Sub-theme 61: The Imperfection of Perfect Organizational Narratives

Adriana Wilner
Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EAESP), Brazil
Hamid Foroughi
University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Tania Pereira Christopoulos
Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Call for Papers

Mainstream organizational narratives pursue perfection, usually, with the aid of a public relations team. Considering the plasticity of narratives, professional storytellers select and connect the pieces of the plot eliminating germs and noises that would disrupt the desired idealized image of a perfect organization (Wilner et al., 2014). Storytelling can be viewed by a functionalist lens, as an impression management tool, but there is a long tradition of studies that consider the broad process of sensemaking, interpretation and resistance embedded in narratives, stories and storytelling, regardless the of the different definitions given to those terms. These approaches bring out the polysemic and imperfect nature of organizations.
This sub-theme calls for papers that look at the tension between perfect official narratives and polysemic and imperfect storytelling. We suggest three paths of research. Firstly, we encourage research into the emergence and suppression of hidden narratives opposing to the official one. Scholars such as Gabriel (2017), Czarniawska (2017) and Boje (2001) explore the dialectical relation between master dominant narratives and counter-narratives. While usually they are described in opposition to eachother, a counter-narrative can in time turn into a dominant narrative (Gabriel, 2017). We expect papers in this sub-theme contribute to further understanding the complex relationship between master and counter-narratives. When we look at counter-narratives, usually they look as perfect as dominant narratives. One challenge is to present textually the imperfect and interrupted pieces of narratives that may or may not turn into counter-narratives. We invite research that investigate the process beneath the pasteurized narratives, unveiling the fragmented, interrupted and imperfect side of narratives. One approach might investigate the dynamics of this dialectical relation by taking the antenarrative approach and investigating the living stories that precede and anticipate counter-narratives construction (e.g. Boje & Lundholt, 2018), for instance in response to organizational change (Vaara & Tienari, 2011). Another approach could be juxtaposing coherent and terse-stories, as Foroughi and Al-Amoudi (2019) do to analyse the micro-processes of collective forgetting producing silent memories and shifting power relations in organizations.
Secondly, researchers can go beyond the dichotomy narratives/counter-narratives and investigate the imperfect nature of organizations by looking at multiple fantasies that permeate organizations. This is captured in what Gabriel (1995) calls unmanaged organization, the unsurveilled terrain where people can express fantasies and emotions about organizations. When members of an organization start to believe in the official plot, they might lose touch with reality. More recently, Foroughi (2019) shows discordant fantasies of an organization shape the dynamics of multiple collective memories that build multiple identity narratives. Future research can examine how these fantasies are sustained by organizational hierarchies and the extent to which they can lead to frustrations when people do not cope with the perfect organizational model described in official narratives (Gabriel, 1997; Wilner et al., 2017a). Research can also look at the dysfunction effect of organisational fantasies, as Fotaki and Foroughi (n.d.) do in showing how the fantasy of “leaderness” hampers developing leaderful organisations.
Thirdly, we invite researchers to examine the impact of social media on the organizational narrative domain and the possibility of the formation of an idealized official image. It is easier nowadays for researchers to investigate narratives´ fragments left on social media in order to understand the imperfect character of organizations (Wilner et al., 2017a; Wilner et al., 2017b). Auvinen et al. (2019), for instance, show that organisational narratives in digital media allow external participants to interact with the official narrative and build their own “truths” about the organization, transforming what was a univocal narration to plurivocal narrations. We call for studies that investigate the narratives of social media looking at plurivocal narrations. Plurivocal narrratives can be viewed as a menace to the ideal narrative but also as a possibility to understand, transform and strengthen organizations. We invite studies that deal with both the positive and negative sides of unveiling multiple voices.
We welcome studies of the above in any area of management and organization studies (e.g. leadership, organization structures, strategy organizational change, external communication, media, sustainability and CSR practices) and remain open to the approaches that go beyond the three paths we suggest. Contributions, among other things, may focus upon the following questions:

  • How do official narratives build an image of a perfect organization?

  • How do media dialogue, spread or contest the official narrative?

  • How do employees and other stakeholders make sense of official narratives and experience organization as perfect and imperfect?

  • What is the role of social media narratives in building an image of perfection or giving voice to alternative views that shed light on noises taken from official plot?

  • How is it possible to deal with the challenges to transfer the richness of living oral stories, with their imperfect nature, to textuality?

  • How can researchers deal with the fragmented characteristic of narratives in social media in order to unveil living stories and explore the beauty of imperfection in organization narratives?



  • Auvinen, T., Sajasalo, P., Sintonen, T., Pekkala, K., Takala, T., & Luoma-aho, V. (2019): “Evolution of strategy narration and leadership work in the digital era.” Leadership, 15 (2), 205–225.
  • Boje, D., & Lundholt, M. (2018): “Understanding Organizational Narrative-Counter-narratives Dynamics: An overview of Communication Constitutes Organization (CCO) and Storytelling Organization Theory (SOT) approaches.” Communication & Language at Work, 5 (1), 18–29.
  • Boje, D.M. (2001): Narrative Methods for Organizational & Communication Research. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Czarniawska, B. (2017): “The Fate of Counter-Narratives: In Fiction and in Actual Organizations.” In: S. Frandsen, T. Kuhn & M.W. Lundholt (eds.): Counter-Narratives and Organization. London: Routledge, 195–207.
  • Foroughi, H. (2019): “Collective Memories as a Vehicle of Fantasy and Identification: Founding stories retold.” Organization Studies, 41 (10), 1347–1367.
  • Foroughi, H., & Al-Amoudi, I. (2019): “Collective Forgetting in a Changing Organization: When memories become unusable and uprooted.” Organization Studies, 41 (4), 449–470.
  • Fotaki, M., & Foroughi, H. (2021): “Extinction Rebellion: Green activism and the fantasy of leaderlessness in a decentralized movement.” Leadership, 0 first published online on April 27, 2021;
  • Gabriel, Y. (1995): “The Unmanaged Organization: Stories, Fantasies and Subjectivity.” Organization Studies, 16 (3), 477–501.
  • Gabriel, Y. (1997): “Meeting God: When Organizational Members Come Face to Face with the Supreme Leader.” Human Relations, 50 (4), 315–342.
  • Gabriel, Y. (2017): “Narrative Ecologies and the Role of Counter-Narratives: The Case of Nostalgic Stories and Conspiracy Theories.” In: S. Frandsen, T. Kuhn & M.W. Lundholt (eds.): Counter-Narratives and Organization. London: Routledge, 208–226.
  • Vaara, E., & Tienari, J. (2011): “On the Narrative Construction of Multinational Corporations: An Antenarrative Analysis of Legitimation and Resistance in a Cross-Border Merger.” Organization Science, 22 (2), 370–390.
  • Wilner, A., Christopoulos, T.P., & Alves, M.A. (2017a): Organizations without Chiefs: Narratives and Counter-Narratives of Totemic Leadership. Paper presented at the 33rd EGOS Colloquium 2017 (sub-theme 05). Copenhagen, July 6–8, 2017.
  • Wilner, A., Christopoulos, T.P., & Alves, M.A. (2017b): “The online unmanaged organization: control and resistance in a space with blurred boundaries.” Journal of Business Ethics, 141 (4), 677–691.
  • Wilner, A., Christopoulos, T.P., Alves, M.A., & Guimarães, P.C.V. (2014): “The death of Steve Jobs: How the media design fortune from misfortune.” Culture and Organization, 20 (5), 430–449.
Adriana Wilner is Lecturer in Scientific Writing and Assistant Editor at GV-executivo at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EAESP), Brazil. As a researcher in critical organization studies, she is specialized in discourse and narrative analysis. Adriana’s current research focuses on hidden narratives in social media and Internet.
Hamid Foroughi is Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom. He is interested in narrative processes underpinning organizations and organizing. Hamid’s current research focuses on examining how collective memories influence organizational behaviour.
Tania Pereira Christopoulos is Associate Professor in the post-graduation program in Sustainabilty and in the Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing at Universidade of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. Her current research focuses on critical organization studies about microfinance. Tania has also interest in narratives and discourse analysis.