Playing with Vincent-the-Duck in the work space: Physical, playful artefacts as totems of organizational symbolism
Keywords:Physical artifact, playful object, totemism, visuality, organizational culture, symbolism
Physical artifacts represented often in the form of animals, are used to symbolize and reinforce organizational culture. There is a difference between strong and successful organizations and the average ones, and we think the reason for this lies in how culture is expressed in visible daily routines in a unique and in playful way.
Let us tell you a short story about Vincent-the-Duck.
Vincent was born in an IT-Technology company almost ten years ago. Vincent’s job is to sit next to the computer table or a screen and to “be wise”. People use Vincent when they have a problem; he gives people an easy way to find a solution and to ask questions. We see walking and talking people in the meeting rooms with Vincent. They don´t need to bother any of their colleagues. Furthermore, Vincent has another role to function as a special symbol for the company; his picture is everywhere and he is celebrated in many ways.
Until now. There are only few studies in organization theory regarding the physical artifacts. Images and visual artifacts are not just add-ons to verbal texts, mere transmitters of information, or means of communication: they have become an elementary mode for the construction, maintenance and transformation of meaning. Various scholars have taken up the challenge of including aspects related to visuality in their empirical research as well as in theory building. (Meyer et al. 2013, p. 490–491).
We use the example of Vincent-the-Duck – an actual physical artefact symbolizing company X as a point of departure to examine how physical, playful artifacts may be used to reinforce organizational culture. Thus, we aim to find out how organizations can use tangible and physical objects to reinforce their culture and way of working? and What kind of stories are behind tangible objects, which are used to enhance organization identity?
This study is based on aesthetics approach, which examines the artefact in its “beginning-in-use” in organizational settings, emphasizing material knowledge and practice in the study of organizations. Everyday organizational routine comprises artifacts that are beautiful to use, graceful to the eye or grotesque, kitsch or repellent and to which the language-in-use of organizational discursive practices attaches labels evocative of the aesthetic categories of beautiful, ugly, sublime, gracious and so on. There are artifacts that are desirable or repulsive, artifacts born from our desire for knowledge, and artifacts that spring from our desire to give form in that every human forms something. (Strati 2013, p. 25–26.)
The data analysis is still on going and the results are tentative, but nevertheless, our analysis indicates that physical artefacts rare important in symbolizing and reinforcing organizational culture. Our study combines how organizational members use physical playful artifacts to construct an organizational phenomenon in the form of a totem.
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