Fear of the Formal

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

748 Downloads (Pure)


Over recent decades, ‘formal’ organisations have come in for severe criticism. Not only is formal organisation represented as ill suited to the realities of the contemporary organisational world, but as a key source from which organisational dysfunctions themselves emerge. For that reason informal and spontaneous modes of organising have emerged, or better re-emerged, as preferable substitutes, because they, in contrast to the formal, allegedly allow for creativity, inventiveness, flexibility, speed, and freedom. Thus, the province of the formal is significantly devalued. In this paper, we explore what we term this ‘fear of the formal’, outlining key elements of its genealogy and exploring its contemporary manifestation in relation to recent and ongoing reforms of organisational life in a range of contexts. At the same time, we seek to indicate the continuing constitutive significance of formality and formalisation for both the securing of organisational purposes and individual freedom.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)6-40
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Organisational theory
  • Formal organisation
  • Informality
  • Critique
  • Formality
  • Freedom

Cite this