'Dishing the dirt': Gossiping in organizations

Publisher:
Routledge
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Culture and Organization, 2009, 15 (3-4), pp. 275 - 289
Issue Date:
2009-01
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In an exercise in social theory, rather than an empirical investigation, we concentrate on the role of gossip - spreading 'news about the affairs of another' - in relation to the dynamics of power in organizations. Gossip has often been seen in functional terms, as both positive and negative for the organization. In this paper we challenge this functionalist approach. Gossip can be associated with what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences: the gossipers tend not to be too dissimilar from those gossiped about in terms of proximity. Propinquity may increase the animosity of gossip. We see formal organization as a self-regulating system that constantly refines its boundaries, and gossip is the dirt that trickles in and out of these boundaries, illegitimate, formally disdained and often destructive. The writer who has done most to encourage and clarify thinking about the nature of dirt is Mary Douglas, the anthropologist, especially her notion of expressive pollution. The paper concludes with some implications for ethics in practice viewed through power relations.
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