Imagined Corporate Communities: Historical Sources and Discourses

Corporations can be conceptualized as imagined communities, in which a sense of community is created through textual media rather than face-to-face communication. Historically the press, and newspapers in particular, provided texts through which nations could be imagined as communities. By analogy, historically company magazines can be seen as texts in which corporations were imagined as communities of employees. Company magazines were ubiquitous in large corporations by the second half of the twentieth century, and many continue in print or online. Three enduring discourses of ‘imagined corporate communities’ are identified from a sample of company magazines from four UK organizations for 1955, 1985 and 2005 – Royal Mail, Cadbury, the BBC and HSBC (formerly Midland Bank) – as well as periodicals for the professional bodies of magazine editors. These discourses explain the perceived role of company magazines and can be described as: ‘esprit de corps’, in which the corporation is imagined as an extended family, public school or tightly knit military unit with its own distinctive spirit; ‘brand community’, where the magazine's readers are imagined as ambassadors for the brand along with consumers; and ‘democratic polity’, where employees are seen as citizens and the magazine represents an independent voice holding management to account.