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Dark Organisational Theory

Prof. Steve Brown
University of Leicester, School of Management
Monday, November 23, 2015 - 16:00
LSRI, B35a Exchange


In China Mievelle’s The City and The City, there are two cities that are topographically on the same site, yet exist as two very different and distinct places. Inhabitants of each city have to carefully ‘unsee’ the other in order not to ‘breach’ the boundaries between places. This dynamic resonates with the broader gestalt of the modern settlement which Bruno Latour has described at great length – here: systems and dualisms, there: networks and relations. Foregrounding one side of the settlement requires the backgrounding of the other. In this paper I want to explore Michel Serres’ idea of the ‘dark side of the system’. This is not simply the switch from one side to the other, but rather the shadow spaces of the boundaries between the two. This is a space of interceptions and interruptions, dominated by the logic of parasitism rather than production. A key operation in this liminal ‘breach’ space is that of detachment or breaking relations, running contra to the notion of relentless expansion and networking which dominates both sides. These are moments where parasitism is suspended, creating what Serres calls ‘white spaces’ of multiplicity. We might think of them as ‘overdetermined’ points where the co-existence of systems and networks at precisely the same place becomes visible, leading to an apparent breakdown or sclerosis. Yet it is these moments, for Serres, where something new comes into the world. What kind of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ would then be required to perceive the breach space of organizations? What would be the conceptual and practical elements of a corresponding ‘dark organizational theory’? I will illustrate and elaborate on these reflections with empirical material drawn from a study of the spatial design and practices of a medium-secure forensic psychiatric unit.


Steve Brown is Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at the University of Leicester. His research interests are around social remembering within ‘vulnerable’ groups, the affective dimensions of organization, and the intersection of process philosophy with social science. He is the author of Vital Memory & Affect: Living With a Difficult Past (2015, Routledge, with Paula Reavey); Psychology Without Foundations: Philosophy, History and Psychosocial Theory (Sage, 2009, with Paul Stenner) and The Social Psychology of Experience: Studies in Remembering and Forgetting (Sage, 2005, with David Middleton).

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