Leadership without 'the led': A case study of the South Wales Valleys

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This paper aims to disrupt assumptions about leadership by arguing those who are ostensibly ‘followers’ may be utterly insouciant towards the existence of people categorised as ‘leaders’. It contributes to anti-leadership theories.
This article uses an immersive, highly reflexive methodology to explore subjective meanings of leadership at community levels ostensibly governed by local government leaders. It uses a case study of the South Wales Valleys, one of the hubs of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century but now economically deprived.
Through drawing on their rich and complex history, I show how in these communities there is a culture of neo-communitarianism that is anti-leadership and suspicious of attempts to establish hierarchies of superior over inferior. I explore the complex webs of meaning through which ancient experiences reverberate like dead metaphors, informing contemporary understandings without conscious awareness of such a heritage. This is a history in which ‘leaders’ betrayed or oppressed and exploited the population, which in response turned against hierarchies and evolved practices of self-government that continue today, invisible and unrepresentable within the wider culture.
The article demonstrates how emerging forms of qualitative research give insights into communities that undermine dominant, universalising theories of leadership, followership and government more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-246
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Leadership in Public Services
Issue number3
Early online date15 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2021


  • Wales; leadership; anti-leadership; followership; anti-followership; memory work, auto-ethnography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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