The language of business and the business of language: Exploring hegemonic linguistic performativity in the UK museum sector

Jeremy Aroles*, John Hassard, Paula Hyde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Austerity measures and neoliberal policies have deeply affected the UK cultural sector. In particular they have been central to cementing the idea that contemporary cultural institutions should henceforth be regarded as commercial operations. As the language of business and management (B&M language) increasingly frames how organisations of the cultural sector are described, this paper defines the main discursive practices motivating this performative repositioning. Drawing theoretically from the concept of performativity, and building empirically on in-depth interviews with senior staff across the UK museum sector, we argue that the incursion of B&M language has reshaped the ‘reality’ of the sector by materialising new relations. Signally, we advance a concept of performative hegemonic language to describe a range of manifestations of linguistic re-labelling in the world of the museum. Our paper illustrates what happens when an organisation starts to classify activities through B&M language, considering the implications of framing this etymology as transcendent to its cultural counterpart. Relabelling, we contend, re-orients meaning, and this translates into the ascent of what we call the ‘neoliberal museum’. Overall, our paper unpacks the linguistic-material processes underpinning the ideological transformations affecting the cultural sector.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This investigation was supported by two research awards from the Alliance Manchester Business School.

© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Hegemony
  • JL Austin
  • museums
  • neoliberalism
  • organising
  • performativity

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