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Narrating The Body Shop: A story about corporate identity

The narrative turn in organisation studies locates organisations as authors of their own identities. Organisations in all sectors are talking about values, engaging in ongoing conversations with the larger society and telling their story to multiple audiences in their never-ending construction of meaning. Today, modern organisations are entwined in a constant struggle to remain distinctive from their competitors and articulate their identities in the marketplace of discourse and images. While some organisations work to personalise their identities through visible characters, others position themselves in terms of values such as environmental awareness and social responsibility. The purpose of this research was to examine how the identity of The Body Shop has been expressed and transformed through an ongoing corporate narrative of which the founder, Anita Roddick, has been the primary storyteller. Specifically, the thesis examined the relationship between the founder’s (charismatic) leadership and the organisation’s identity in a value-driven company. Within this context, the founder’s narrative, as well as supporting and competing narratives by other characters, were crucial to understanding the development of a corporate identity so closely tied to the values, goals and identity of a person. In this study, narrative is treated as a perspective on human communication that emphasises the story as more than merely an artefact of language but as a dominant mode of appeal and influence. In relation to the ‘narratives’ examined in this thesis, I adopt Czarniawska’s (1995) use of the term to refer to a sequential account of events, usually chronologically, whereby sequentiality indicates some kind of causality, and action-accounted for in terms of intentions and deeds and consequences and is commonly given a central place. From an organisational communication perspective, stories reinforce the development of identity and create meaning for the organisation. In this way, organisational identity has a narrative character that persists - usually through the leader or founder's ability to narrate the organisation's life. The analysis of organisational stories thus serves to provide a better understanding of the influence of individuals in the construction and management of corporate identity. Data for this chronological case study consisted of narratives which were collected through extensive documentary analysis and an-depth interview with Anita Roddick and the two New Zealand Body Shop Directors. The narrative analysis then progressed through three distinct levels, beginning with a thematic analysis and moving ultimately to a critical-interpretive approach that drew especially on concepts from rhetorical criticism and critical discourse analysis. The findings from this research highlighted the influence of Roddick's personal identity and values on the identity of The Body Shop, which resulted in the organisation personifying its founder. The unity and uniqueness of The Body Shop's identity was achieved through the process of narrativity as Roddick conceived her own, as well as The Body Shop's existence, as a special story. In the early years of The Body Shop's history, Roddick linked her own personal identity to the corporate identity of The Body Shop through the retrospective narrative construction of the self in autobiography and other Body Shop texts. Roddick used her first autobiography, Body and soul, in 1991, to document the organisation's evolution, and to connect the past to the present. This idea of the Self as socially constructed – in interactions between individuals within the social worlds relevant to them – is exemplified through Roddick's storied reactions to those who questioned the authenticity of The Body Shop's identity. Roddick's (2000a) second autobiography, Business as unusual, saw Roddick reinvent both her personal and organisational identity against alternative plots, augmenting the existing epic as constructed by Roddick in Body and soul. Her discursive strategy involved reconstructing the original characteristics that set The Body Shop apart from the others and revisiting her original stories which negotiated boundaries for, and with, the rest of the business community. In 1998, traces of a more conventional business discourse found its way into The Body Shop narrative, augmented with the arrival of a new management team. Consequently, several authorised and unauthorised versions of the corporate story coexisted at The Body Shop, all of them struggling for dominance and recognition. More recent Body Shop narratives actually expose a significant fracture in the relationship between individual and organisational identity, signalling the end of the founder's era. In fact, the irony only confirms the linkage of individual and organisational identity in that as Roddick distanced herself from The Body Shop, the organisation no longer spoke through her voice. Roddick's conversations with the larger community no longer served to affirm the identity of The Body Shop but her own. What was once one, unified identity (‘Anita Roddick of The Body Shop’) became two distinctly separate identities (‘Anita Roddick and The Body Shop’).
Type of thesis
Grant, S. (2004). Narrating The Body Shop: A story about corporate identity (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8811
University of Waikato
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