Sub-theme 35: Organizations and their Consumers: Bridging Production and Consumption

Yiannis Gabriel
University of Bath, UK
Marek Korczynski
Nottingham University, UK
Kerstin Rieder
Aalen University, Germany

Call for Papers

The last twenty years have seen a far-reaching reconfiguration of the characters that dominate organizations. For much of its life, the study of organizations was dominated by two central characters, the manager and the worker, whose relationship with all its conflicts and accommodations unfolded within a broader environment of markets, governments, shareholders, social institutions and so forth. In recent years, however, there has been a substantial movement to change the two-actor show into a three-actor show, the organizational dyad into a triad. The newcomer to the stage has been the consumer, a character whose desires and practices are no longer seen as 'impacting on' the activities of managers and workers from the outside but increasingly as defining them. At times the referee in the management-labour contest, the consumer is often called upon to take sides, declare winners and losers, and even define the rules of the game (e.g. du Gay, 1996; Gabriel, 2005; Korczynski et al., 2000; Sturdy et al., 2001).

Politics, identity, structure, culture and so forth can no longer be viewed from a perspective of the old fashioned tug-of-war of control, power, resistance and conflict between workers and bosses. Instead they are increasingly viewed through a lens that acknowledges the triadic nature of contemporary work and organization. The entry of the consumer as an important figure into the world of organizations has therefore not just complicated matters, by sometimes tipping the balance in unexpected and ambiguous ways. It has radically reshaped the nature of contemporary work, the more so as different parties of the triad are frequently found to swap masks and adopt each other's position. The worker is also employee as indeed is the manager. The manager becomes worker in her dealings with her superiors and customer in her relations with different departments within the same organization. The customer often reenters an organization as manager or worker.

Consumerism has now infiltrated most sectors of the economy including education, health, social and community care, catering, tourism, retail, finance, transport, professional services, computing and so forth, where large armies of employees are involved in 'front line work' – dealing with customers, servicing them, advising them, keeping them happy (Gabriel & Lang, 2006; Ritzer, 1999). Front line work makes different demands from manufacturing or back office work, emphasizing the importance of emotional labour, appearance and demeanour under pressure (Fineman & Sturdy, 1999; Hancock & Tyler, 2000; Warhurst et al., 2000). Finally, some of the work that was previously carried out by employees is now being outsourced to the customer (Rieder & Voß, 2010), giving rise to the working customer.

Consumerism has now entered many organizational discourses. We invite contributions that will seek to bridge divisions between organizational theory and marketing, consumer studies and the sociology of work, cultural studies and studies of organizational culture. In particular, we welcome papers that develop the following areas of scholarship:

  • The implications of the move towards a triad of key actors for organizational theorizing
  • Organizations as customer-focused entities
  • Outsourcing to the consumers and their exploitation
  • Consumer resistance and workplace resistance
  • Identities shaped and contested at the interface of production and consumption
  • Gender and sexuality in customer-focused organizations
  • Organizational consumption
  • The service interface between employee and consumer
  • Narratives bringing together the worker, the manager and the consumer
  • Emotional work, body work, and aesthetic labour
  • Consumer freedom, customer choice and their effects on organizations
  • The integration of customers into the organization and its impact on their private lives
  • Careers, psychological contracts and quality of working life under global consumer capitalism
  • Cross-cultural and postcolonial politics under global consumer capitalism



du Gay, Paul (1996): Consumption and Identity at Work. London: Sage.
Fineman, Stephen & Andrew Sturdy (1999). 'The emotions of control: A qualitative exploration of environmental regulation.' Human Relations, 52 (5), 631–663.
Gabriel, Yiannis (2005): 'Glass cages and glass palaces: Images of organizations in image-conscious times.' Organization, 12 (1), 9–27.
Gabriel, Yiannis & Tim Lang (2006): The Unmanageable Consumer. London: Sage.
Hancock, Philip & Melissa Tyler (2000): '"The look of love": Gender and the organization of aesthetics.' In: J. Hassard, R. Holliday & H. Willmott (eds.): Body and Organization. London: Sage.
Korczynski, Marek, K. Shire, S. Frenkel & M. Tam (2000): 'Service work and consumer capitalism.' Work, Employment and Society, 14 (4), 669–687.
Rieder, Kerstin & Günter Voß (2010): 'The working customer – an emerging new type of consumer.' Psychology of Everyday Activity, 3 (2), 2–10.
Ritzer, George (1999): Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Sturdy, Andrew, Irena Grugulis & Hugh Willmott (eds.). (2001): Customer Service: Empowerment and Entrapment. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Warhurst, C., D. Nickson, A. Witz & A.M. Cullen (2000): 'Aesthetic labour in interactive service work: Some case study evidence from the "new" Glasgow.' Service Industries Journal, 20 (3), 1–18.


Yiannis Gabriel is Professor of Organizational Theory at Bath University, UK. Yiannis is known for his work into organizational storytelling and narratives, leadership, management learning, psychoanalytic studies of work, and the culture and politics of contemporary consumption. He is Senior Editor of 'Organization Studies' and has been Editor of 'Management Learning' and Associate Editor of 'Human Relations'.
Marek Korczynski is Professor of Sociology of Work at Nottingham University, UK. He received his PhD from Warwick University. He has been a Visiting Professor at Karlstad University, Sweden. His research focuses upon the sociology of service work, social theory and work, ethnographic studies of the workplace, and music and work.
Kerstin Rieder is Professor for Health Sciences and Social Sciences at Aalen University, Department Health Care Management, Germany. Prior to this she was a professor at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. Her research focuses on the psychology and sociology of interactive service work, occupational health and the working customer.