some of us are brave
Here’s an interesting one from orgtheory via Katherine Chen’s work on organizations and charisma. I find this line of questioning very interesting. As someone mentioned in the comments the succession of Apple post-Jobs exposed, for some, the limitations of personal charisma in necessary bureaucratic processes. But I also think further back to civil rights organizations and social movements that are so closely aligned with a leader’s personality that the death or transition of the leader often leads to the demise of the organization. I think organizations of marginalized people are particularly susceptible to this. When you lack institutional power the kind of power that emanates from individual power/agency is necessarily, well, individual. It can be effective but hard to turn into processes that have the requisite stability across time and space to respond substantially to structural oppression and marginalization. Structures are necessarily stable. If your movement is not, it is difficult to sustain change. I think about the hang-wringing among HBCU presidents post “Mays-ian” model or the identity crisis of the Black Panther movement post Seale and Newton. Can organizations be made charismatic with a powerful enough narrative? It’s the kind of thing I’d like to believe.
Guest blogger emeritus and burning lady Katherine Chen has a new article out in Qualitative Sociology on the issue of charisma in organizations: “Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization.” The idea is simple – story telling is a mechanism in organizations for sustaining interest:
Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the…
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