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The tyranny of distance: Kafka and the problem of distance in bureaucratic organizations

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Organization
Issue number1
Volume22
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)58-77
Publication statusPublished
Early online date11/09/13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Inspired by the insights of Franz Kafka, this article explores the problem of ‘distance’ in a UK bank, particularly by focusing on one of its back-office processing centres. Distance refers to a way of not seeing those below us in the hierarchy; this might mean that we act in ways that display little thought or concern for the experiences of others. It is argued that the ‘distance’ created between human beings through bureaucratic ways of organizing is potentially debilitating. Academic accounts often strive for objectivity and, in doing so, they tend to stand at a distance from the suffering of those they seek to represent. By contrast, fiction elucidates distance in a more emotional, passionate and, therefore, engaged and engaging way. This article draws on Kafka because his work is subversive and it highlights the need to create ways of organizing and being that promote empathy with ‘others’. Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that distance can be eliminated because it is fundamental to how we develop our sense of self and it is ingrained within processes of rationalization. The article is distinctive because although numerous accounts have used fiction to theoretically analyse organizations few have sought to use fiction to analyse empirical material.