This paper uses psychoanalytic ideas to develop a theory of organizational miasma, a concept that describes a contagious state of pollution – material, psychological and spiritual – that afflicts all who work in certain organizations that undergo sudden and traumatic transformations. Miasma is offered not as another organizational metaphor, a prism through which to view particular organizations. Instead, the author delineates the fundamental psychodynamics of organizational miasma as a theoretical concept that accounts for and explains numerous processes in these organizations. These include a paralysis of resistance, an experience of pollution and uncleanliness, and feelings of disgust, worthlessness and corruption. Miasma may occur in organizations that undergo a sudden transformation involving the discarding and loss of many of their valued members through downsizing or retrenchment, without either separation rituals or psychological mourning. The ‘old’ organization is frequently presented as corrupt, indulgent and inefficient, contrasted to the ‘new’ organization that is entrepreneurial, dynamic and flexible. Yet, for many surviving members, the new organization is tainted by the presence of ‘murderers’, i.e. managers who have initiated a series of dismissals and ‘corpses’, i.e. employees who have been dismissed or are about to be dismissed and ‘disappear’, once alive, now discarded. Miasma is seen as the result of a failed separation rite, one that instead of honouring loss, finitude and discontinuity in today’s organizations seeks to obliterate and repress it. In this sense, miasma represents a contemporary version of tragedy where attempts to offer cleansing end up by reinforcing it.
- organizational pathologies