There is a textile mill in the north of England. Closed, abandoned, extensively renovated and now repurposed as an arts and retail complex. If you visit the top floor, you will find a small museum devoted to the mill, the companies that once owned it and the work that took place there. And in this museum, there is a table. A board room table that dates back to the 1850s when the mill was built by Titus Salt, a successful Victorian industrialist. We might dismiss it as yet another exhibit: fixed, inert and defined by the notice that accompanies it. But, like all objects, this table is both part of a story and a carrier of stories. This is no mute witness, but an impassioned proclaimer eager to create and communicate meaning. Our only obligation is to listen.

First, look carefully at the grain, polish and carving. The quality of the wood and the crafting of the finish make material the status, authority and power of the company directors who commissioned it. Objects are rarely neutral — here, the solidity and weight of the construction are not merely empirical qualities, but a cipher perhaps for the sober and severe values of the Victorian age. Perhaps too this table is an organisational memento-mori: a ghost-sign in three dimensions. Discarded on the mill’s closure in the mid 1980s, its history whispers ‘such as I was you are, and such as I am you will be’. It makes corporeal the corporate dissolution documented by the information boards on the wall. And even though the table has been carefully restored, this particular resurrection provides a bitter salvation. Located in a museum that necessarily records what has now been lost, its presence evokes only absence. And the glory of the repair work makes this loss even more poignant. Like a beast in a cage, well-fed and cared for, but deprived of agency and power, the table too has been caged — co-opted as a character within a particular narrative of economic decline and fall.

And there are other stories to be told. A range of emerging theories view the social and materials worlds as entangled and enmeshed (see, for example, Carlile et al., 2013). From this perspective, objects are not passive or incidental but, as ‘non-human actors’ (see Latour, 2007), exist as ‘complex, vibrant and interactive agents capable of influencing and shaping human experience’ (Humphries and Smith, 2014, p.482). If we imagine a board meeting of the 1850s (or beyond), the table is as much a participant as the sombre, bewhiskered directors arrayed around it. For it too plays a role in the discussions conducted, the views proposed and the decisions taken. Silently and without fuss, it affords proximity and comfort, enables papers to be arranged and sorted, and perhaps, in a moment of pause, provides solace or inspiration as a hand moves across its polished surface, marvelling perhaps at the patterning of the grain and the lustre of the finish. Here, the social (the discourse, power inflections of those present and the relationships or bonds between them) and the material meld and entwine, choreographed in the performance of business. We could argue that our table is the central, non-human actor, the star name at the top of the billboard, but with a cast of supporting characters and bit players: the sideboard, crockery, chairs, pens, ashtrays and place mats.

And one final story. In a compelling paper, Shortt and Izak discuss how workplace wear and tear, scars, scuffs and stains can act as ‘material autobiographical archives’ concealing ‘memory anchors’ or ‘time marks’ (Shortt and Izak, 2021). We can only conjecture, but did Titus Salt ever notice the dulling of the varnish or the scratches in the surface at the head of the table, and reflect how this erosion by paper and frock coat sleeve embodied many years of toil and consequently his own history and heritage? Or did he glance at a particular stain and recall the event that occasioned it — maybe, a cup of tea carelessly put down as a discussion on tariffs and imports grew in heat and fervour?

Or perhaps that is not the final story. For, as I write now, I re-imagine the table I saw. At a distance of seven days and with 200 miles between us, it has the power of a potent memory anchor, recalling a joyous family trip to the north in the expectant days before Christmas. And that is just my single memory. For as the dark descends on Salt Mills and the lights in the museum are extinguished, the table stands in the silence, surrounded by the ghosts that once sat around it — a casket in which countless emotions, memories, relationships, experiences and sensations are captured and contained.

Carlile, P.R., Nicolini, D., Langley, A. and Tsoukas, H. (eds.) (2013) How matter matters: objects, artifacts, and materiality in organization studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Humphries, C. and Smith, A. (2014) ‘Talking objects: towards a post-social research framework for exploring object narratives’, Organization, 21(4), pp. 477-494.

Latour, B. (2007) Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shortt, H. and Izak, M. (2021) ‘Scarred objects and time marks as memory anchors: the significance of scuffs and stains in organisational life’, Human Relations, 74(10), pp. 1688-1715.


There is an experience — one often overlooked — woven into our world since 2020. It is an experience of rhythms lost, silenced and then reformed. An experience of being out of step, caught in a misbeat of time and place. In those early days of lockdown, we were betwixt and between rhythms, suspended in a world where cadence and tempo were dissolved and recast. Suddenly, the old routines and rituals of daily life were unmoored. Commute, café, desk, work, meeting, lunch, walk, work, meeting, commute — these became echoes of a rhythm briskly ended. Then slowly the ebb and flow of the working day was appropriated by new tidal pulses. Some were energising and revelatory — yet others proved corrosive, debilitating. Here the emerging rhythm became one without end as the boundaries between work and non-work blurred and liquified. This was a metronome that vibrated without cessation.

One way, perhaps, to approach this experience is through Henri’s Lefebvre’s collection of essays, Rhythmanalysis (1992), which seeks to understand the emergent and dynamic interplay of space and time. In those early days of lockdown, rhythms once synchronised (in subtle and often unconscious ways) to those we worked with — the informal drift to the kitchen area or a coffee shop at a particular time, for example — were now dislocated. This was Lefebvre’s arrythmia — a ‘discordance of rhythms’ (p. 25) — similar to that charted by Nash in a rhythmanalytical study of the City of London where visitors, unsure of where to go, found themselves ‘not being able to keep up with the rhythms’ of the commuters flowing around them (Nash, 2018, p. 174).

Slowly though, new rhythmic patterns formed — with partners, children, flatmates — as we choreographed our presences and absences around available spaces. Our homes pulsed with new polyrhythmic sequences and, within this, our own particular rhythms became more manifest for, as Lefebvre argues, rhythm emerges through both repetition and difference. And gradually, our mundane workday rhythms were also reimagined. But often with new and peculiar time signatures. For example, meetings which, in former days, coalesced into being and then dissolved as people packed their bags and maybe paused for a final chat —were now ended with the abruptness of a 2 minute, 30 second punk single as we activated the ‘Leave Meeting’ button on Teams, Zoom and WebEx.

And such meetings also introduced new rites, routines and scripts for behaving. Think of that (often briefly lived phenomenon) the ‘virtual office drinks’ where, as if to signal that this virtual gathering was different from other more formal and businesslike meetings, we would hold our drinks to the camera in a way that would be bizarre and, indeed, unsettling in any face-to-face assembly. In this, perhaps, we see the Lefebvrian notion of dressage. In bending our gestures and movements to the values and expectations of this new social interaction, we were breaking ourselves in through the repetition of a particular act (see Lefebvre, 1991, p. 48).

Then, as lockdown intensified, we found other, compensatory (and consolatory) rhythms. Colleagues and friends talked of being more attuned to the turn of days and seasons — more alert to the ‘temporalities of fecundity and decay’ (Edensor and Holloway, 2008, p. 484). One social feed at work attracted pictures of wildlife, fungi, woodlands, the night sky. In this we see Lefevre’s notion of cyclical rhythm — those ‘movements, undulations, vibrations, returns and rotations’ — that exists in the beating of our hearts, the breaths we take as well as the ‘alternation of days and nights, months and seasons’ (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 84). The rhythmanalyst’s explorations are embodied and multi-sensory making them capable of listening to a ‘house, a street, a town, as one listens to a symphony, an opera’ (p. 94) — and similarly our senses were re-awakened. We saw, heard, touched and inhaled the world around us as if emerging from a dream.

For Lefebvre, cyclical rhythms contrast with the linear — those emerging from social practice and human activity. At one time, Lefebvre argues, this link between the everyday and the cyclical was clear but then it twisted apart (see Elden, 2004, p. 196). Yet, perhaps in lockdown that link was, for some, reforged. As the clocks went back last October, friends spoke of recalibrating their working day to enable a walk, run or cycle during daylight hours — here the cyclical and linear were bound together once more. They were seen to ‘unite with one another’ in a state of eurhythmia (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 25).

Perhaps too we became more aware of the linear rhythms of others. From the window of my house, I noticed the vans and agricultural vehicles that drove by at particular times; the commuting cyclist (regularly spotted at 8.50 am) on their way to the nearby village; the daily runners and walkers performing a circuit of the local lanes. That such appreciation was gained through the window is significant. Shruti Ragavan argues that balconies, windows and terraces are spaces that have assumed new meaning over the past year as the ‘locus through which our active interactions with the outside world took place’ (Ragavan, 2021, p. 675). Similarly, in the essay ‘Seen from the window’, Lefebvre notes that to grasp, and be grasped, by the fleetingness of rhythms, it is ‘necessary to situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside’ (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 37). The liminal, it seems, is a friend to rhythm.

And, now, as many organisations explore more hybrid ways of working, the rhythmanalyst is presented with a rich field of study. With different sequencing of days ‘in’ and days ‘out’, many workplaces have become multi-tidal, a polyrhythmic harmony of different flows and gatherings. For some, this is an experience of eurhythmia — a sense of being in step once more with old rhythms resurrected and replayed. For others, it carries the dread hand of dressage: movements and activities bound once more to the constrictive beat of linear time.

And, as we adapt to these re-sequenced pulses, we may find it hard to evade the ghosts of rhythms newly acquired over the last year or even, perhaps, those that haunt us from our pre-lockdown lives. The drive to the station at a different time to catch a later train — as unsettling and disquieting (at least at first!) as any spectre.

But maybe, like a restless drummer absconding from the restrictive cage of 4/4 and exuberantly exploring new rhythmic patterns, some feel liberated by the intensifying beat of hybrid working. For them, it is an emancipatory cadence that blends the linear and cyclical into a polyrhythmic mix of promise and possibility. And who knows where this particular tune might lead.

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

‘The Burial of the Dead’, The Waste Land. T.S. Eliot

With thanks to Daniel Beunza for alerting me to the peculiar glass-raising ritual of the virtual drinks!

Eleanor Rodwell, Untitled 1. Outpost Studio, Norwich. Uninhabited, September 2021.
Eleanor Rodwell, Untitled 2. Outpost Studio, Norwich. Uninhabited, September 2021.
Cyclical Rhythm: Lane. Winter.
Cyclical Rhythm: Lane. Autumn.

Photo credits: Photos 1-2, Eleanor Rodwell (

Edensor, T. and Holloway, J. (2008) ‘Rhythmanalysing the coach tour: the Ring of Kerry, Ireland’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(4), pp. 483-501.

Eliot, T.S. (1954) ‘The Waste Land’, in Selected Poems. Faber: London, pp. 51-74.

Elden, S. (2004) Understanding Henri Lefebvre: theory and the possible. Continuum: London.

Lefebvre, H. (2013[1991]) Rhythmanalysis: space, time and everyday life. Translated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore. Bloomsbury Academic: London.

Nash, L. (2018) ‘City rhythms: walking and sensing place through rhythmanalysis’, in
Kingma, S., Dale, K. and Wasserman, V. (eds.) Organizational space and beyond:
the significance of Henri Lefebvre for organizational studies
. Abingdon: Routledge.

Ragavan, S. (2021) ‘Between field and home: notes from the balcony’, cultural geographies, 28(4), pp. 675-679.


The hedge is threshold, boundary land. It delineates, marks and divides. Poised between field and field or meadow and lane, it signifies the boundary it simultaneously enacts.

These are ‘landscapes of semiotic uncertainty’ (Kaczmarczyk, p.53). Look carefully at the tangle of bramble and leaf. For the hedgerow is a topological trickster. At times, fecund, green, abundant. At others, bare, barren, denuded. Caught in the twist of seasons, the hedge is home to both green man and ghost. It shifts shape at will.

IMG_1013And ambiguities multiply and enfold. For some, the hedge is a space of nest and burrow. A refuge from predator and storm where it is safe to roost and sleep. Yet this is also a place of danger – for concealment carries both blessing and curse. The eyes that spark in the undergrowth; the rank tang of fox or weasel. In the slanting dusk, the silhouettes of blackthorn and dog-rose invite the unknown. They are ‘uncanny artefacts’ that trouble and disturb (Kaczmarczyk, p.55). Perhaps all hedgerows intimate the zone rouge: this now fertile no-man’s land which bears its stain – and its dark bounty of bone and bullet – through the decades. For every Prince that finds his Sleeping Beauty, lie many others pierced and bleeding on the thorns.

Remember too that for the small and wily, the hedge is porous; a permeable barrier though which ancestral paths, the well-marked smeuses, form the old ways through bramble, branch and thistle. Yet, to the large and unseeing, the thorn and briar are as unpassable as the castle wall. But here, as Kaczmarczyk suggests is another ambiguity. For this is not a barrier of stone and mortar but one of fragile stalk and leaf. And there is tension in this contrast (Kaczmarczyk, p.57).

One final duality. By the spinney and at the end of the loke, I find hedges that proclaim their vegetal exuberance. But others, those that border my local lanes, are bushwhacked to a bristly conformity. Yet this will not last. For this is a liminal phase between growth and regrowth. And, in the land of the liminal, the blade only secures temporary control.

Yet there was a time when the blade and digger carried out more potent work. Since 1950 more than half our hedgerows have vanished, condemned ‘as old-fashioned relics that shaded crops, sheltered vermin, wasted space’ (Clifford and King, p.223). And life was lost: the birds flew, the animals retreated. This is, perhaps, a lesson our organisations have failed to learn. Hurdley talks of the ‘increasingly vulnerable position’ of corridors in traditional buildings (Hurdley, p.46). These ‘hedges’ in the office landscape  are under threat.

IMG_1015Elsewhere, the devastation has been unleashed. According to Dale and Burrell, seven miles of internal walls in the UK Treasury were removed, ‘literally dismantling the ‘corridors of power’’ (Dale and Burrell, 2010). To justify this destruction, those arguments of productivity and enhanced yield emerge from their 1950’s winding sheet. But here the grain and seed so eagerly sought are those of ‘interactive, complex, open-ended teamwork’ and the diminution of ‘hierarchies or status’ (Hirst and Humphreys, p.1506).

In Hirst and Humphrey’s study of ‘dehedging’ at a UK local authority’s new HQ, there are plaintive echoes of more literal counterparts. As part of the move, ‘de-cluttering’ was encouraged, with sanctions for those ‘who failed to leave their workspace entirely clear of all paperwork and personal items’ (Hirst and Humphreys, p.1516). You can almost hear the bushwhacker’s whine and roar. Yet, three years after this pruning and scraping, ‘many staff had ‘nested’’, their belongings defiantly on display. It is a suggestive metaphor – the domesticity of home and security once more restored to the open, wind-blasted ‘field’.

Elsewhere, the benefits of the prairie office plain are equally elusive. In a new study of food and eating in the workplace, Harriet Shortt observes how, in an open plan office ‘designed with collaboration, togetherness and teamwork in mind’ (Shortt, p.11), one interviewee talked of the loneliness and sense of exclusion such an environment engenders. It is the cake and pastries brought from home and shared ‘on desks and on locker tops’, that bring people back together and reconnect conversations – like birds noisily congregating around the hedgerow’s larder of haws, hips and sloes.

As we have seen, the hedgeless field offers exposure and threat: all who cross or linger are open to the gaze of others. In a recent paper, Hirst and Schwabenland reveal that in a newly configured office, visibility meant that ‘being observed was a constant possibility’ (Hirst and Schwabenland, p.170). For some women this visibility was ‘perceived as uncomfortable or oppressive’ with attendees for job interviews being ‘marked’ for their attractiveness by men in the team (Hirst and Schwabenland, p.170). Similarly, Kingma, in a study of the effects of ‘new ways of working’ in a Dutch insurance company, quoted employees who felt they were ‘constantly being watched’ (Kingma, p.16).

In an echo of this, Shortt notes how several women working flexible arrangements found the hot-desking arrangements exclusionary. They described themselves as ‘nomads’, ‘wandering around the office to find a desk’ – rootless travellers deprived of a home base or shelter from the workplace storm.

IMG_1011 2So maybe we should campaign for the return of our metaphoric organisational hedges. Allen identified ‘washrooms, copying machines, coffeepots, cafeterias’ as ‘interaction-promoting facilities’ that draw people to them increasing the occurrence of chance encounters and unintended communication (Allen, p.248). And these ‘hedgerow rendezvous’ have value: they are the ‘prime vehicle for transmitting ideas, concepts, and other information necessary for ensuring effective work performance’ (Allen, p.269).

Hillier stresses the importance of the ‘weak ties’ generated by buildings. These connections to ‘people that one does not know one needs to talk to’ are more likely to break the boundaries of knowledge that solidify when projects, functions and departments are localised (Quoted in Kornberger and Clegg, p.1105). The ‘generative buildings’ that result evoke ‘chaotic, ambiguous, and incomplete space’.  It is in these margins – where people who are ‘normally separated exchange ideas and concepts’ – that ‘creative organising and positive power happens’ (Kornberger and Clegg, p.1106). This is fluid, liquid, organic space or, if you prefer, the organisational hedgerows which shelter chance, promise and threat.

For, in these peculiarly liquid times of flux and change, it is important ‘to move quickly and easily across the team boundary’ (Dibble and Gibson, p.926). Contract workers, consultants, fledgling, entrepreneurial ventures all require borders that are permeable and porous. And, like the variety of flora and fauna engendered by the hedgerow, these organisational boundaries can be similarly diverse. Their form may be social, cultural, physical while the flow can involve people, information, resources and status (Dibble and Gibson, p.929).

So, if you hear the bushwhacker’s roar, remember the power of elder, dogwood, hazel and sweet briar. For it in these interlacing boundaries, fertile, pliable and everlastingly liminal, that the inventive and cunning will find the shaded gaps that lead to invention and, maybe, salvation.

Now the hedgerow is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom/Of Snow, a bloom more sudden/Than that of summer

Allen, Thomas J. (1977), Managing the flow of information. MIT Press.

Clifford, S. and King, A. (2006), England in particular: a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive. Hodder & Stoughton.

Dale, K. and Burrell, G. (2010) ‘All together, altogether better’: the ideal of ‘community’ in the spatial reorganization of the workplace’, in van Marrewijk, A. and Yanow, D. (eds.) Organizational spaces: dematerialising the workaday world. Edward Elgar.

Dibble, R. and Gibson, C. B. (2018) ‘Crossing team boundaries: a theoretical model of team boundary permeability and a discussion of why it matters’, Human Relations, 71(7), pp. 925–950.

Eliot, T.S. (1944) ‘Little Gidding’, in Four Quartets. Faber.

Hirst, A. and Humphreys, M. (2013) ‘Putting power in its place: the centrality of edgelands’, Organization Studies, 34(10), pp. 1505–1527.

Hirst, A. and Schwabenland, C. (2018) ‘Doing gender in the “new office”’, Gender, Work and Organization, 25(2), pp. 159–176.

Hurdley, R. (2010) ‘The power of corridors: connecting doors, mobilising materials, plotting openness’, The Sociological Review, 58(1), pp. 45–64.

Kaczmarczyk, K. and Salvoni, M. (2016) ‘Hedge mazes and landscape gardens as cultural boundary objects’, Sign Systems Studies, 44(12), pp. 53–68.

Kingma, S. (2018) ‘New ways of working (NWW): work space and cultural change in virtualizing organizations’, Culture and Organization, (Online), pp. 1-24.

Kornberger, M. and Clegg, S. R. (2004) ‘Bringing space back in: organizing the generative building’, Organization Studies, 25(7), pp. 1095–1114.

Macfarlane, R. (2015), Landmarks. Hamish Hamilton

Shortt, H. (2018) ‘Cake and the open plan office: a foodscape of work through a Lefebvrian lens’, in: Kingma, S., Dale, K. and Wasserman, V., eds. (2018) Organizational space and beyond: The significance of Henri Lefebvre for organizational studies. Routledge [In Press].





Imagine a country crossroads. It is dusk on a late Autumn afternoon. You are alone – or so you think. There is a grassy triangle where the road divides. A leaning sign – not unlike, in this fading light, a gallows – offers direction. Maybe you are lost and the sense of adventure you earlier felt is now compromised by creeping concern. There is relief that these ways are trodden; but confusion as to which path to take.

IMG_0805 2But then, this should not surprise us. For the crossroads is a place of contradictions. A liminal space caught between borders and possibilities. It is a ‘real place between imaginary places – points of departure and arrival’ (Komunyakaa, p.5). We stand poised between where we have been and where we might, in the future, find ourselves. This is the ‘intersection of the timeless moment’ (Eliot, p.42). Opportunity, danger, enchantment, despair, salvation and damnation insinuate themselves, like a twilight mist, around our lonely fingerpost.

Some folklorists claim the crossroads is ‘the most magical spot in popular tradition’ (Davidson, p.9). In Suffolk, a cure for ague relied on the sufferer going at midnight to a crossroads, turning around three times and then driving a tenpenny nail up to its head in the ground (Ewart Evan, p.86). The potency of iron entwined with the potency of place. Such enchantment may also blur temporal boundaries. Puhvel describes the custom of scattering hemp-seeds at a cross-roads then whispering an incantation. The prize? A glimpse of your future lover (Puhvel, p.170).

Urban settings are not immune from this magic. Ghassem-Fachandi explores how, in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, the magical remains from exorcisms are placed at busy crossroads. Such ‘interstitial spaces, city fords and thresholds, it is said, confuse the evil spirits and ghosts, and they cannot find their way back to their bearer’ (Ghassem-Fachandi, p.24).

Other traditions reinforce such crossings between the living and the dead. In Richardson’s study of thresholds and boundaries in British funeral customs, she notes how, in Wales, the burial procession paused at each crossroads for prayers to be offered (Richardson, p.97). Was this because the cruciform shape suggested a safe and hallowed place; or to confuse the restless spirit and deter it from returning home?  Or, maybe, the crossroads acted as stepping stones for the spirit – a physical enactment of the perilous post-mortem journey described in the ancient Lyke Wake Dirge.

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

IMG_0878The ambiguity of the crossroads is also seen in the tradition of burying of suicides. Halliday notes that although the law in England stipulated that a suicide should be buried in the King’s highway, the chosen site was often a crossroad by a parish boundary (Halliday, p.82).  I frequently pass one such site. In 1785, Richard Knobbs, a brickmaker in the Norfolk village of Hempnall, was suspected of murdering his son and hanged himself from a tree.  The junction where he is buried is still known as Nobb’s Corner. Halliday argues that such interment acted as a deterrent. Excluded from the community of a churchyard, burial in a ‘remote, anonymous grave without a funeral was a casting-out; the person no longer belonged to society’ (Halliday p.82). Yet, maybe, such a place provided comfort too: the topographical cross bestowing some remnant of sanctity on the lost and, in every way, marginalised.

So here, at the crossroads, the borders are not just physical but metaphysical. This is where we transgress boundaries to contract with higher powers. Think of a young bluesman meeting the devil at a Mississippi crossroads to seal his own Faustian pact. Yet listen carefully to Robert Johnson’s Cross Roads Blues and there are intimations of more tangible threats. Here, at the rural intersection, cars slow down offering the hitchhiker the promise of a welcome lift – ‘standing at the crossroads, tried to flag a ride’. This is a place of opportunity bearing the gift of progress or return.  But with the sun going down, the singer’s plea for salvation – ‘Asked the Lord above “have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please”‘ – suggests this is also a place of danger. The fear is not, necessarily, that of eternal damnation but one that faced any young black man of that time, alone and far from home: vagrancy charges or, even, lynching (‘Cross Road Blues’, 2018). The crossroads is not a safe place to linger.

So what, you may think, has the liminality of crossroads to do with the organisations in which we work. For surely these are places devoid of such magic, enchantment and old traditions? Yet, look carefully enough, and you will find ghosts, tricksters and graveyards. And, of course, our buildings have physical crossroads (of sorts). Let me describe one to you.

On the fourth floor of a corporate HQ, there is a long, open corridor that leads past a café and then forms a ‘crossroads’ with passages that continue to the restaurant and meeting spaces. At the junction, there is a widening of the corridor – often used for displays – but, always occupied by small groups, talking, chatting, laughing. These constellations – formed by serendipitous encounters – reshape and reform with random regularity. So, where we expect transit, we counter-intuitivly encounter stasis. In Dale and Burrell’s study of space and community, they distinguish two types of spatial formation. Socio-petal arrangements ‘produce spaces where people are encouraged to gather together’ (Dale and Burrell, p.26). In contrast, socio-fugal spaces encourage people to move on and through. But our crossroads here is betwixt and between both socio-petal and socio-fungal. It brings people into constant contact yet then provokes them to linger and commune.

Like the Mississippi cross-roads, this may invoke threat and anxiety.  Just who might you bump into? (For the devil can be found anywhere!). Yet there is also the promise of opportunity and fulfilment. Allen notes how organisational traffic patterns directly influence communication by promoting chance encounters and aiding ‘the accomplishment of intended contacts’ (Allen, p.248).  This underpins the flow of information and the exchange of problems and experiences. Similarly, Iedema explores how a spatial bulge in a hospital corridor ‘drew people into it’ (Iedema et al, p.43) and, by providing a space where professional boundaries and organisational rules could be suspended, enabled clinical staff to ‘connect formal knowledge to the complexity of in situ work’ (p.52).

So perhaps there is little to distinguish our smart, open plan office intersection from our rural grassy triangle. Just as the latter are ecologically acclaimed as places where ‘a small nature reserve flourishes’ (Clifford and King, p.205), so the former are equally fertile: seeding communication and harvesting knowledge, insight and experience. And like any fragile and threatened ecology, these are valuable spaces we need to recognise and protect.

Allen, Thomas J. (1977), Managing the flow of information. MIT Press.

Clifford, S. and King, A. (2006), England in particular: a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive. Hodder & Stoughton.

‘Cross Road Blues’ (2018) Available at: (Accessed: 30 March, 2018).

Dale, K. and Burrell, G. (2010) ‘All together, altogether better’: the ideal of ‘community’ in the spatial reorganization of the workplace’, in van Marrewijk, A. and Yanow, D. (eds.) Organizational spaces: dematerialising the workaday world. Edward Elgar.

Davidson, H.E. (1993) ‘Introduction’, in Davidson, H.E. (ed.) Boundaries & thresholds. The Thimble Press.

Eliot, T.S. (1944) ‘Little Gidding’, in Four Quartets. Faber.

Evans, G.E. (1966), The pattern under the plough: aspects of the folk-lore of East Anglia. Faber.

Ghassem-Fachandi, P. (2012) ‘The city threshold: mushroom temples and magic remains in Ahmedabad’, Ethnography, 13(1), pp. 12–27.

Halliday, R. (2010) ‘The roadside burial of suicides: an East Anglian study’, Folklore, 121  (April), pp. 81–93.

Iedema, R, Long, D. and Carroll, K. (2010) ‘Corridor communication, spatial design and patient safety: enacting and managing complexities’, in van Marrewijk, A. and Yanow, D. (eds.) Organizational spaces: dematerialising the workaday world. Edward Elgar.

Komunyakaa, Y. (1997) ‘Crossroads’, Ploughshares, 23(1), pp. 5-6.

Puhvel, M. (1976) ‘The mystery of the cross-roads’, Folklore, 87(2), pp. 167–177.

Richardson, R. (1993) ‘Death’s door: thresholds and boundaries in British funeral customs’, in Davidson, H.E. (ed.) Boundaries & thresholds. The Thimble Press.


Rodwell, I. (2018) Nobb’s Corner, Hempnall, Norfolk

Rodwell, I. (2018) Fingerpost, Norfolk



Stories of the nativity are stories of the liminal.  A baby – both corporal and divine – born of a virgin in a place that belongs ‘partly to animals and partly to humans’ – neither a ‘house nor the open air’ – and worshipped both by royal magi and lowly shepherds. As Hutton notes, this birth of a hero occurs ‘at the junction of many worlds’ (Hutton, loc 207). The uncertainty of the betwixt and the between suffuses the days of December and beyond. At midwinter, as at midsummer, the sun appears to rise and set in the same place for several days (this is the solstice – the time when the sun stands still). In the pagan Roman calendar, this period was a ‘quiet and mysterious one’ bordered by two festivals: Saturnalia and the Kalandae (Hutton, loc 241).


For the days of Advent are days of both preparation and closure. The year is dying with a new year soon to be born.  This is a season that slips the net of classification: it assumes, like the liminal persona in a rite of passage, both the symbols of death and decomposition and those of growth and regeneration (Turner, 1967). The green yew that decks the ‘altar, font and arch and pew’ (Betjeman, p.41) defies the withered leaves strewn on the gravel path outside.

And so these days reflect not only a Christian mythology but a parallel tradition. Hutton argues that there is sufficient evidence from Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Welsh heritage to argue for a major pre-Christian festival ‘marking the opening of the new year, at the moment at which the sun had reached the winter solstice and its strength was being renewed’ (Hutton, loc 386). This duality – this intertwining – is seen in how, before 1038, the feast of the Nativity was starkly described in Anglo-Saxon literature as ‘midwinter’ (midne winter or middum wintra)’ (Hutton, loc 329). Christmas is yet to appear.

When we view our organisations through the kaleidoscope of these traditions, such liminality transforms and transmutes. In their study of the sacrilization of Christmas commerce, Bartunek and Do see a complex interplay between the sacred and the profane. This is not just a simple paradox intertwining a Christian holy day and a secular occasion for commerce. Rather, the ‘paradox of Christmas is that organized commercialism has become sacred, and the religious experience of Christmas has lost a good deal of its sacred character’ (Bartunek and Do, p.803).

And, as a liminal time, is it any surprise that the organisational Christmas is marked by rite and ritual? Speaking to friends and colleagues, they revealed the Christmas work customs they enjoyed. The responses were varied. The donning of Christmas jumpers, ‘secret Santa’, home-made treats communally shared, mince pies in the meeting rooms, a seasonal quiz over lunch, directors serving lunch in the staff restaurant. Their eager emails hinted at the sense of belonging and conviviality such customs engendered. Burtunek and Do identify how Durkheim’s definition of the sacred includes the set-apart which has no connection to the supernatural or religious. Rather, it involves beliefs, rituals and duties that comprise a ‘symbolic projection of the group identity’ and provide a ‘source of social cohesion (Bartunek and Do, p.796). So, maybe, we should re-appraise these seemingly trivial customs – not trivial but sanctified by the sacred?

If we look hard enough, we see further evergreen evidence of the betwixt and between. In his study of a Christmas party at a US advertising agency, Rosen categorises the event as both a ‘party’ and an ‘organisational activity’.  It is both work and not work: a ‘relatively free space in which people can and do play, but it is also a space in which ‘fun’ has been institutionalized’ (Rosen, p.468). Such parties are surely similar to the business dinners we encountered in an earlier post on restaurants: they are ‘liminal spaces where the burden of many of the rationalistic rituals of the organisation is suspended, lessened or proscribed’ (Sturdy et al, p.930).


And, of course, the party is also a space for transgression. It integrates ‘dance, music, food, alcohol, performance, laughter, sex and talk’ where the ‘hierarchically arranged relationships of the office are to a degree stripped and levelled during and through play’. (Rosen, p.468). Like the directors serving dinner (a tradition mirrored by officers serving Christmas lunch to the ranks), the hierarchy becomes, albeit temporarily, topsy-turvy. For, as Turner observes, the liminal phases ‘invert but do not usually subvert the status quo’ (Turner, 1982, p.42). When the lunch ends, the roles reverse again; and this time for good. For Rippin, such formalised misrule is a feature of carnival and, quoting Bakhtin, once the carnival is over, the ‘normal order is quickly and completely restored’ (Rippin, p.824).

Maybe such rituals are betwixt and between time too. Their modernity conceals deeper roots: older, sometimes darker, traditions. Hutton shows how the the misrule involved in role reversal reaches back in time to the Saturnalia, the Feast of Fools, the tradition of the Boy Bishop and the school custom of ‘barring out’. In an entertaining analysis of how festive headgear helps us understand contemporary organisational rituals, Rippin sees the humble paper hat – our modern manifestation of a magi’s crown – as symbolic of this power to be king for a day (Rippin, p.825). She also identifies the office Christmas party as a convergence of two further traditions: the feasting of craft guilds and the donning of disguise. The mummer – or ‘guiser’ – took advantage of their camouflage to entertain and/or extort money as they visited door to door. Their behaviour was frequently ‘lively’: at the end of December 1657, a west countryman called Frome complained that he had been beaten up on the 26th by a group who had been ‘drinking, playing cards, and fiddling all day in disguised habits’ (Hutton, loc 698). In my area of East Anglia during the 19th century, agricultural workers engaged in a winter street performance called Molly dancing.

Disguised with blackened faces and women’s clothing, they performed versions of local social dances in exchange for largesse. They could be destructive, drunk and disreputable in appearance. (Bradtke, p.199)

Is it but a step from such guising to the weaving office workers navigating from pub to pub, paper crowns, tinsel halos, Father Christmas hats and reindeer antlers jauntily – or forlornly – displayed? For Rippin, such reindeer antlers reach further back in time. They represent the ‘reintroduction of masculine, ‘natural’, unmediated nature into organizations’ (p.892). They belong to the ‘Green Man whose function might be to bring new vigour to moribund organizations’. This brings yet another liminal turn; for, as we have seen, the Green Man thrives in the margins; the corners; the places we overlook. He is also of all time and every time: our tinsel, baubles and lights mere kitsch simulacra of a face wreathed in ivy, holly, laurel and bay.

To end where we began. Both the liminal and midwinter breathe stories, so here is one I heard many years ago. A friend told of three senior consultants from his company who had travelled to the States to research new clients. As they travelled through tumbleweed states from business to business, the three consultants drove through the December night and dusty, abandoned towns: one at the wheel, one navigating, one asleep. And finally their perseverance brought success in the form of a new account. So why did such a simple tale take such deep roots in my memory? Perhaps because it is a secular re-telling of the Journey of the Magi. Three wise men (for they were, sadly, all men), royalty in their own organisation, who came from the East and endured hardship and a long, sore journey before they found a salvation (of sorts).  So, just as Eliot recast a sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, ancient stories are reinvented for modern times: the ending never written; forever betwixt and between.

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

(Eliot, p.97)

Bartunek, J. M. and Do, B. (2011) ‘The sacralization of Christmas commerce’, Organization, 18(6), pp. 795–806.

Betjeman, J. (2006) ‘Christmas’, in Williams H. (editor) John Betjeman. Faber.

Bradtke, E. (1999), Truculent Rustics: Molly dancing in East Anglia before 1940. The Folklore Society.

Eliot, T.S. (1954) ‘Journey of the Magi’, in Selected Poems: Faber, pp. 81-93.

Hutton, R. (1996), The Stations of the Sun: a History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press.

Rippin, A. (2011) ‘Ritualized Christmas headgear or “Pass me the tinsel, mother: it’s the office party tonight’, Organization, 18(6), pp. 823–832.

Rosen, M. (1988) ‘You asked for it: Christmas at the bosses’ expense’, Journal of Management Studies, 25(5), pp. 463–480.

Sturdy, A. Schwarz, M. Spicer, A. (2006) ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner? Structures and uses of liminality in strategic management consultancy’, Human Relations, 59(7), pp. 929–960.

Turner, V. (1967), The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press.

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