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Rhetoric, narrative and management: learning from Mad Men

Ronald Soetaert (Department of Educational Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Kris Rutten (Department of Educational Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




In previous research on rhetoric and narrative in management research, cultural narratives have been studied as tools to reflect on rhetorical situations from the perspective of management. The purpose of this paper is to present a similar exploration of rhetoric while focusing on a modern example from popular culture: the television series Mad Men.


This paper first discusses rhetorical concepts from the work of Kenneth Burke and Richard Lanham as inspirational guides, thereafter, these concepts are used to analyze the case of Mad Men. Specifically, the main character Don Draper is analyzed as a homo rhetoricus in an attention economy.


Don Draper becomes a case study of what it means to introduce a rhetorical perspective in advertising and management. It is argued that Don Draper’s reflections in the series can be described as a “perspective on perspectives” or as a “toggling” between different rhetorical perspectives.


Previous research discussed the emergence of spinning and the appearance of the “spin doctor” as a major figure in society in general and fiction in particular. In this article, it is argued that the same is also true for advertising. Mad Men is introduced as a case study about the revival of rhetoric as a major skill and an important perspective in and for our personal, professional and social lives.



This paper forms part of a special section. The rhetoric and narratives in management research.


Soetaert, R. and Rutten, K. (2017), "Rhetoric, narrative and management: learning from Mad Men", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 323-333.



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