The Organisation of Disappointment

  • Annette Clancy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The aim of this study is to explore the emotion of disappointment in organisations and to develop a new line of theorising inspired by psychodynamic theory. The current literature casts disappointment as a negative emotion undermining morale, depressing expectations and justifying inaction and inertia. This only captures part of the complexity of disappointment and leaves unexplored both its impact on the organisation and its potential creativity. The study presents a theoretical framework derived from research that depicts disappointment as unfolding in three positions; I am disappointing, I am disappointed and I disappoint. It asserts the importance of disappointment as an integrative emotion. The study identifies a contradiction: that at the same time as being seen as ‘of little concern’ to individuals, there is fear within organisations that disappointment will undermine stability and destroy positive feelings. The study shows how disappointment is connected to, and may help to transform, the dynamics of blame in organisations. Such transformation can be based on an ability to integrate failure and on a development of the relationship between disappointment and learning. Disappointment represents the loss of the fantasy of stability. When reconceptualised in this way, disappointment results in a reimagining of possibility. Fantasy and reality are brought into conscious awareness and tolerated rather than extruded. The imaginary ideal organisation can be seen for what it is: a fantasy that can never be realised. The imaginary ideal is mourned and replaced by a more realistic entity. Organisation members’ previous efforts to organise disappointment through blame, shame and extrusion is now recognised as a disappointing strategy. Understood thus, disappointment is at the very heart of organising as it invites consideration of the relationship between fantasy and reality. This differentiates it from other types of social defences which, by their nature defend against thinking and learning.
Date of Award25 May 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRuss Vince (Supervisor)


  • disappointment
  • emotion in organisation
  • psychoanalysis
  • creativity
  • learning

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