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

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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'. Supervi 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 Supervisors have been replaced by 'managers', managers are referred to as executives.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.


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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'. Supervi 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 Supervisors have been replaced by 'managers', managers are referred to as executives.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.

30 review for Triumph of Emptiness: Consumption, Higher Education, and Work Organization

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter Geyer

    Part of the enjoyment of reading Mats Alvesson is his transparency. He tells you he's a sceptic, so you know you're in for a critique. Unlike some people who use that label, he knows what it means and provides some data and experience for his argument. It's easy to be a critic, much harder to back things up and to invite others to check out the data. The emptiness Alvesson writes about involves looking at several areas, from consumption in general, higher education, working life and organisations Part of the enjoyment of reading Mats Alvesson is his transparency. He tells you he's a sceptic, so you know you're in for a critique. Unlike some people who use that label, he knows what it means and provides some data and experience for his argument. It's easy to be a critic, much harder to back things up and to invite others to check out the data. The emptiness Alvesson writes about involves looking at several areas, from consumption in general, higher education, working life and organisations, occupational groups and professionsalisation as well as leadership and the themes are what he calls grandiosity and imagology, which may be about looking good (sometimes a physical requirement), but being content-free.There's also functional stupidity, a marvellous idea which is elaborated on in a more recent book, which I read and reviewed a few weeks ago. This can mean anything from people inventing important titles for themselves and others, or the requirement to do so on CVs, the self-promotion of educational institutions essentially making promises they can't deliver to students who may not be all that interested and have misleading views about future prospects in the world of work, the status seeking of professionalisation and consequent issues (a nice line about certification), problems of mass education and maintenance of standards ( a line I've had in mind for many years regarding teachers and psychologists), some musings on leadership, particularly transformational leadership (in my view a soft target) and whether people want to follow, be left alone or something in between. There are a number of interesting phrases. From today's completion there's "Knowing too much of what really goes on then may make it difficult to express positive messages. Ignorance may in this sense increase credibility. The will to not know may be a strong contemporary motive, facilitating many individuals' careers (and ease of mind." (p202) I also greatly liked his labelling of branding as "symbolic pollution" This is a book that makes you think and the author doesn't require you to agree. There are all sorts of interesting references to follow up, including (for me) some familiar names. I don't usually read too many books on organisations these days, as that's a past life and there have rarely been insights of depth and examples easily recognised in personal experience anyway as there is from this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Allys Dierker

    I’m not at all put off by the skepticism. In fact, that’s why I bought the book and committed to reading it. But “Triumph” suffers from a few challenges: it’s a bit too “academese-y” and the concepts are pretty simple but dressed up and expanded in what feels like an attempt to fill pages. There are also some sloppily written/edited passages that made reading this more of a chore than reading “The Stupidity Paradox.” Alvesson analyzes consumption, higher education, and work organization (his subt I’m not at all put off by the skepticism. In fact, that’s why I bought the book and committed to reading it. But “Triumph” suffers from a few challenges: it’s a bit too “academese-y” and the concepts are pretty simple but dressed up and expanded in what feels like an attempt to fill pages. There are also some sloppily written/edited passages that made reading this more of a chore than reading “The Stupidity Paradox.” Alvesson analyzes consumption, higher education, and work organization (his subtitle) according to three concepts he articulates as zero-sum games, “grandiosity,” and illusion tricks. His overall argument seems to be that goods/brands, schools, and jobs have been changed by a culture that has moved away from physical production and into “knowledge production.” And because Western culture now has fewer physical things to produce, the economy depends on manufacturing desire for products, which are “positional,” or “zero-sum.” Consumers buy brands because they (consumers) want to improve their (consumers’) status, which depends on a zero-sum game: I can only be (and feel) superior if I am better than you. And I can do this through brands, and schooling, and work titles, all of which are inflated. Alvesson cites sources to argue that education is educating less (tests indicate that students are performing more poorly in critical thinking skills AFTER years of college than when they entered but schools use precious resources marketing themselves heavily as a brand), that middle management is increasing in size with inflated titles and leadership concepts are fairly bankrupt (when “leaders” chat and drink coffee with secretaries, the leaders are “doing leadership.” When secretaries chat and drink coffee with other secretaries, they are chatting and drinking coffee. Google “post-heroic leadership” and prepare for your eyes to get stuck that way from rolling them), and that people are so busy keeping up with the Joneses buying crap to fill a void that will never be filled. And this leaves us where? With unfulfilling lives, jobs, narcissism, and a functional stupidity that we need to survive in a Potemkin village that looks great but is hollow at its heart. There are some good analyses about fashion (it’s jumped the shark the minute it catches on—and this means fashions of clothing as well as theories of organization), student satisfaction (a consumer orientation detracts from what we like to think education does: teaches discipline and concepts and skills that may not come easily and the value of deferred gratification and personal growth over mere credentiaing), diversity (the symbolic value of diversity management is at odds with an everyday level of operations that involves people who may or may not play well with others and may or may not buy into the myth of a well-oiled rainbow workplace), and titles in the workplace (the professionalization of jobs leads to expectations that the jobs can’t possibly fulfill: everyone wants to engage in strategy and no one wants to do the grunt work). But Alvesson’s writing in “Triumph” is a little too unwieldy and padded for me to feel like the substance I took away justified the volume and the difficulty of reading the prose. Overall, my cynical take on the message: we are set up to want more (stuff, money, respect, prestige) than our economy and workplaces and education are actually able to provide. So instead of recognizing and accepting that and finding fulfillment internally, we look externally (and are encouraged to do so because that’s how brands and schools make money and how companies keep running) and expect our stuff and jobs and titles to provide that fulfillment. I put this on the “Existential Crisis: Deal with It Because Only You Can Fix You” shelf. It’s not a message a thinking person can really reject.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Harry Fulgencio

    It was a bit too close for comfort. Alvesson's persona sounds more like a ranting preacher rather than a person that inspires and persuades people to reflect upon the trend of grandiosity. The book tries to appeal to public and almost everyone because of this the tone changes from one to another. He does have a point with the trend but I think it would haven been a great read if he just stuck with two themes: consumption of technology and continued professionalization (higher education - masters It was a bit too close for comfort. Alvesson's persona sounds more like a ranting preacher rather than a person that inspires and persuades people to reflect upon the trend of grandiosity. The book tries to appeal to public and almost everyone because of this the tone changes from one to another. He does have a point with the trend but I think it would haven been a great read if he just stuck with two themes: consumption of technology and continued professionalization (higher education - masters - e.g. food and beverage management) of jobs among others..

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    Those who have never dealt with works coming from the field of critical management studies here have a great opportunity to do so. The aim of Alvesson is no other than that of provoking a reflection (puncturing myths, as he says) on academic, media-related and taken-for-granted truths on fields so disperse as management theory, consumption&marketing, leadership studies or higher education at large. Core ideas he wants to covey are the unstoppable display (and proliferation), in our mature Western Those who have never dealt with works coming from the field of critical management studies here have a great opportunity to do so. The aim of Alvesson is no other than that of provoking a reflection (puncturing myths, as he says) on academic, media-related and taken-for-granted truths on fields so disperse as management theory, consumption&marketing, leadership studies or higher education at large. Core ideas he wants to covey are the unstoppable display (and proliferation), in our mature Western economies, of zero-sum games (example: status-oriented consumption), grandiosity (selling image above substance) and illusion tricks (pseudo-events, pseudo-theories, pseudo-realities) in all the above mentioned fields. The text works nicely for those (management) professors willing to discuss the societal, ethical and even politico-ideological implications of big segments of their areas of expertise

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dag Gustafson

    Good read to broaden your spectrum.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karl

  7. 4 out of 5

    Omair

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maria Guseva

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    Erik Eriksson

  10. 4 out of 5

    sislasus

  11. 5 out of 5

    Somar Nalbandian

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kajsa Hansson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carl Bedrot

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma

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    Alexander

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    Susan Happonen

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    Anh Vu

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adam Hermansson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adolfo

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anders Buch

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rasim Serdar

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christer Persson

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alessandro Mariucci

  24. 5 out of 5

    Florencia Ravenna

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maria

  26. 4 out of 5

    Johan

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    Isa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mats Goffhé

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blaž Potokar

  30. 5 out of 5

    Emanuel Almroth

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