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Critical management studies and the agélaste ethos

Alexander Styhre (Division of Project Management, Department of Technology Management Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 15 February 2008




This paper aims to discuss the notion of carnival laughter in Bakhtin's examination of Rabelais's literary works. The paper suggests that what may be called, after Rabelais, the agélaste ethos, the ethos of the men and women without laughter, remains a strong influence in some domains of critical management studies (CMS) as well as mainstream organization theory.


The literature review discusses Russian literature theorist Mikhail Bakhtin's analysis of the writings of François Rabelais and related his concept of the agélaste to contemporary social and organization theory.


Some proponents of CMS praise the critical thinking and the outlook on society established by its foundational writers Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse. As a consequence, CMS tends to exclude the sources of joy, laughter and transgression and regard such social and human gestures and events as being frivolous and ephemeral. Therefore, CMS remains trapped within its own sphere of critical thinking and fails to address and understand significant components of everyday life.

Research limitations/implications

The paper suggests that the notion of “critique” needs to be explored within the community of CMS researchers.


Discusses the concept of critique so central for both the CMS tradition of thinking and other domains of management studies in new terms.



Styhre, A. (2008), "Critical management studies and the agélaste ethos", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 92-106.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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