Ghost

Our organisations are haunted places. They swarm with ghosts. Maybe not ghosts in a conventional sense; but ghosts nevertheless. If you wait long enough, you may discern the ‘sense of a presence of those who are not physically there’. In offices, factories, call-centres, shops and salons,  we ‘constitute a place in large measure by the ghosts we sense inhabit and possess it’ (Bell, p.813).

GhostAnd, as we have intimated before, these ghosts are creatures of the liminal. For Derrida, they are this ‘non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one’ (Orr, p.1055). Immaterial themselves, their power is to make the space around them immaterial too; their liminality infects.  They can ‘elide the distance between the actual and the imagined’ so that ‘frail and cherished distinctions collapse’ (Beer, quoted by Jackson, p.69).

Think of an upmarket City meeting room. Let’s call it room 148. For your guest, experiencing this space for the first time, it is like any other meeting room: neutral in its ubiquity.  Subdued colours, art work on the wall, maybe coffee and pastries arranged on the table. For you, however, the experience is different. It is enhanced, tinted (or maybe tainted?) by all the other meetings you have attended there. The spectral voices and faces of those you previously met haunt the room. These presences are many. The room is a palimpsest of recalled conversations, arguments, emotions and the tone of those meetings (productive, boring, confrontational) now begins to affect your mood.  You too are haunted.  The room, familiar, comfortable, known, is infiltrated by the uncanny – das Unheimlich – infusing it, albeit momentarily, with the unfamiliar, the strange, the alien.  You sense a ‘feeling of estrangement, of being not ‘at home’ in the world’ (Jackson, p.65).

Ghosts appear in other guises. At a business school I know, the portraits of past deans frequent a corridor. They are sombre, besuited, the ties and haircuts indicative of past decades.  I wonder to what extent this ‘picture book of the dead’ (Orr, p.1047) troubles the current dean. Do these ghosts – for that is what they are – act as vengeful revenants forever comparing the shortcomings of the present to the glories of the past; or are they more comforting spirits offering inspiration, wisdom and succour.

TivetshallSuch ghosts possess other objects too. A long time ago, I asked a colleague to identify an artefact that encapsulated our then organisation. After a pause, he spoke fondly of the chair that his former boss had left behind on retirement. Each time he saw it, he took strength from the memory of his mentor, guide and protector.  It had what Weber called the ‘charisma’ of the object’ and Walter Benjamin, ‘the aura of the original’ (Bell, p.817).  That chair was not just any chair; it contained a ‘kind of life’.

We also talk to our organisational dead. Think of the role models, those presences from the past that you turn to in times of uncertainty.  You ask what they would have done; how they would have reacted; what guidance from beyond can they proffer? In short, we are accustomed to communing with our role model spirits.

And where there are ghosts, there are ghost stories. I have heard many such narratives in every organisation I have known. Tales of role models, heroic (and tragic) leaders, tricksters and fools. This cast of ghosts is conjured again each time the story is told. They are never exorcised. And with each raising of the dead, we re-assess our current actions. We think and sense anew.  These ‘inheritances of the past haunt the relations and struggles of the present’ (Orr, p.1041).

In one of the most famous ghost stories, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, the ‘ghosts’ are only perceived within the liminal – the ‘tops of towers, the roof of houses, the outside of windows, the further edge of pools’ (Klapcsik, p.5). So look again at your organisation. Those corridors, meeting rooms, staircases and lifts – are they really what they seem? For if you look carefully enough, you might – beyond the posters, filing cabinets and workstations –  glimpse the symbolic equivalent of shorelines, the gibbet on the cross-roads, and the decaying mansion on the hill.

Bell, M. M. (1997) ‘The Ghosts of Place’, Theory and Society, 26, pp. 813–836.

Jackson, J. (1981). Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion. Methuen.

Klapcsik, S. (2012). Liminality in Fantastic Fiction: A Poststructuralist Approach. McFarland & Company.

Orr, K. (2014) ‘Local Government Chief Executives ’ Everyday Hauntings : Towards a Theory of Organizational Ghosts’, Organization Studies, 35(7), pp. 1041–1061.

Illustrations

Cruikshank, G. (1842) ‘The Dead Drummer’.  Available at: https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/dead-drummer/

Rodwell, I. (2016) St Mary’s Church, Tivetshall St Mary, Norfolk

Railway

The railway carriage is a liminal place. It represents both spatial and temporal transition. Within its utilitarian or luxurious confines (for it is a place that also likes to classify us), we are moved from one locale to another while remaining in one unchanging space.  This in itself is problematic – as De Certeau observes there is both immobility inside and outside of the carriage. The fields, villages and towns have only ‘trompe-l’oeil movements…vision alone continually undoes and remakes the relationships between these fixed points.’ (De Certeau, p.112).

CarriageWe also progress in time, a movement governed by – or more accurately suggested by – timetables and schedules. Before 1840, such definitions of time were also inherently fluid. A journey was not just through time but between time with different towns deploying local systems of time. For the Victorians however, the modern railway carriage was, as John Bailey intriguingly explores, liminal in many other ways. If we peek through the smoke-smudged windows, we might discern a place of adventure, blurred identities, erotic escapade and transgression.

From one perspective, the carriage was a place of anxiety, discomfort and potential danger. There were no toilets, washrooms nor, in early carriages lacking corridors, an easy means of escape. Cardsharps, confidence men and tricksters (for where else does the phrase ‘taken for a ride come’?) were a recognised hazard. As Bailey observes, there was also a ‘persistent unease at confinement in the close presence of unknown others’ (p.6).  However, this close proximity might also dissolve reserve while mutual anonymity encouraged confidential disclosure and the relaxation of normal protocols.  The roles, identities and behaviours of everyday life could, for the duration of the journey, be altered or even abandoned.  This ambiguity is characterised by De Certeau as a ‘incarceration-vacation’ (De Certeau, p.114).

For Georges Simmel, modernity created the opportunity for ‘adventure’, an episode of heightened experience, informed by both risk and excitement and ‘torn-off’ from everyday life. But the railway carriage was not just a place of adventure, but also, as Bailey suggests, misadventure: in a society where gender relaxations were strictly governed, such an ‘enclosed space carried its own built-in erotic charge’ (Bailey, p.7).

Contemporary press reports revealed how first class carriages were much in demand by courting couples; popular song told of ‘tunnels so dusky’ where you can ‘kiss fondle and kiss with a double encore’; while musical halls echoed to Marie Lloyd’s rather less than innocent ‘She’d Never Had Her Ticket Punched Before’ (Bailey, p.9). Elsewhere, Ian Carter observes that ‘some ladies of the street had found that the seven-minute run [between Cannon Street and Charing Cross], provided ideal conditions for their activities at a rental that represented only a minute proportion of their income.’ (Carter, p.52).

Such transgression – albeit temporary – of the accepted social order is recognised by Turner who sees the liminal phase in tribal society as one where members of the community can ‘for a brief while have a whale of a good time being chaotic, in some saturnalian or lupercalian revelry…or institutionalised orgy’ (Turner, p.41).

And railway carriages generate other narratives of transgression. Narratives where morality and rationality are subverted. Carter identifies ‘the many hundred British crime novels and short stories’ with railway settings (Carter, p.46).  They also invite in that ultimate liminal character: the ghost.  A.M. Barrage’s The Green Bungalow, Steve Duffy’s Running Dogs and M.R. James’ A Warning to the Curious are just a few of the narratives that see the railway carriage as a haunted space – home to the dead but not dead; the there but not there.

And organisations too generate their own narratives of transgression. They rarely feature railway carriages but rather other liminal spaces: the Christmas party, the awayday or offsite, the business trip.  Here the physical space might be the office, a pub or hotel (identified by Pritchard and Morgan as a ‘place for transgressive behaviours’). We all, I suspect, have such stories.  In some, the mode is comic. Many years ago at the organisation I then worked for, the turgid annual address by the CEO at the Christmas Party was repeatedly and wittily heckled sotto voce by the office electrician  – in the character of trickster. In others, the mode is tragic.  I overheard such a story two days ago, ironically when returning from a conference on organisational storytelling.  The story was co-constructed by two, unseen travellers in the seats behind me and the plot a depressingly familiar one.  An office party, too much drink, unwanted sexual advances and a dismissal the following day. The characters too were familiar – the non-deserving victim, the villain, the supporter (the HR director perhaps?) (Gabriel, pp. 84-85).  Such stories suggest that while transgression brings creativity, release and the frisson of Simmel’s ‘adventure’, it also carries a darkling side of danger, anxiety and humiliation.

There is a final irony. For, as you have no doubt guessed, the place where I overheard this story was a railway carriage: the liminal space that is simultaneously narrative source, scene and progenitor.

Bailey, P. (2004), ‘Adventures in Space: Victorian Railway Erotics, or Taking Alienation For a Ride’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 9(1), pp. 1-21.

Carter, I. (2002), ‘The Lady in the Trunk’, The Journal of Transport History, 23(1), pp. 46–59.

De Certeau, M. (1984), The Practice of Everyday Life: University of California Press.

Gabriel, G. (2000), Storytelling in Organisations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies: Oxford University Press.

Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N. (2006), ‘Hotel Babylon? Exploring hotels as liminal sites of transition and transgression’, Tourism Management, 27(5), pp. 762–772.

Turner, V. (1982), From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play: PAJ Publications.

 

 

 

Green Man

“He is the spirit of the rebirth of nature. He is the chucked pebble that ripples out into every tree ring. He is a green outlaw and he is everywhere, like a Che Guevra poster”.  (Deakin, p.111)

FullSizeRender 3The Green Man lives in the margins. In the corners; the places we overlook. A painted boss high on the roof of the nave; a stone carving on a porch spandrel; a figure concealed as a misericord. And even if we see him, he resists knowing. A face concealed within leaves and vines that entwine him or spout from his eyes, nose or mouth.  Sometimes shy; sometimes pitiful; occasionally demonic. Why is he here? The theories that try to classify him are many yet our green man playfully eludes understanding. A symbol of the rebirth of nature or the Tree that bore Christ or a fragile promise of ecological survival? Possibly all, possible none – the only thing we know is that we will never know.

And this perhaps is the fascination. A figure seemingly out of place and thriving in the liminal. The green man is confined to the edgelands or the threshold and perpetually poised betwixt and between definition. In a teasing article, Richard Rottenburg explores his fascination with a bar in a small Polish border town. Its function changes through the day – from café to restaurant to nightclub – and not only do the clientele shapeshift accordingly but their puzzling heterogeneity “generated for me a peculiar feeling of classifactory uncertainty. Who are these people? Why are they sitting here of all places, and in this combination? What is happening here?” (Rottenburg, p.93). Such classifactory uncertainty is a characteristic of the liminal persona in rites of passages – as Victor Turner notes they are no longer classified and not yet classified. Borders here are permeable, porous, fluid.

Maybe this perspective helps liberate our green man from cloister, porch and chapel and place him (and her) all around us. Even in the corridors, receptions and offices in which we work. Look around you. Are there people that spark the same curiosity that transfixes Rottenburg? They don’t seem to fit the organisation; they seem out of place, out of time. Perhaps you’re even one of them. The character in a narrative that often runs like this…”Do you know Sarah/Jules/Mark/Cathy…could never work out how they ended up here…they’re so different…interesting to know though…some great ideas”. It’s a story I’ve often heard and one that’s thoughtfully probed in Marianne Cantwell’s recent TEDEx talk.

So is this the real power of the organisational green man? For Rottenburg and his German colleagues, classifactory uncertainty has emancipatory potential. Such fluidity provides an “outlook on future, better times” (p.96). Boundary crossing becomes, as Klapcik observes, “complex, covert, and disorderly”. And this transgression creates a “weird domain” (Turner, p.42), a ludic, subversive space where initiates are “taught that they did not know what they thought they knew”. Ideas, innovation, creativity, oblique insights – these are all gifts our organisational green men bestow upon us.

In a study of how stories that uphold or violate corporate values affect the behaviour of new joiners, Sean Martin cautions that not “all deviance is necessarily a values violation” (Martin, p.1720). Innovation often involves playing or subverting established ways of doing things. So, perhaps he concludes, we can encourage more innovative behaviour by “sharing narratives in which members deviate from the norm but are rewarded for it”.  Or, to put it another way, let us celebrate the green man. Let us liberate him from the corporate foliage and lure him from the secluded undergrowth of the organisational shadowland. He is both everything and nothing; our past and our future; and, undoubtedly, our unlikely saviour. For, as Roger Deakin beautifully observes, the “leaves flow from him like poems or songs”. (Deakin, p.110)

Deakin, R. (2007). Wildwood: A Journey through Trees. Hamish Hamilton

Doel, F. and G. (2010). The Green Man in Britain. The History Press

Klapcsik, S. (2012). Liminality in Fantastic Fiction: A Poststructuralist Approach. McFarland & Company

Martin, S. R. (2016) ‘Stories about Values and Valuable Stories: A Field Experiment of the Power of Narratives to Shape Newcomers Actions’, Academy of Management Journal. Academy of Management, 59(5), pp. 1707–1724.

Rottenburg, R. (2000) ‘Sitting in a bar’, Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies, 6(1), pp. 87–100.

Turner, V. (1982). From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. PAJ Publications.

 

Church

Two faces carved on adjoining misericord seats. They appear to converse across the void. The one on the right – severe, ascetic – speaks urgently; the one on the left, eyes lost in concentration, (a milder, gentler face I think) listens thoughtfully. Or that is how I see them.

HeadsNo doubt clerics, momentarily distracted during evensong, have spun alternative stories to ease the chill of a November dusk. The characters, the dialogue, the plot constantly vary. Our two faces are actors in a never-ending play that is performed differently every night. But here’s the thing: we are compelled to write that play. We need a story – we demand a story – to explain, to make sense of these two adjacent figures.

And stepping out of the chancel – we are struck by the richness of narrative around us. For this is a place of stories. Some are artfully told; others whispered without knowing. The faded red and ochre of muted and half-erased wall-paintings tell of saints, apostles, judgement and salvation. The three living and the three dead emerge in the half-light: macabre strip cartoons relishing in the cadaverous decay of worldly beauty and wealth. Their story is an admonitory one: such as I was you are, and such as I am you will be.

Everywhere you look – from the roof bosses portraying mysteries in the life of Christ to the brasses embedded in the stone floor – stories are revealed at every turn. And there are stories that turn on other stories. In Salle church, you will see the Four Great Doctors of the Church painted on the rood panels. Each has their own history; their own story.  But if you look carefully at Pope Gregory, you will see his eyes have been violently scratched out – the paint flaked deliberately from the wood. This raises another tale – one of a Cromwellian soldier vandalising the panel bitter with reformational zeal. And the reason for doing so? Why, that’s yet another story concealed within like a Russian doll of enfolded narratives. For to look into the eyes of a Pope was to risk instant conversion: never stare in the eyes of a gorgon (or a Pope).

But should this incessant and vibrant storytelling surprise us. For a church is a liminal place. It shelters every significant rite of passage: baptism, marriage, death. Each stage on life’s journey is witnessed  here. And those multiple memories and experiences attach themselves to what Augé describes as this anthropological place “of identity, of relations and of history” (Augé, p. 43). So surely it is fitting that such transformation and reinvention, such never-ending twists in the plot, are consecrated in a place of multiple stories: biblical, social, historical and personal.

Augé, M. (2008), Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Verso.

Maze

“Trying to get anything done here – it’s like a maze”. It’s a comment I have heard regularly over many years working in organisations. I suspect you have heard similar.  We experience tangled networks of procedures, structures and processes that belie the clear circuitry of organisational charts and hierarchies. The Circumlocution Office of  FullSizeRender 3Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend or Kafka’s The Castle offer distorted premonitions of the modern labyrinthine organisation. Both Arthur Clennam and K become enmeshed in unknowable bureaucracies where clarity is vigorously suppressed. As the shocked Junior Barnacle – interrupted in his eating of mashed potatoes and gravy – remonstrates: ‘…you mustn’t come into the place saying you want to know, you know’.  Knowledge is the ultimate taboo.

The maze is a reviled place. A quick search through the Business books section on Amazon shows the metaphor deployed in not wholly positive ways: Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, The Maze of Banking: History, Theory, Crisis; Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. They suggest difficulty, challenge, prohibition.  As Kociatkiewicz and Kostera observe ‘the labyrinth stands for all that is absurd, unnecessary, undesired in contemporary organizations’ (Kociatkiewicz and Kostera, p.66).

But the maze is more subtle, more liminal than that.  At heart, it represents a paradox.  Think a moment of the maze designer.  With pen poised over parchment, his world is that of symmetry, elegance, order, aesthetics, cohesion and logic.  For the protagonist or navigator however, these experiences are alchemised into confusion, uncertainty and despair.  The calculating draughtsman shapeshifts into a trembling Theseus, Harry Potter or a pursued Danny Torrance in The Shining.

But the maze is liminal in other ways. In their excellent The Neo-Generalist, Mikkelsen and Martin suggest the ‘individual at labyrinth’s centre is emblematic of personal journeys, personal narratives’ (Mikkelsen and Martin p.61).  The maze is a site of transformation.  Attali describes how, for pilgrims breaking their journey to Compostela at Chartres cathedral, the circular stonework labyrinth on the floor of the nave represented the winding, arduous journey from sin to salvation: ‘the perilous path of the mortal on the way to Paradise’ (p. xiv). In contrast to K’s Castle or the Circumlocution office where knowledge is either censored or feared, here the prize is self-awareness and understanding.

And for Attali, such successful navigation relies on the skills of the ancient maze explorers: ‘perseverance, unhurriedness, curiosity, playfulness, trickery, flexibility, improvisation and self-mastery’ (Attali, p.75).  Mazes slow us down (Kociatkiewicz and Kostera, p.67), they enable us to wander, to get lost, to become a nomad (Attali, p. 76). And as nomads or pilgrims, we create the time and opportunity to make sense of what is around us; to play with alternative possibilities; to resist the lure of premature solutions or the easy to find exit.

So maybe this is the narrative we should propagate in our organisations.  The maze as a metaphor of hope and celebration.  And, if we redeem its story, then perhaps redemption may be our own well-deserved reward.

Attali, J. (1999). The Labyrinth in Culture and Society. North Atlantic Books.

Kociatkiewicz, J. and Kostera, M. (2015) ‘Into the Labyrinth: Tales of Organisational Nomadism’, Organization Studies. 36(1), pp. 55-71

Mikkelsen, K. and Martin, R. (2016). The Neo-Generalist. LID Publishing Ltd.

Window

Window

In her introduction to the excellent anthology of essays – Thinking on thresholds: the poetics of transitive spaces – Subha Mukerji refers to the ‘mesmeric quality of the threshold’ (Mukerji, p. xxi) and the ‘elusive but crucial experiences at a variety of boundaries’ (p. xix).  Later in the book  the theme is developed by Gillian Beer in her thoughtful analysis of windows and their uses and meanings in literature.  They are a ‘liminal connection between inner and outer’ (Beer, p.3). Windows link and separate; provide access yet exclude; are both medium and barrier.  Incidentally, they are also places of concealment and Beer evokes the image of a spy mounting surveillance on the world beyond.  Or a voyeur perhaps – which suggests our flaneur, peering through the shop windows in a Parisian arcade: detached and distant, the spy without.

It made me think how office buildings often reflect rather than reveal.  They are more looking glass than window.  What you see is where you are rather than where you want to be. The organisation within is secluded and the story it might tell literally a closed book.

But more disturbing than the window as looking glass is the room deprived of windows.  In reference to new office buildings, Beer notes how windows are often ‘done away with’ and how ‘rooms entirely without windows have been traditionally understood as sinister or subjected…the presence of windows brings the light of the outside world to bear on what is happening in the room’ (p.6).  How many meetings have you sat through and how many training sessions endured in cell like chambers?  How can ideas, imagination, creativity flourish if the light of the outside world (or rather, enlightenment) is denied.  If we see the threshold as ‘mesmeric’, a place of liminal connection and transformation, then it is surely perverse to plasterboard it over.  How ironic that in exhorting our colleagues to – and it’s a ghastly phrase I know – ‘think outside the box’, we encourage this by placing them in the very box their imaginations are required to escape from.

But office windows can be creative in other ways too.  As you wander the corridors – an organisational flaneur perhaps? – you may peek through the windows of the offices you pass.  The door is closed; figures gather around a table and a phone; their looks may tell of frustration, excitement, anxiety.  What’s going on?  If the combination of figures is puzzling – so why are x and y meeting up? – then our irresistible urge to spin a narrative takes hold once more.  We formulate a plot, a causal and temporal chain of connection that explains these vexing stimuli.  We are excluded yet involved and perhaps it is this ambiguous, liminal state that stimulates our imaginations.

In her analysis of Yeats’s poem ‘Ego Domimus Tuus’, Beer deconstructs the image of the poet Keats ‘with face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window’.  But it is this ‘gap between nose and the sweets, the cold glass between’ that stimulates ‘Luxuriant song’ (p. 8).  It is the threshold that excites poetry.

And so too in our offices.  We may view our windows as organisational prose – boring, formulaic, transparent (in more ways than one) – but are they also not coated with a thin film of poetry? Not just windows but Keats’s very own ‘Charm’d magic casements’ that open on our ‘faery lands forlorn’ (Gittings, p.126)?

Beer, G. (2011) ‘Windows: Looking In, Looking Out, Breaking Through’, in Mukerji, S. (ed.)  Thinking on Thresholds: the Poetics of Transitive Spaces.  Anthem Press.

Gittings, R. (ed.) (1966) Selected Poems and Letters of John Keats. Heinemann.

Mukerji, S. (2011) ‘Introduction: Thinking on Thresholds’, in Mukerji, S. (ed.)  Thinking on Thresholds: the Poetics of Transitive Spaces.  Anthem Press.

flâneur

FullSizeRender 2

In airport, we looked at how Augé’s non-places are maybe not so ‘non’.  They are places not merely of circulation, communication and consumption but creativity too.  This suggests perhaps a further liminal characteristic of non-places – their identity is not merely singular but multiple; and these identities blur.  It is a view proposed by Peter Merriman in his exploration of the geographies of the M1 motorway.  He views these landscapes – airports, shopping malls, service stations – as “more complex, heterogeneous and multiplicitous” than Augé suggests (Merriman, p. 160).   For an example, in an airport frequent flyers, flight crews, air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, first-time flyers are likely to have “different experiences of movement, dwelling, familiarity and belonging” (Merriman, p.152).

But how do stories relate to these non or non-non places?  Imagine you are passing through an airport or railway terminus (which, by the way, seem increasingly happy to erase their history – their existence as anthropological space – by assuming a shopping mall identity).  Do you ever wonder about the travellers you see?  Who they are, where they have come from, where they are going?  You may spot clues, clothing for example.  Shorts in January suggests Dubai rather than Finland.  As you board the railway carriage, you see a passenger manoeuvring a suitcase with the baggage label still attached.  Are ever you tempted to take a peek?

Snatches of conversation provide other evidence.  Marooned at Singapore airport for several hours, I amused myself by trying to work out a narrative to explain the American family who, in an obvious hurry, joined the cafe table next to me.  They barely had time to devour the food they had purchased, before the mother, anxious not to miss a connecting flight, herded her protesting husband and children down the corridor, cups spilling on the abandoned table and half-consumed wraps stuffed into pockets and rucksacks.

Karl Weick notes how stories “impose a formal coherence on what is otherwise a flowing soup” (Weick, p.128).  They gather strands of experience into a “plot that produces an outcome” and such “sequence is the source of sense”.  By imposing a temporal frame of past, future and present we can comprehend the random, multiple and puzzling.  The stories we create to explain our fellow travellers is a way to contain this ‘soup’.

In doing so, perhaps we also become contemporary flâneurs.  This stroller among the crowds of 19th century Paris was “a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life” (Shaya, p.47).  Their natural habitat was, as Walter Benjamin described, “the arcades…glass-covered, marble-panelled passageways…lighted from above…lined with the most elegant shops…so that such an arcade is a city, even a world, in miniature” (pp.36-37).  Rather like a modern airport perhaps?  In Benjamin’s study of the poet Baudelaire he observes that, for the flâneur, “the joy of watching is triumphant…the result is the amateur detective.”  He highlights Baudelaire’s translation of the Edgar Allan Poe story The Man of the Crowd, where the narrator, installed the behind a window of a London coffee-house watches the passing throng.  From here, he makes deductions, mini-narratives, from the details he observes: a man whose ears stick out indicates he must be a clerk who stores his pen behind his ears.  And what does a detective do but turn “equivocal happenings into meaningful stories characterized by a distinctive plot” (Patriotta, p. 369)?

So, as we sip our espresso in the ‘open air’ cafe of a shopping mall; tap away at our laptop in an airport lounge or wait on the concourse for our invariably delayed train to arrive – we are not just ‘customers’, ‘passengers’, ‘commuters’ but also the true and noble descendants of the frock-coated, top-hatted flâneur.  Observing, watching, making our deductions and spinning our stories to explain the passing, random and confusing bustle around us.

Benjamin, W. (1983). Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Verso

Merriman, P. (2004) ‘Driving Places’, Theory, Culture & Society. 21(4–5), pp. 145–167.

Patriotta, G. (2003) ‘Sensemaking on the Shop Floor: Narratives of Knowledge in Organizations’, Journal of Management Studies. 40(2), pp. 349–375.

Shaya, G. (2004) ‘The Flaneur, the Badaud, and the Making of a Mass Public in France, circa 1860-1910’, The American Historical Review, 109(1), pp. 41–77.

Weick, K.E. (1995). Sense making in Organisations. Sage.