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with Culture and Organization

Deadline: 1 February 2020

Ghosts in the organization

Following on from SCOS 2019 in York, UK, we welcome submissions to a Special Issue of Culture and Organization on the subject of ‘Ghosts in the organization’. Critical scholars are often driven by the feeling that in organizations more is occurring just out of sight, at the corner of our eye and veiled behind the surface. Are we being haunted (Blackman 2015; Vaaben and Bjerg 2019)? These ghosts, of the past, present and future, make sudden and sometimes unwelcome appearances. They push us to look beyond the rational explanations of organizations to search for emotive, affective and aesthetic sensory experiences. They play on the spiritual, although not simply in a religious sense, but also as a form of enchantment, wonder and imagination which persists in modern life (Bennett 2001). Ghosts haunt us, frighten us and present us with those cracks where the abject seeps in, where the uncanny arises.

For this special issue, we ask scholars to consider their organizational ghosts: dark or light, fleeting or repetitive, veiled or heavily signaled. Scholars could explore a hauntology of organizing, embodied in the ‘traces, fragments, fleeting moments, gaps, absences, submerged narratives, and displaced actors and agencies that register affectively’ (Blackman 2015, 26) and entangled in “a ghostly sense of dis/continuity” (Barad 2010, 240). We also welcome accounts of those organizational ghosts which bring light or open up fresh possibilities to us, through drawing on the past or showing the future, as seen in the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Ghosts may be ambivalent; others bring caution or even madness. Some appear fully formed, as the embodied walking dead; while others are disembodied and take substance through our neurosis (Gilman 1892). 

Culture and Organization readers and members of the SCOS community have already encountered ghosts (see Beyes and Steyaert, 2013; De Cock et al. 2013; MacAulay et al. 2010; Muhr and Salem 2013; Pors 2016). Ghosts exist in organizational metaphors and symbols: we discuss ghosts in the machine in technology studies; in traces and impressions of corruption; in spirituality, superstition, intuition and gut feelings in decision making; and of invisibility and powerlessness when Othered (especially in relation to gender, sexuality and race among other identities – see for example Baxter and Hughes 2004; Baxter and Ritchie 2013; Christensen and Muhr 2019; Kociatkiewicz and Kostera 2019). However, we want to extend these debates to the way in which organizations, in their processes, practices, materiality and temporality, are haunted by ghostly matters (Gordon 1997) and are part of the organization of the ghostly. Haunting provides instances where repressed violence emerges, those ‘singular yet repetitive instances where home becomes unfamiliar, where your bearings on the world lose direction, where the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what's in your blind spot comes into view’ (Gordon 1997, xvi). The reappearance of ghosts may create associations and patterns of affect through their ghostly traces that could have rhythmic qualities of repetition and difference (Lefebvre 2004). Scholars could consider performing a rhythmanalysis of ghostly matters, or another methodological approach to trace the imprints and effects of ghosts on organizational processes, practices and people.

Equally, ghostliness is tied to space, ambiance and atmosphere, ‘a surrounding influence which does not quite generate its own form’ (Ahmed 2010, 40) but where we still 'pick up' feelings. Ghosts permeate our collective memory of buildings and locations as places and spaces become known as haunted. These memories can shape and undermine us, much as in the novel where the deceased Rebecca undermined the second Mrs. de Winter through her 'presence' (du Maurier 1938). The context in which we remember ghosts impacts us and our impression of the ghost, such as Manderley and Rebecca. Cultural references to ghosts and organization permeate our collective understandings: from to ghostly themes in books, films and social media to the pseudoscience of ghost hunting, ghost tours, and haunted houses. Annual festivals like Hallowe’en offer opportunities, or even the obligation, for consumers to play with their identities in adopting personas, while consuming vast amounts of sweets and food, costumes, decorations and party items. These apparitions bring together our material understanding of the world with the imaginary. How can we speak with these ghosts, hauntings and ghostly spaces? As researchers how do we engage with them?

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Lynne Baxter & Carolyn Hunter

University of York, UK

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This call encourages contributions that seek out these ghosts, to engage, explore and if needed, challenge them. Contributors may find inspiration in the following themes:

  • Identifying forms and practices of organizational ghosts, apparitions, superstitions, poltergeists, spirits, and souls
  • Shadows and imprints of organizational members, practices and places
  • The commercialization and sale of ghosts
  • Ghost stories and tales of haunted organizations, locations, cities, spaces and places
  • The effects of organizational deaths, necromancy, transfiguration, the resurrection of the socio-material for organizing
  • Haunting and hauntologies, especially focusing on methodologies for researching organizational ghosts
  • Ghosting in organizational relationships
  • The embodiment of organizational ghosts, as well as their materiality and virtuality
  • Ghosts in the organizational machine - technology, artificial intelligence
  • Organizational memories and organizational omens: shadows of the past, possibilities of the future

This list is intended to be indicative only. Innovative interpretations of the call are encouraged.  With its long tradition of interdisciplinary approaches, C&O invites papers that draw insights and approaches from across a range of social sciences and humanities.  In addition to scholars working in management and organization studies we welcome contributions from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies. We welcome papers from any disciplinary, paradigmatic or methodological perspective as long as they directly address the theme of ghosts and organizational life. 

Submission Guidelines

Please ensure that all submissions to the special issue are made via the ScholarOne Culture and Organization site. You will have to sign up for an account before you are able to submit a manuscript. Please ensure when you do submit that you select the relevant special issue (Volume 27, Issue 4, 2021) to direct your submission appropriately. If you experience any problems, please contact the editors of this issue.

Style and other instructions on manuscript preparation can be found on the journal’s Instructions for Authors. Manuscript length should not exceed 8000 words, including appendices and supporting materials. Please also be aware that any images used in your submission must be your own, or where they are not, you must already have permission to reproduce them in an academic journal. You should make this explicit in the submitted manuscript.

Manuscripts must be submitted by February 1st 2020.

Prospective authors are invited to discuss manuscript ideas for the special issue with the guest editors before the deadline for submissions. 

Discover more Routledge Organization Studies here


Ahmed, S. 2010. The promise of happiness. Duke University Press: London.
Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglements of matter and meaning. Durham, Duke University Press.
Baxter, L., and C. Hughes. 2004. Tongue sandwiches and bagel days: Sex, food and mind-body dualism. Gender Work and Organization 11, 363–380.
Baxter, L.F., and J.M. Ritchie, J.M. 2013. The sense of smell in researching a bakery. International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion 5, 369.
Bennett, J. 2003. The enchantment of modern life. Princeton University Press: Princeton.
Beyes, T., and C. Steyaert 2013. Strangely familiar: The uncanny and unsiting organizational analysis. Organization Studies 34, 1445 - 1465.
Blackman L. 2015. Researching affect and embodied hauntologies: Exploring an analytics of experimentation. In Affective methodologies: Developing cultural research strategies for the study of affect, eds T. Knudsen, B. and C. Stage, 25-44. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cock C., D. O'Doherty, and A. Rehn. 2013. Specters, ruins and chimeras: Management & Organizational History's encounter with Benjamin. Management & Organizational History 8, 1-9.
Du Maurier D. 1938. Rebecca. Virago Press: London.
Gilman C. 1892. The yellow wallpaper. The New England Magazine January.
Gordon A.F. 1997. Ghostly matters: Haunting and the sociological imagination.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kociatkiewicz, J., and M. Kostera. 2019. Textual flâneurie: Writing management with Walter Benjamin. ephemera 19, 163–178.
Christensen J.F., and S.L. Muhr. 2013. H(a)unting quotas: An empirical analysis of the uncanniness of gender quotas. ephemera 19, 77-105.
Lefebvre H. 2004. Rhythmanalysis: Space, time and everyday life. London: Bloomsbury.
MacAulay K., A. Yue, and A. Thurlow. 2010. Ghosts in the hallways: unseen actors and organizational change. Journal of Change Management 10, 335-346.
Muhr S. and A. Salem. 2013. Specters of colonialism – illusionary equality and the forgetting of history in a Swedish organization. Management & Organizational History 8, 62-76.
Pors J. 2016 ‘It sends a cold shiver down my spine’: Ghostly interruptions to strategy implementation. Organization Studies 37, 1641–1659.
Vaaben N., and H. Bjerg. 2019. The Danish school as a haunted house: Reforming time, work life and fantasies of teaching in Denmark. ephemera, 19, 109-127.