Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 311–334 | Cite as

Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization

  • Katherine K. ChenEmail author


Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.


Charisma Charismatizing the routine Meaning Organization Storytelling 



This research was supported by the Harvard Graduate Arts and Sciences and the Social Science Research Council’s “Corporation as a Social Institution.” Special thanks for suggestions made by the Editor and anonymous reviewers. I also thank John Chin, Gerald Davis, Gwendolyn Dordick, David J. Frank, Joseph Galaskiewicz, J. Richard Hackman, Lily M. Hoffman, Jacqueline Johnson, John Krinsky, Howard Lune, Peter V. Marsden, Miranda Martinez, Stephen Steinberg, the Davis Conference on Qualitative Research, ICOS at University of Michigan, the Faculty Fellowship Publications Program at CUNY, MAJAC, and writing groups at Harvard University and William Paterson University for comments made on earlier presentations and drafts of this paper. All errors are mine.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The City College of New York and the Graduate CenterCity University of New York (CUNY)New YorkUSA

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