Dancing Together Alone: Inconsistencies and Contradictions of Strategic Communication in Swedish Universities

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Hörsal 2, Ekonomikum, Kyrkogårdsgatan 10, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Lövgren, Daniel
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Institutionen för informatik och media
  • Kontaktperson: Lövgren, Daniel
  • Disputation


Organizations increasingly use communication as a strategic function to maneuver in a challenging, complex, and demanding social landscape. Based on assumptions of centralized control and planning, the strategic communication concept aims for coordination and consistency of communication. Implied is a view of actors as intentional, rational, and deliberate decision makers. Such a conventional view on strategic communication, however, cannot satisfactorily explain the underlying characteristics of communication practices in contemporary organizations. Nor does it explain how organizational members in their everyday work interpret and relate to such practices.

This thesis adopts neo-institutional theory and the translation approach to study how strategic communication operates along an institutionalized recipe for communication that through various translations is reformulated to fit local organizational contexts and preferences of the people occupying these contexts. To illustrate the process of both following and adapting the institutionalized recipe of strategic communication, qualitative and quantitative material on the role of social media in sixteen Swedish universities are examined. The material is generated and gathered through an ethnographically inspired approach and includes: interviews, a six-month observation period, the study of documents, and a content analysis of Vice-Chancellor blogs.

The findings show that work with social media is pervaded with inconsistencies and contradictions, but simultaneously relating to a shared recipe for communication. Shared elements for communication at the universities include the purposes for communication, notion of one university and integration. However, in translations people rely on local organizational conditions, personal values, ambitions, and experiences. This produces tensions between: control and independence, centralization and decentralization, and one voice and multiple voices. The findings suggest that translations differ across universities and between communicators on different levels, some being more “true” to the recipe than others. Thus, differences are inevitable, underscoring the issues of managing and controlling communication in the conventional approach of strategic communication. As a result, the empirical and theoretical concept of strategic communication benefits from acknowledging its social embeddedness and local recontextualization.

Strategic communication is like dancing to music. Everyone hears the music, but the dance varies with each dancer ́s experiences, ambitions, and opportunities.