routine charisma in organizations

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 boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.

More on Katherine’s Burning Man project can be read here – and buy her book!

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Written by fabiorojas

June 30, 2012 at 12:03 am

Posted in culture, fabio, leadership

4 Responses

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  1. It seems to me that Katherine Chen’s research has implications for a past OrgTheory topic of interest: whether Apple can keep its mojo now that Steve Jobs is gone



    June 30, 2012 at 12:49 am

  2. If you are one of those post-literate types who prefer to hear their papers rather than read them, you can download a podcast of Katherine’s talk on this paper at the ICOS website here:
    Perfect for your next 90-minute flight.



    June 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm

  3. I thought the same thing re: Apple post-Jobs upon reading the headline, Andy. It’s a common concern with organizations, of any type, that are so closely aligned with the personality of a leader. I think of civil rights orgs, for example.



    June 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm

  4. Reblogged this on tressiemc and commented:
    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.



    June 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm

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