The Triumph of Emptiness: Consumption, Higher Education, and Work Organization

ISBN : 9780198708803

Mats Alvesson
256 Pages
164 x 234 mm
Pub date
Aug 2014
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In this book, Mats Alvesson aims to demystify some popular and upbeat claims about a range of phenomena, including the knowledge society, consumption, branding, higher education, organizational change, professionalization, and leadership. He contends that a culture of grandiosity is leading to numerous inflated claims. We no longer talk about plans but 'strategies'. Supervisors have been replaced by 'managers', managers are referred to as executives. Management is about 'leadership'. Giving advice is 'coaching'. Companies become 'knowledge-intensive firms'. The book views the contemporary economy as an economy of persuasion, where firms and other institutions increasingly assign talent, energy, and resources to rhetoric, image, branding, reputation, and visibility. Using a wide range of empirical examples to illuminate the realms of consumption, higher education, organization, and leadership, this provocative and engaging book challenges established assumptions and contributes to a critical understanding of society as a whole.


1. Introduction - Zero-Sum Games, Grandiosity, and Illusion Tricks
2. Consumption - the Shortcomings of Affluence
3. Explaining the Consumption Paradox: Why aren't People (More) Satisfied?
4. Higher Education - Triumph of the Knowledge Intensive Society or a Statistical Cosmetics Project?
5. Higher Education - an Image-Boosting Business?
6. Modern Working Life and Organizations - Change, Dynamism, and Post-Bureaucracy?
7. Organizational Structures on the Beauty Parade: Imitation and Shop-Window Dressing
8. A Place in the Sun - Occupational Groups' Professionalization Projects and Other Status and Influence Ambitions
9. Leadership - A Driving Force or Empty Talk
10. The Triumph of Imagology - A Paradise for Tricksters?
11. The Costs of Grandiosity

About the author: 

Mats Alvesson is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Lund, Sweden and at University of Queensland Business School, Australia. Recent books include Qualitative Research and Theory Development (Sage 2011, with Dan Karreman), Interpreting Interviews (Sage 2011), Metaphor we Lead By: Understanding Leadership in the Real World (Routledge 2011, ed with Andre Spicer), The Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies (Oxford University Press, edited with Todd Bridgman and Hugh Willmott), Understanding Gender and Organizations (Sage, 2009, 2nd ed, with Yvonne Billing), Reflexive Methodology (Sage, 2009, 2nd ed, with Kaj Skoldberg), Changing Organizational Culture (Routledge 2008, with Stefan Sveningsson), Knowledge Work and Knowledge-Intensive Firms (Oxford University Press, 2004).

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