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The selfish signifier: meaning, virulence and transmissibility in a management fashion

Ilfryn Price (Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Article publication date: 20 July 2012




Management fashions can be, and have been, conceptualized as narrative elements competing for replication and resources in the wider managerial discourse. Most wax and wane through a life cycle. Some achieve an extended place and even a transition to quasi‐ permanent institutions. Facilities/Facility Management (FM) is one such example, the purpose of this paper is to explore this.


The case draws FM's history since 1968 and asks whether it is compatible with recent and classic Darwin, thoughts on cultural evolution as a selection process between competing discourses.


Several properties of that history are argued as compatible with the theoretical stance taken particularly the mutation of the syntactic content to suit local circumstances and the dilution of the term's intent. Success attributes in the selective competition include contingency, securing an organizational home and mutability (what was represented became, more operational, less virulent but in the process more transmissible). In spreading globally the signifier/meme FM also proved mutatable to local managerial discourses.


The study supports a developing paradigm that it is possible to view organizations as ecologies of variously, memes, signifiers, narratives, representations or discourses. All five terms are shown to have been used to make similar significations by different authors. It shows how a natural history of narrative memes can be constructed.



Price, I. (2012), "The selfish signifier: meaning, virulence and transmissibility in a management fashion", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 337-348.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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