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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 36, Issue 4


Performance management discourse and the shift to an administrative logic of operation: a multimodal critical discourse analytical approach

Per Ledin / David Machin
Published Online: 2016-06-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2016-0020


This paper, using multimodal critical discourse analysis, explores a chain of performance management documents in a university which aim to meet the goal of increasing output and excellence. A system of performance management developed by Kaplan and Norton in the 1990s, which enables both tangible and also “intangible assets” such as “quality” and “excellence” to be monitored and measured, is now used fairly universally to structure the running of public institutions. Looking in detail at one case, we show that the result is an abstraction and de-contextualization of processes and agents, through a series of interlocking texts, lists and tables that follows an administrative, rather than task led, logic of operation. We show how the discourse is legitimized on the one hand by the very impenetrable nature of the resulting interlocking documents and by the Web of Science database on the other. We give reasons why the database itself is highly problematic and also show the abstract ways in which it is communicated and how it leads to research in all subject areas being codified and standardized in a “one-size-fits-all” way. This, we argue, serves the purposes of naturalizing and justifying notions of “quality,” “excellence” and “value for money” that have been promoted in service of neoliberal politics.

Keywords: multimodality; performance management; marketization; organizational studies; CDA


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About the article

Per Ledin

Per Ledin is Professor in Swedish at Södertörn University, Sweden. He has published widely in different areas of discourse studies, including writing development, multimodality and critical linguistics. His recent publications include papers on the assessment of writing tests, the semiotics of lists and tables, and the language of New Public Management.

David Machin

David Machin is Professor in the Department of Media and Communication, Örebro University, Sweden. His interests lie in multimodality, critical discourse studies and visual design. His books include The Language of War Monuments (2013) and Visual Journalism (2015). His current research is in the multimodal communication of administration in institutions. He is also co-editor of Social Semiotics.

Published Online: 2016-06-21

Published in Print: 2016-07-01

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 36, Issue 4, Pages 445–467, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2016-0020.

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