Using Organisational Rhetoric to Map a Cultural Organisation

During the course of my Masters degree a couple of years back, I spent some time at Watershed and The Pervasive Media Studio, two landmark cultural organisations who cohabit a dock-side building in Bristol’s City centre. With the aim of exploring how effectively we might understand cultural organisations though the language they use, I was lucky enough to secure a desk space for a couple of weeks to observe and involve myself in the general goings-on behind the scenes.

As well as using the websites and literature of both organisations, I also compiled a glossary of frequently used words and phrases day-to-day. It can’t be claimed that the study was particularly robust - due mainly to limitations of time and scale - but it did bring about some interesting results which may indicate that language analysis may be a useful ‘way-in’ to the organisational cultures of cultural organisations.

Below is a summarised version of some of the findings - if you’d like the full version, just get in contact.

1. Openness and Access

Cultural organisations, especially those which are publicly subsidized, seek to work towards broader social goals, rather than more narrowly defined cultural goals, in order to cement their relevance within their communities (Dodd et al, 2001, p. 3). The words ‘openness’, ‘diversity’, ‘participation’ and ‘community’, are repeated throughout Watershed’s website, and are illustrative of a general shift towards a rhetoric of social inclusion in cultural organisations (Fleming, 2001, p. 7). 

Watershed’s language reinforces an image of an 'open’ venue, where people and their cultures can integrate, that is dedicated to maximizing audience experience. Inclusive language intends to widen access - the cultural organisation understands its role in bringing about social inclusion through cultural inclusion (Fleming, 2001).

2. Elitism and Experts

The Pervasive Media Studio’s vision of driving cultural innovation is the antithesis of Watershed’s ethos of openness and inclusivity. PM Studio describes itself as ‘inspirational’, ‘vibrant’ and ‘distinctive’ with a ‘unique vision’ of ‘exploration’ into the ‘future’. The rhetoric has shifted from an ‘open’ language allowing for mass inclusion, to a ‘closed’ language, calling for expert knowledge, talent and risk.

Bilton theorizes that ‘the creative industries are characterized by a core-periphery structure, polarized between very large conglomerates primarily concerned with distribution and exploitation, and smaller firms and individuals who orbit around them, concerned primarily with generating content (2006, p. 54). Watershed and PM Studio become a microcosm of Bilton’s core-periphery structure theory, with the polarization between core and periphery roles happening internally. The cinema operates at the core and is concerned with cultural distribution and exploitation, and PM Studio operates at the periphery, concerned with developing new forms.

3. Dissemination and Innovation

‘Knowledge management focuses on the existing resources within an organisation, and learning focuses on the dynamic development of these resources (Clegg, 2008, p. 343).’ The use of either ‘open’ or ‘closed’ language correlates to Clegg’s distinction; ‘knowledge management’ becomes Watershed’s daily exchange of film, for which the public perception of the venue as welcoming, diverse, participatory and open is paramount to its operation. ‘Organisational learning’, as the innovation process occurring at the periphery, defines PM Studio, where a ‘closed’ rhetoric of expertise, dynamism, imagination and exploration acts as gate-holder, ensuring that only the right communities are integrated. 

The building houses a creative ecosystem, where core cultural offerings are constantly balanced with the innovation of new cultural forms. The ultimate vision, as is codified by the language used, is to provide a physical space for social and cultural inclusion symbiotically to the ecological space for creativity and innovation.


Bilton, C. (2006). Management and Creativity: From Creative Industries to Creative Management. Oxford: Blackwell.

Clegg. S, Kornberger. M, & Pitsis, T. (2008) Managing Cultures: Values, Practice, Manipulation. In S. Clegg, M. Kornberger, & T. Pitsis (Eds.), Managing and organisations: An introduction to Theory and Practice (pp. 341-371). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Dodd, J., Sandall, R. (2001).  The Cultural and the Social. In J. Dodd, & R. Sandall (Eds.), Including Museums: Perspectives on Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion [Electronic Version] (pp. 3 - 7). Leicester: Research Centre for Museums and Galleries.

Fleming, D. (2001). (Mis)Understandings of Exclusion and Inclusion: The Politics of Social Inclusion. In J. Dodd, & R. Sandall (Eds.), Including Museums: Perspectives on Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion [Electronic Version] (pp. 3 - 7). Leicester: Research Centre for Museums and Galleries.