Ethnographies of Demise

Amanda Peticca, Marcos Barros and Bob Gephart

In organizational research, the notion of demise is often couched under the veil of various other concepts. For example, demise lurks in the shadow of change and change management. For something to ‘change’ it must transition, depart, expire, or collapse. The liminality of this transitory process of decimation is talked about broad terms of a process that can be managed, or at least harnessed by people adept at change. These ‘change agents’ ride the proverbial wave of change, resiliently accepting and adapting to new conditions. Change is perceived as constant, inevitable, and necessary. The rhetoric of change is interwoven into a wide array of scholarship ranging from popular culture to business management and organizations to politics. Change highlights the optimism of something that is taking shape and becoming something else. It is the “old” leaving space for the “new”, for novel paths, newfound practices, and fresh imaginaries.

Demise gives space for renewal and evolution. Yet the process leaves a gap, a hole and a death of something else. For example Bell and Taylor (2011) have looked at demise in organizations using death as a metaphor for monumental crisis where individuals have dealt with profound loss in work or work relations. Demise from the perspective of death may conjure images and themes of wide-spread mass injustice and ruination resulting from catastrophe (e.g. WWII – and the ruling of Nazi Germany (Bauman, 1989); the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Pakistan in April 2013 (Reinecke & Donaghey, 2015). Demise is historically contextualized and is often deeply saturated with blame and responsibility. Bystanders and onlookers of such demise wag their finger, eagerly searching for the culprit of this gross misconduct and destruction.

What, we wonder is that process? Stoler (2008, p. 194) suggests that ruins may be a way to consider “what has vanished from the past and has long decayed.” For others, like Gordillo (2014) with his ethnography of ruin, it is less about the invisibility or absence created by the ruin and instead, the rubble and rupture embodied in the debris that ruin generates and manifests. After the process of ruination is long over it is the debris that narrates and remembers. What becomes of the ruin and its connected actors, material and discursive objects, geographical spaces, and the like? Building on the recent work of De Cock and O’Doherty (2016), we question what debris leads to ruination? And what debris does ruination create? What provokes the slow burn and punctuated episodes of demise? What unfolds as the dust settles? What is the dust?

Whereas demise with change management is viewed as inevitable and necessary, demise from the perspective of loss of life is deemed avoidable and inexcusable. Demise articulates a unique process of downfall, ending, failure and loss that is often assumed but less often spot-lighted. It also leads to processes of mourning, scapegoating, exculpation, cleansing and, sometimes, celebration that are still left mostly unexplored.

In this stream, we want to recast our questions and revisit our assumptions about the process of demise, the build-up and aftermath, at the individual, organizational and societal level through various ethnographic explorations. We wanted to focus less on the object of demise and more of the processes that lead-up to it and are its consequences. We invite interdisciplinary contributions that critically consider, but are not limited to the following themes and topics:

  • Macro discourses and local narratives about the processes of decimation, displacement and demise (in both literal and figurative terms)
  • Uncovering paradoxes and tensions of collapse, expiration, and downfall along with regeneration, restoration and renewal.
  • Demise Work – jobs that force destruction, collapse, death or are responsible for the tidy up of the effects of such downfall.
  • Cleansing work – jobs that deal with destructive aftermaths and are responsible of cleaning up or celebrating demise
  • Terror, fear & the social construction of risk
  • Stories of lapsed judgement, failed accountability or responsibility that result in demise
  • (Life and) death-related technologies and their use/misuse
  • Narratives of scapegoating and exculpation
  • Socio-material artifacts of debris and rituals of demise
  • Moral ramifications and other ethical controversies related to collapse
  • Socio-construction of ruins (what is celebrated and what is thrown out in the trashcan of history)
  • Methodological and ethnographic challenges in studying demise, death, failures, etc.

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017.


Bauman, Z. (1989). Modernity and the holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press

Bell, E. & Taylor, S. (2011) Beyond letting go and moving on: New perspectives on organizational death, loss and grief. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 27(1), 1-10.

De Cock, C., & O’Doherty, D. (2016). Ruin and Organization Studies. Organization Studies.

Gordillo, G. R. (2014). Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction. Duke University Press.

Reinecke, J., & Donaghey, J. (2015). After Rana Plaza: Building coalitional power for labour rights between unions and (consumption-based) social movement organisations. Organization, 22(5), 720-740.

Stoler, A. L. (2013). Imperial debris: On ruins and ruination. Duke University Press.