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The Triumph Of Emptiness. Grandiosity and Zero-Sum Games in Contemporary Organizations and Society

Research Cluster

Speaker:Professor Mats Alvesson, Lund University
Date: Monday 9 June 2014
Time: 16:00
Location: Bateman Lecture Theatre, Building One

Further details

In the West, and increasingly globally, there are moves into the age of grandiosity. The mundane and trivial are, whenever possible, being transformed into something much more aesthetic and appealing. Value is seemingly increased or enhanced with minimal cost – just through adding a more desirable label or image. There is a boosting of claims of progress, achievements and extraordinary qualities of individuals, occupations, organizations and societies. This has frequently less to do with substance – ’real’ improvements or practices/material reality living up to fantastic claims are rare. Contemporary grandiosity is not like older forms, intended to celebrate elite superiority and easily identified as symbolism enhancing, but is more subtle and is intended to conceal through claims to illuminate the truth. There is a symbolic pollution of the world through the extensive production and distribution of images loosely connected to, or contradicted by, material reality – a reality becoming more and more ambiguous. The advanced contemporary economy can be seen as an economy of persuasion. Firms and other institutions are increasingly focusing on rhetoric, image, branding, reputation, visibility. In wealthy countries and for elite groups, the production of goods and services becomes less of a crucial issue compared to the management of demands and expectations. A steadily increasing amount of talent, energy and resources are devoted to persuasion. More and more people become 'imagologists'. Grandiosity produces experiences of a pedagogical, aesthetic and uplifting world, but the costs are high: behind the pink and gold, the grey and sometimes black flourishes. Imperfect reality reminds us about the superficiality of inflated titles, CV's, higher education, branding investments and other forms of image management. Organizations and other institutions and those supposed to benefit from them suffer when window dressing take upper hand over substance. People’s experiences - increasingly fluctuate between grandiosity and emptiness - something that reinforce narcissism. The talk is based on Alvesson: “The triumph of emptiness. Consumption, higher education and work organization” (2013), Oxford University Press. The book was selected as a ‘book of the year’ by Joanna Williams, from the University of Kent, in the Times Higher Education Dec- 2013. A ‘big-picture’ assessment of the substantial and the ephemeral in modern organisations. Mats Alvesson is one of the world’s most quoted authorities on organisational change, leadership and culture.