Concrete Freedom at Work: Hegel’s Normative Conception of Freedom and Its Relevance to Organization Studies

Morten S. Thaning*, Johan Gersel, Michael Pedersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In organization studies, the prevailing understanding of freedom has revolved around a specific concept of autonomy. However, we propose an alternative and normative concept of freedom, drawing inspiration from the philosophy of Hegel and a reinterpretation of his ideas by Robert Brandom. We begin by diagnosing the liberal conceptions of freedom as opportunity and autonomy that shape the predominant understanding of freedom at work within organization studies. We then follow Hegel and conceive freedom as the expansive realization of oneself through the commitment to meaningful constraints. In contrast to the dominant liberal notions of freedom, Hegel allows us to understand professional commitments and communal obligations at work as the medium of freedom. We argue that concrete freedom at work requires (a) that workers see their work as intrinsically valuable and (b) that neither they nor their employers are unconditionally free to define norms for how work is to be organized and pursued. We then demonstrate the theoretical implications of shifting from the liberal conceptions of freedom prevalent in organization studies to a Hegelian conception of freedom. The Hegelian theory leads to a more nuanced understanding of worker decision-discretion, motivation and the meaningfulness of work. Additionally, it has implications for research on bureaucracy and institutional logics. We end by considering the limits of the empirical applicability of our Hegelian theory, and by highlighting its normative value for practitioners and critical management scholars.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Studies
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 23 April 2024.


  • Autonomy
  • Freedom
  • Hegel
  • Identity
  • Liberalism
  • Professions and professional ethics
  • Recognition
  • Work

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