The hegemonic ambiguity of big concepts in organization studies

Mats Alvesson, Martin Blom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (SciVal)


The use of concepts is a vital part of the research process. Many researchers overexploit popular concepts by adding more and more vague and poorly defined meanings to them, thereby making their boundaries unclear and the concepts increasingly unwieldy. We will refer to these types of concepts as hembigs – an acronym for hegemonic, ambiguous, big concepts. The article demonstrates the problem in three domains: leadership, strategy and institution. It suggests ways to mitigate the problems with dominant scientific concepts, overloaded with more or less incoherent meanings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-86
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number1
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers who have helped us to significantly improve the article during the review process, as well as Yiannis Gabriel, Tony Huzzard, Dan Kärreman, Mikael Lundgren and Cyrille Sardais who have all read and commented on earlier versions of the article. The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article: Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Research Foundation MMW 2016.0097


  • institutional theory
  • leadership
  • method
  • organization studies
  • reflexivity
  • strategy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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