How people and organizations create and manage excess

This book presents studies of ways in which people and organizations deal with the overflow of information, goods, or choices. The contributors explore two main themes. The first is the emergence of overflows: What is defined as overflow? Here the notion of framing as coined by Michel Callon has guided our approach. There is no overflow until some flow has been framed; framing means defining, and defining means imposing borders. Who does it, how, and why? The answer to these questions necessitates an historical and comparative approach. What one culture defines as necessity, another may see as excess, and these differences can exist even between different levels of the same social hierarchy. The second theme is the management of overflows, in the double meaning of the term: as controlling and as coping. Coping with overflow means learning to live with it; controlling overflow requires various skills and devices. The individual chapters show the management of overflow taking place in various social settings, periods, and political contexts: From the attempts of states to manage future consumption overflow in post-war Eastern European to the contemporary economies of sharing. Other contributions focus on overflow in healthcare administration, overflow problems in mass travel and migration, overflow in digital services, and the overflow that scholars face in dealing with an abundance of research information and publications. This edited volume belongs to the transdisciplinary social sciences, and therefore it should be of interest to sociologists, management scholars, economists, historians, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars.

Workplaces have recently faced a silent revolution. The number of desks no longer equals the number of persons working full time, and mobile laptops travel around the office with employees, as the time they spend at their desks is diminishing rapidly. Office planning and space management used to be much easier than it is now, and offices are changing rapidly: Old premises are being rearranged and new ones built according to new rules. The modern workplace is facing the challenge of an overflow of people, activities, machines, and other things. Organizations attempt to deal with this challenge by generating new coping strategies. Some of these strategies involve the application of management tools in order to make these flows visible and countable and, as a result, controllable.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?

How does digital bureaucracy compare to paper bureaucracy in terms of its ‘instrumental rationality‘, efficiency, and effectiveness, as judged by both the users and the officials? Further, how well does the digital bureaucracy fulfill the function of a framing device? After all, one of the main reasons for digitalizing public sector services was the information overload caused by the increased complexity of administrative processes. Did it happen? Not really. This chapter is not an attempt to plant the seed of doubt into the belief that virtual red tape is potentially an effective way of managing document overflow. Yet that belief can cause cognitive overflow to both the bureaucrats and their customers, and the way out of it is to synchronize the “manual” management of overflow with the digital one.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
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Only a tiny proportion of the cultural regulatory system to which people must relate can be communicated through signs in the street or in law regulations. A considerably greater part of our understanding of the circumstances and restrictions of the community happens through informal talk, for instance in the form of gossip. The media scandal as a phenomenon reveals these often unspoken and emotionally regulated cultural agreements. It makes the boundaries of cultural life visible, allowing us to examine those boundaries by talking about them and exploring them emotionally together. What the book has brought out is the circular character of the news food chain where gossip, journalism, the exercise of public authority, and political considerations form an intricate network, without clear hierarchies or directions for the flows of information. In this sense, gossip-influenced and gossip-dependent journalism is not by definition bad or inferior. Undoubtedly, more studies on news journalism need to be conducted with respect to its oral, informal methods – not least now, in the midst of the shift of journalism from industrial production to an emotionally charged networked environment.

in Exposed
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Living with scandal, rumour, and gossip

This book illuminates the personal experience of being at the centre of a media scandal. The existential level of that experience is highlighted by means of the application of ethnological and phenomenological perspectives to extensive empirical material drawn from a Swedish context. The questions raised and answered in this book include the following: How does the experience of being the protagonist in a media scandal affect a person’s everyday life? What happens to routines, trust, and self-confidence? How does it change the basic settings of his or her lifeworld?

The analysis also contributes new perspectives on the fusion between interpersonal communication that takes place face to face, such as gossip and rumours, and traditional news media in the course of a scandal. A scandal derives its momentum from the audiences, whose engagement in the moral story determines its dissemination and duration. The nature of that engagement also affects the protagonist in specific ways. Members of the public participate through traditional oral communication, one vital aspect of which is activity in digital, social forums.

The author argues that gossip and rumour must be included in the idea of the media system if we are to be able to understand the formation and power of a media scandal, a contention which entails critiques of earlier research. Oral interpersonal communication does not disappear when new communication possibilities arise. Indeed, it may be invigorated by them. The term news legend is introduced, to capture the entanglement between traditional news-media storytelling and oral narrative.

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This chapter is different from the others. This is partly because the main figure in the case that is described in detail is an anonymous private individual, partly because the story can be included in the concept of public shaming, with some folkloristic elements, rather than in that of a media scandal, although the two are related. The material is suitable for illustrating enduring relations between the local and the medial, between text and talk, and between journalism and gossip. The concept news legend is introduced, to pinpoint the narrative contagion and passing-down that take place among journalists and other news providers, in cooperation with the news audiences.

in Exposed

In this part of the book, the analysis of the relationship between the interpersonal and the mediated dimension of the public scandal is taken a step further. The chapter shows that these dimensions are more or less interwoven, a circumstance to which media researchers have not paid much attention because they have usually chosen to focus on the media themselves, employing a narrow definition of the ‘media’ concept. The overall question is: How is a media scandal possible, and through which media is it created? On close examination, it becomes clear that scandals have been mediated for centuries, and that general person-to-person conversations about them have played a notable part in that process. In a historical perspective, the oral distribution of news should in point of fact be considered a form of mediation.

in Exposed

This part of the book presents fundamental themes in the interviews with the central figures of the scandals and their partners. Several respondents testified to how their previously ‘given’ existence was transformed into an unfamiliar and terrifying chaos where nothing was the same. Every one of the affected people testified individually to tangible feelings of unreality and loneliness in the wake of the media scandal, a loneliness that was both voluntarily chosen and forced on them. Many of them dwelt on the experience of being stared at. Some people with a superficial or non-existent relationship to the protagonist of the drama seemed to respond to the scandal by staring intently at the scandalised person from a distance. Others demonstratively averted their eyes. It is a function on the part of the scandal, the author argues, that it causes guilt and shame in the affected individual as well as a feeling of being deprived of dignity in the full glare of publicity. Scandals are shame- and degradation-rituals, symbolic occasions where people are exiled into the guild of the guilty.

in Exposed
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The introduction provides a detailed survey of existing research in the media-scandal domain. The author’s own perspectives are introduced, with an emphasis on ethnological and phenomenological theories which demonstrate the importance of understanding the scandal as a cultural phenomenon. The purpose is partly to explore the emotional experience of being the main figure of a media scandal, partly to study the complex media system that creates the scandal. What does the scandal feel like for the person who is affected by it, and what can these emotions teach us about both people and media? This book brings out more or less forgotten universal human existential aspects of media scandals, among other things by paying attention to the emotions of the affected parties.

in Exposed

To a greater extent than the preceding chapters, this one deals with journalism and politics as arenas and examines how the two of them interact today. Through analysis of qualitative interviews with Swedish high-profile journalists, it paints a complex picture of the relationships of reporters to the emotions that the exercise of their profession may evoke. Special attention is given to journalistic culture – the normative cement that creates coherence and meaning in the everyday lives of journalists, where spoken or silent agreements, rules, and routines govern journalistic work and the production of news. Many journalists are aware of being caught up in behaviour based on group pressure and a common driving force, rather than on individual reflection and critical consideration, when a scandal is in the offing.

in Exposed