‘Is it worth doing this or is it better to commit suicide?’: On ethical clearance at a university

Mats Alvesson, Anna Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article examines the formal process of ‘ethical clearance’ for social science research at a large university and illuminates how it functions to undermine its stated purpose. We find that rather than promoting ethical standards, the bureaucratic process creates negative and cynical attitudes and game playing. For almost all participants, the entire procedure is counterproductive and experienced as absurd, creating a boomerang effect. The findings reveal how a specific rationalization effort leads to widespread experiences of irrationality, where detailed and strict organization merges with experiences of the bizarre. The article develops concepts capturing the experience and resulting organizational type: ‘orbizzarization’ and ‘absurdocracy’. These concepts enrich our understanding of toxic/irrational organizations, including Kafkaesque organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalHuman Relations
Early online date11 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 May 2024


  • absurd
  • bureaucracy
  • ethical regulation
  • Kafkaesque
  • research ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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