Sub-theme 09: (SWG) The Beautiful and the Ugly in Art, Design and Organization

Steven Scott Taylor
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA
Niina Koivunen
University of Vaasa & Turku School of Economics, Finland
Grete Wennes
Trondheim Business School, Norway

Call for Papers

Much of organizational studies implicitly assume that the appropriate criteria for judging organizations are efficiency and effectiveness, whether that is in the interest of greater shareholder value or even the interests of employee liberation. However, art and design suggest another criteria for judgment: aesthetics. Designers seek to create things that not only work efficiently and effectively, but also are beautiful. Judging by the success of Apple (and their desire to make things that are beautiful), this may be somewhat important in today’s world. Indeed, as Taylor (2013: 79) says:

Although there is nothing wrong with being efficient and effective, it is a low bar to aim for. Beauty is a good in itself (Hanfling, 1992), whereas efficiency and effectiveness are generally thought of as a means to achieve an end (such as optimizing the use of scarce resources). If we are to advance management practice, we need to question the assumption (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2011) that the goal should be instrumental efficiency and effectiveness and aim higher, to aim for beauty.

Of course, it is not only physical products that can be judged on aesthetic grounds. Although modern organizations may be characterized by "an absence of beauty" (Ottensmeyer, 1996: 189), and even an absence of felt aesthetic experience (Carter & Jackson, 2000; Taylor, 2002) it is possible to find and research beautiful action (e.g. Taylor, 2013). And the beautiful (Ramirez, 1991) and the ugly are only two of many possible aesthetic categories (Strati, 1992), such as the disgusting (Pelzer, 2002) and the sublime (Ladkin, 2006) that we might want to consider.

Possible themes are (but are not restricted to):

  • Case studies of the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the grotesque, the elegant (and other aesthetic categories) in organizations
  • The embodied experience of different aesthetic categories
  • The relational experience of different aesthetic categories
  • Methodological issues in researching aesthetic experience, e.g. how do we collect and represent it, and how do we assess quality
  • Philosophic groundings of aesthetic categories (e.g. how the sublime is different from the beautiful (e.g. Ladkin, 2006, vs. Ladkin, 2008) and why that is important for organizations
  • Aesthetic categories and organizational phenomena, e.g. beautiful leadership, grotesque strategy, elegant structure, comic marketing, ugly decision-making




  • Carter, P., & Jackson, N. (2000): "An-aesthetics." In: S. Linstead & H. Hopfl (eds.): The Aesthetics of Organization. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 180–196.
  • Ladkin, D. (2006): "The enchantment of the charismatic leader: Charisma reconsidered as aesthetic encounter." Leadership, 2 (2), 165–179.
  • Ladkin, D. (2008): "Leading beautifully: How mastery, congruence and purpose create the aesthetic of embodied leadership practice." Leadership Quarterly, 19, 31–41.
  • Ottensmeyer, E.J. (1996): "Too strong to stop, too sweet to lose: Aesthetics as a way to know organizations." Organization, 3 (2), 189–194.
  • Pelzer, P. (2002): "Disgust and organization." Human Relations, 55 (7), 841–860.
  • Ramirez, R. (1991): The Beauty of Social Organization. Munich: Accedo.
  • Strati, A. (1992): "Aesthetic understanding of organizational life." Academy of Management Review, 17 (3), 568–581.
  • Taylor, S.S. (2002): "Overcoming aesthetic muteness: Researching organizational members' aesthetic experience." Human Relations, 55 (7), 821–840.
  • Taylor, S.S. (2013): "Little beauties: Aesthetics, craft skill, and the experience of beautiful action." Journal of Management Inquiry, 22 (1), 69–81.


Steven Scott Taylor is an Associate Professor of Organizational Studies at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA. His research has been published in scholarly journals such as 'Organization Studies', 'Leadership Quarterly', 'Leadership', 'Academy of Management Learning and Education', and 'Journal of Management Studies'. Taylor is the author of "Leadership Craft, Leadership Art" and is the founding editor of the journal 'Organizational Aesthetics'.
Niina Koivunen is an Associate Professor at the University of Vaasa and Docent at Turku School of Economics, Finland. Her research focuses on artistic productions, relational approaches to leadership, ways of organizing collective expertise, and the discourse of creative economy. She has mainly worked on discursive, aesthetic and ethnographic research approaches and published in journals such as 'Scandinavian Journal of Management', 'Leadership', 'Aesthesis' and 'Journal of Management and Organization'.
Grete Wennes is a Professor at the Trondheim Business School, Norway. Her major research interests are in leadership in the arts, leadership and emotions, leadership and knowledge and relational leadership. She has published in journals such as 'Leadership', 'International Review of Entrepreneurship', 'International Journal of Public Sector Management', 'International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion' and 'Nordiske organisasjonsstudier'. She is author and editor of several books in Norwegian.