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Bullshit can serve a number of functions in organizations

NEW PAPER PUBLISHED: The paper "Bullshit and Organization Studies" is written by Misum´s (and CBS´s) Andreas Rasche together with Dan Kärreman and Lars Thoger Christensen from Copenhagen Business School, and published in Organization Studies.

Find and download the paper here or here.

What was your motivation for writing this paper?

I think the key motivation was that we simply see a lot bullshit in the context of contemporary organizations these days. Also, politics is full of it. Just think about President Trump. Bullshit is hard to avoid these days. We do not use the word in any disrespectful way. We refer to bullshit in order to be precise. For instance, bullshit is different from lying. The liar knows that s(he) is not telling the truth, while the bullshitter simply doesn’t care about the distinction true/false. Princeton Professor Harry Frankfurt once introduced this debate. Also, a lot of bullshit these days relates to a certain vagueness and emptiness of statements. Just think about the lofty CSR policy or the corporate culture one-pager. 

What was your most interesting finding?

The most interesting finding from my perspective was that bullshit can actually be productive. One may even claim that a certain level of bullshit is required to make organizations work. For instance, in the paper we develop the notion that bullshit allows organizations “to command without commands.” You often cannot tell people straight away what they have to do. In some cultures that would even be considered impolite. Bullshit offers a workaround – you can give people direction without being brutish. Just think about how performance appraisals work in some organizations. Once you look closer, bullshit can serve a number of functions in organizations, for instance it can also motivate. However, we are not naïve. We are aware that there are downsides too. Too much “of it” can actually make organizations dysfunctional. So, it is about the right dosage in the right context.   

What´s next?

The current paper is basically an attempt to explore the theoretical boundaries of the concept. This is needed in order to do further empirical research. I think it would be fantastic to further research how bullshit is produced in organizations and also how it is consumed. People are likely to react differently to it, and it is worth taking a closer look at this.

"Bullshit can actually be productive."
Andreas Rasche