Torkild Thanem

Torkild Thanem


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Works at Stockholm Business School
Telephone 08-16 46 43
Visiting address Kräftriket hus 15, Roslagsvägen 101
Room 15:304
Postal address Företagsekonomiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Professor of Management & Organization Studies.

Associate Editor of Organization: The Critical Journal of Organization, Theory & Society. 


I have long experience of teaching and supervising undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and post-experience students in management, organization and change. I currently teach doctoral and masters courses in qualitative research methods.



I am particularly interested in how people within and around organizations express and experience their bodily selves, how they relate to the embodied identities of other people, and how they deal with prevailing pressures and expectations in organizational life. This raises political and ethical questions around what it means to work in contemporary organizations – how our lives and bodies are managed, and how we might pursue joyful relations with others in concord with, or in conflict with, organizational structures and cultures. In my previous research, I have explored these questions in the realms of workplace health promotion, consultancy firms, transgender politics, leadership, and urban planning. With funding from the Swedish Research Council, I am currently doing an ethnographic study of a Swedish fashion company to find out what it is like to live and work in contemporary  corporate performance cultures. I am also in the process of finishing a book (with David Knights) on embodied methods in social science research.

Research areas: Corporate performance cultures; workplace health promotion; leadership; transgender; embodied methods; organizational ethics; urban planning; homelessness; disability.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2017. Alison Pullen, Carl Rhodes, Torkild Thanem. Organization 24 (1), 105-123

    Current approaches to the study of affective relations are over-determined in a way that ignores their radicality, yet abstracted to such an extent that the corporeality and differentially lived experience of power and resistance is neglected. To radicalize the potential of everyday affects, this article calls for an intensification of corporeality in affect research. We do this by exploring the affective trajectory of ‘becoming-woman’ introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Becoming-woman is a process of gendered deterritorialization and a specific variation on becoming-minoritarian. Rather than a reference to empirical women, becoming-woman is a necessary force of critique against the phallogocentric powers that shape and constrain working lives in gendered organizations. While extant research on gendered organizations tends to focus on the overwhelming power of oppressive gender structures, engaging with becoming-woman releases affective flows and possibilities that contest and transgress the increasingly subtle and confusing ways in which gendered organization affects people at work. Through becoming-woman, an affective and affirmative politics capable of resisting the effects of gendered organization becomes possible. This serves to further challenge gendered oppression in organizations and to affirm a life beyond the harsh limits that gender can impose.

  • 2017. Louise Wallenberg, Torkild Thanem. Feminists and queer theorists debate the future of critical management studies, 195-201

    In this short piece we take issue with the current separatist tendencies that are being expressed in certain parts of the queer community. We illustrate how this compares with central ideas in proto-queer thought and queer theory, and how it risks undermining the possibility of a queer dialogue and queer politics. 

  • 2016. Torkild Thanem, Louise Wallenberg. Organization 23 (2), 250-271

    While previous research in organization studies has utilized transgender to show how gender is done, overdone and undone, this literature lacks empirical grounding, and the theoretical arguments dominating it tend to idealize the transgressive power of transgender while reducing transgender to hyperbolic drag and stereotypical passing. To further advance the understanding of transgender within and around organizations, this article presents a qualitative study from a Northern European country to investigate how male-to-female transvestites do and undo gender in everyday life and work. In contrast to extant research, we found that participants did transgender and undid gender by underdoing gender, that is, by combining feminine, masculine and ungendered practices and attributes in ways that made passing and drag insignificant. As transvestites simultaneously expressed masculine and feminine forms of embodiment, we argue that they may more obviously challenge, though not dismantle, dominant forms of gender and identity than suggested by previous accounts. We conclude by discussing broader implications for the understanding of gender, identity, power and resistance in organizations.

  • 2016. Alison Pullen (et al.). Gender, Work and Organization 23 (1), 1-6
  • Chapter The Body
    2015. Torkild Thanem. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies, 276-284
  • 2015. Torkild Thanem, Louise Wallenberg. Organization 22 (2), 235-250

    Recent attempts to develop an embodied understanding of ethics in organizations have tended to mobilize a Levinasian and “im/possible” ethics of recognition, which separates ethics and embodiment from politics and organization. We argue that this separation is unrealistic, unsustainable, and an unhelpful starting point for an embodied ethics of organizations. Instead of rescuing and modifying the ethics of recognition, we propose an embodied ethics of organizational life through Spinoza’s affective ethics. Neither a moral rule system nor an infinite duty to recognize the other, Spinoza offers a theory of the good, powerful and joyful life by asking what bodies can do. Rather than an unrestrained, irresponsible and individualistic quest for power and freedom, this suggests that we enhance our capacities to affect and be affected by relating to a variety of different bodies. We first scrutinize recent attempts to develop an ethics of recognition and embodiment in organization studies. We then explore key concepts and central arguments of Spinozian ethics. Finally, we discuss what a Spinozian ethics means for the theory and practice of embodied ethics in organizational life.

  • 2014. Torkild Thanem. Mercury (7/8), 64-67
  • 2013. Torkild Thanem. Leadership 9 (3 (SI)), 396-415

    Despite Weber’s early emphasis on passionate emotions in charismatic leadership and a recent but broader interest in the embodied and emotional aspects of leadership, we still know relatively little about how passions are embodied in leadership. We also know little about how such passions may transgress formally and socially defined limits of leadership in organizations. Through a case of workplace health promotion this paper therefore investigates how people in organizational leadership roles passionately – and corporeally – transgress the limits of these roles whilst pursuing organizational change. Going beyond extant research, the paper argues that the leaders’ pursuit of health was driven by their own embodied passions as well as by organizational rationales, but that their passions were expressed in largely non-charismatic ways that de-motivated rather than motivated employees.

  • 2009. Torkild Thanem. Culture and Organization 15 (1), 59-74
  • 2010. Torkild Thanem. Gender, Work and Organization 17 (1), 91-112

    This article seeks to critically investigate the assembling, production and organization of female and male sexuality in contemporary Swedish sex education. The empirical focus is on booklets and leaflets published by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (the RFSU). Employing the concept of assemblages articulated by Deleuze and Guattari and rearticulated in social, organizational and feminist theorizing, the article examines how the RFSU material assembles, produces and organizes the sexual spaces of female and male embodiment (bodily zones, passages, surfaces, interiors, extensions, orifices and cavities) by promoting particular sexual practices. While the RFSU assemblages may seem to express a celebratory attitude towards sexual diversity, freedom and enjoyment, the article argues that the extent to which they undo a dichotomous and stereotypical organization of sexuality and gender is limited. Finally, the article discusses what implications this may have for organization theory.

  • 2013. Christian Maravelias, Torkild Thanem, Mikael Holmqvist. Managing 'human resources' by exploiting and exploring people's potentials, 129-159

    In contrast to the largely functionalist and apolitical literature which dominates organisational scholarship on exploitation and exploration after March, this paper seeks to complement this view of exploitation and exploration with a Marxist reading which is unwittingly implied by these terms. More specifically, we combine neo-Marxist and paleo-Marxist arguments to more fully understand the conflictual relations that underpin exploitation and exploration in the management of firms. This enables us to address both the objective and subjective dimensions of exploitation and exploration which firms and workers are involved in through the contemporary capitalist labour process. We illustrate this by drawing on a case study of a large Swedish manufacturing firm which sought to improve lean production by systematically helping employees to explore their own lifestyles and possibilities for a healthier and happier life.

  • 2013. Anna Essén, Torkild Thanem, Sara Värlander. Careers without Borders, 78-92
  • 2007. Stephen Linstead, Torkild Thanem. Organization Studies 28 (8), 1483-1501

    Formal organization is often seen as opposed or resistant to change, in theory as well as in practice. Drawing primarily on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze we argue that the reverse is true — that organization is itself a dynamic quality and that change and organization are imbricated in each other. We expand several key concepts of this philosophy in relation to organization (the multiplicity of order and the multiplicity of organization, strata and meshworks, virtuality and multitude) all of which draw attention to the unstable but ever-present forces that subvert and disrupt, escape, exceed and change organization. This enables an understanding of organization as creatively autosubversive — not fixed, but in motion, never resting and constantly trembling.

  • 2011. Torkild Thanem, Sara Värlander, Stephen Cummings. International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion 4 (1), 78-98

    Recently, open office design has witnessed a shift from formalised design models toward the promotion of fun, spontaneity and creativity through design. Using qualitative data from two case studies, we investigate how this 'new spirit' of open and pro-creative office design may afford a broader range of behaviours than originally intended. We argue that it may actually undermine the kind of creativity that it is intended to foster, producing unforeseen forms of employee creativity that normalise rather than disrupt structures and boundaries. Finally, we discuss what implications this may have for the understanding of organisational politics.

  • 2006. Torkild Thanem. Organization 13 (2), 163-193

    Following the recent curiosity for monsters in social and organizational research, this paper questions the power, purity and boundaries of organization by accentuating its risky encounters with heterogeneous, monstrous bodies. In an attempt to problematize organization theory’s implicit dissociation of monsters from organization, the understanding and treatment of monsters is traced across a variety of discursive formations in Western history—from Medieval and Renaissance theology and medicine, via Classical life science, freak shows and contemporary performance art, to recent social science and organization theory. Invoking Deleuze and Guattari’s (1988) work on creative involution, the paper goes beyond previous social and organizational research in thinking the radicality of monsters, and it concludes with an argument for a monstrous organization theory that: (i) encourages organizational researchers to critically reflect about their own monstrosity; (ii) challenges the stigmatization of monstrous embodiment; and (iii) delves into bodies that live on the edge and disrupt organizational boundaries

  • 2004. Torkild Thanem. Culture and Organization 10 (3), 203-217
Show all publications by Torkild Thanem at Stockholm University

Last updated: January 24, 2021

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