Professor Yiannis Gabriel, Chair in Organisation Studies, University of Bath School of Management

Yiannis GabrielWhen everyone is ‘special’: How we defend ourselves when we all believe in choice

Wednesday 4 December 2013


Since its origins in the works of Taylor and Weber, management has viewed people as resources to be deployed, measured and controlled. In late modernity, however, management has encountered people in different guises, as emotional, meaning-seeking and identity-seeking. This approach has resulted from an increasing emphasis on consumerism, choice, customer service and the shift from manufacturing to a service economy in which emotion becomes a fundamental aspect of the labour process.

In consumerist society, every choice is modelled on consumer choices, and every choice, no matter how trivial, becomes an existential choice – i.e. an identity- and self-defining choice. This lecture will argue that choice is emerging as the dominant illusion of our times, an illusion for the sake of which people are quite willing to endure high levels of insecurity and frustration. This, in turn, prompts new forms of psychological defence.

The lecture will conclude with the suggestion that a new defence, that of specialness, is overtaking more traditional defences against insecurity and anxiety. While earlier defences, rooted in Oedipal dynamics, sacrificed freedom in the interest of security and sought solace in bureaucratic routine, this new defence accepts uncertainty and unpredictability but envisages an imaginary cloak that defends the subject from the slings and arrows of fortune.


Yiannis Gabriel is Professor of Organisational Theory at the School of Management of Bath University. Earlier, he held chairs at Imperial College and Royal Holloway, University of London. Yiannis has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College London, where he also carried out post-graduate studies in industrial sociology. He has a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Yiannis is known for his work into leadership, management learning, organisational storytelling and narratives, psychoanalytic studies of work, and the culture and politics of contemporary consumption. He has used stories as a way of studying numerous social and organisational phenomena including leader-follower relations, group dynamics and fantasies, the management of change, innovation and knowledge transfer.

Yiannis is co-founder of the Organisational Storytelling Seminar series, now in its twelfth year (See More recently, Yiannis has carried out research on leadership and patient care in the hospital sector and on the experiences of sacked leaders, pilots and other senior professionals. He is the author of nine books and numerous articles as well as the University of London distant learning MBA Leadership module. He was editor of Management Learning, associate editor of Human Relations and is currently Senior Editor of Organisation Studies. His enduring fascination as a researcher and educator lies in what he describes as the unpredictability and complexity of organisational life.

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