volunteers who notice these problems. This suggests that the organization places a value on being able to recognize opportunities for innovation and creations of solutions.


We can see how the existing situation surrounding Deafness is Kenya is framed as a problem, for example through statements like “the parents of deaf children often did not have knowledge of KSL and had difficulty communicating with their own children,” “they also saw that some teachers held negative attitudes toward their deaf students.” In framing the status quo as a problem, the text does a great deal to teach you why it is that you should see this as a problem,. You are not assumed to have already known about any of this, but you do seem to be assumed to care about the situation and are invited to look for solutions, as did the volunteers.



Probably the biggest “not” in this story has to do with what was not there in Kenya when these volunteers arrived in country – there were no resources for deaf children. That the volunteers recognized this absence is portrayed as a value.


What does the narrative DO?

As for what this narrative DOES, it seems to be a call to action, inviting you to admire the agentivity of the volunteers, and asking you to similarly seek opportunities to engage with and change your world.

Phrases like “after months of late nights and long weekends” highlight that the work is hard, but also reinforce the value of HARD WORK (working in spare time, despite many challenges) “the time-consuming work was made more challenging by the geographical distances between the Volunteers’ work sites – they had to travel hours to meet with one another – and by slow internet connections and email failures” and perseverence. The presupposition here is that the importance of the work and that it fills an “important void in resources for deaf children” will motivate someone to overcome these challenges. And the story ends by saying that the work continues, and that there continue to be struggles. Now, the “biggest challenge is outfitting schools with computers on which to show the CD.” To listen actively is to notice that the work will be difficult, the challenges will be great, and the reward is in knowing that you are doing an important task.   If this motivator resonates with your values, you may be in good shape. If you are someone who gets stressed by lots of change and by the continual emergence of new challenges, this may be something to think about before joining the Peace Corps.