Sub-theme 46: Organizing the Uncanny: Rethinking the Uncomfortably Familiar in Organization Studies

Martin Parker
University of Leicester, UK
Simon Kelly
University of Bradford, UK
Kathleen Riach
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Call for Papers

'The strangeness of the uncanny, a flickering moment of embroilment in the experience of something at once strange and familiar. Uncanniness entails a sense of uncertainty and suspense, however momentary and unstable.'

Nicholas Royle: The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press 2003, p. vii

This call is an invitation to consider the incidence, role or negotiation of the uncanny in the production of contemporary forms of organizing. While the 21st century organizational landscape can be characterised by destabilisation, uncertainty, and disturbance, the existence of organization seeks to protect us from the unfamiliar, the strange and the potentially harmful. This is often through strategies which serve to defer or repress mortality, madness, sexuality and similar forces thought to threaten our 'ontological security'. Yet it is this need to sequester, edit, marginalise, and negate that should draw our attention to the presence of the other in organizational life; to those aspects of organization that are abject, out of place, abnormal, monstrous and supernatural.

What makes the uncanny worthy of special attention is its ability to do more than simply frighten us. Traditional organization theory is built upon an eradication of such superstitious and subjective phenomenon by providing an understanding of organization as made up of rational systems, structures, and mindful human actors. Yet there is much in the world to fear and organizational life is no different. However, to experience the uncanny is not simply to experience fear, terror, or anxiety brought about by the unknown other. For the uncanny, or the unheimlich (meaning 'unhomely'), is an experience of that which is horribly familiar; something once intimate now strange, hostile, and eerie. Following these potent themes introduced by Freud, this sub-theme asks whether organization as process, act, place, space, or academic discipline can also be thought of as a potential site of uncanniness. Indeed, far from being spaces of rational behaviour, the lived experience of organizational life may be characterised by superstition, stories, urban myths, ambiguity, metamorphosis, inanimate objects that appear to come to life, and the ever present possibility of disorganization. Such accounts might not only provide us with an insight into the complexities of modern day organizing, but also how organization may play an important role in repressing and containing the uncanny so the façade of normality, the ordinary and everyday might be managed and maintained.

We welcome theoretical and empirical investigations attending to issues surrounding, but not limited to, the following uncanny organizational themes:

  • The relationship between the uncanny and formally articulated processes and practices surrounding organizational life.
  • Tensions in reimagining the uncomfortably familiar and how organizations might be mediated or supported through a relationship with the uncanny.
  • Unsettling experiences of the organizational double or doppelganger, déjà vu, and the return of what is repressed in organization theory and organizational practices.
  • Organizational manifestations of the uncanny such as experiences, stories and myths surrounding hauntings, the ghostly, and the place of the paranormal in working life.
  • Working with the uncanny: psychics, modern day spiritualism and paranormal tourism.
  • The emotional, psychological or psychosocial dynamics surrounding the uncanny as an experience of organizational life.
  • The relevance of multidisciplinary approaches to the uncanny for organizational analysis, including literature, robotics or cybernetics, the visual arts and performance, and cultural studies.
  • The uncanny as a theme or motif in popular cultural representations of organizations and organizational life.


Martin Parker is Professor of Organization and Culture at the University of Leicester School of Management, UK. He has authored more than 100 articles, books and edited collections on a variety of topics ranging from alternative organizations to popular culture. He was joint Editor-in-Chief of the journal 'Organization: The Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society' (SAGE Publications) from 2008–2012.
Simon Kelly is Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour at the Bradford University School of Management, UK. His research interests include the critical analysis of leadership and the application of post-structuralism and interpretive sociology for the study of everyday organization and management practice. Simon is a member of the editorial board for the journal 'Human Relations' and his work has been published in journals including 'Journal of Management Education' and 'Leadership'.
Kathleen Riach is Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Monash University, Australia. Her research, which has been published in journals including 'Human Relations', 'Sociology' and 'Urban Studies', focuses on exploring the unspoken and affective dimensions of organizational life, such as ageing, and the role of the senses (specifically, smell and sound).