Glass Palaces and Glass Cages

Spectacles of resistance and resistance of spectacles


Academy of Management pre-conference, ATLANTA,

AUGUST 11-12, 2006

Yiannis Gabriel, Royal Holloway, University of London
School of Management
Royal Holloway University of London
Surrey TW20 0EX
Tel.   44(0) 1784 414974

Max Weber’s metaphor of ‘the iron cage’ provided an abiding image of organizations during the high-noon of modernity. It captured the entrapping qualities of bureaucracies which sought to control everything through rational procedures, rules and processes. But these organizations, rigid, rational and predictable, are no longer sustainable, in our times of information capitalism, globalization, and consumer power. Instead of a pre-occupation with efficient production and rational administration, management today is increasingly turning to the consumer as the measure of all things, a consumer who seeks not merely the useful and the functional, but the magical, the fantastic and the alluring. Management of organizations thus finds itself increasingly preoccupied with the orchestration of collective fantasies and the venting of collective emotions through the power of symbols and images.

Glass cages and glass palaces

I argued earlier that the demise of Weber’s iron cage of rationality has exposed us neither to the freedom of a garden of earthly delights nor to the desolation of the law of the jungle (Gabriel, 2005). Instead, the new experiences of work and consumption in today’s organizations allow for greater ambivalence and nuance, for which I offered the metaphor of a glass cage and its double, a glass palace. As a material generating, distorting and disseminating images, glass seems uniquely able to evoke both the glitter and the fragility of organizations in late modernity. The metaphor of the glass cage suggests certain constraints, discontents and consolations quite...