The Unmanaged Organization: Stories, Fantasies and Subjectivity

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This paper argues that within every organization there is a terrain which is not and cannot be managed, in which people, both individually and in groups, can engage in unsupervised, spontaneous activity. This is referred to as the unmanaged organization, a kind of organizational dreamworld in which desires, anxieties and emotions find expressions in highly irrational construc tions. The chief force in this terrain is fantasy and its landmarks include stories, myths, jokes, gossip, nicknames, graffiti and cartoons. In the organizational dreamworld, emotions prevail over rationality and pleasure over reality. The paper argues that fantasy offers a third possibility to organizational members, which amounts to neither conformity nor rebellion, but to a grudging material acceptance accompanied by a symbolic refashioning of events and official stor ies. Far from being a marginal terrain, it is suggested that the unmanaged organisation is rich, multidimensional and the natural habitat of subjectivity. Four different modes of subjectivity are identified and discussed in connection with different types of organizational narratives: (1) the subject as hero; (2) the subject as heroic survivor; (3) the subject as victim; (4) the subject as object of love.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-501
Number of pages25
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 1995


  • Descriptors: control
  • dreams
  • management
  • myths
  • narrative
  • organizations
  • psychoanalysis
  • resistance
  • storytelling
  • symbolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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