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Local meaning-making in discursive, embodied and affective registers

Justine Grønbæk Pors (Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 28 December 2020

Issue publication date: 14 July 2021




The purpose of this paper is to argue and explore how local meaning-making processes of leaders also occur in embodied and affective registers. The paper aims to introduce the theoretical concept of affect to studies of local public leadership.


The paper reports from an ethnographic study of local leaders managing educational institutions in Denmark. The paper takes a constructivist or interpretive approach where it is acknowledged that data is not just out-there ready to be collected and reported but is constructed and interpreted in particular manners as part of the complex encounter between researcher and field.


The paper zooms in one particular instance where a leader breaks down in tears and where the tears seem to evoke a particular affective atmosphere. Thus, the paper shows how, just below the elite narrative of a need for stronger, individual and more evidence-based management, we find a myriad of meaning-making processes that transgress distinctions between the corporeal, affective and discursive.

Research limitations/implications

As an ethnography conducted in a local setting, the paper avoids broad generalisations. The findings reflect the theoretical ambition of discussing the role of embodiment and affect in local leadership as much as the studied setting.

Practical implications

The study testify to how policy implementation can take many unexpected turns as local leaders interpret and make sense of policy ambitions in many different ways. Moreover, it testifies to how leaders are informed by embodied experiences and affective atmospheres in their sense-making processes.


The paper is one of the first attempts in public leadership to discuss the role of embodiment and affect in local public leadership.



This research was partly supported by Ungdomsringen. The author wishes to thank Jesper Larsen for inspiring collaboration.


Pors, J.G. (2021), "Local meaning-making in discursive, embodied and affective registers", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 247-264.



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