Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 598–617 | Cite as

Emptiness and Work: a Meaning-Making Perspective

  • Pedro F. BendassolliEmail author
Regular Article


This paper aims to put forward the foundation for building a theory of meaning-making based on emptiness. The theoretical perspective underlying the discussion is the cultural psychology of semiotic mediation. According to this perspective, meaning-making is the result of the process through witch human beings use signs to build their relationship with their environment. Three topics unfold in the paper. First, emptiness is defined as a potential absence. Second, the paper identifies the two ways in which emptiness enters into the meaning-making process, either fostering it or, to the contrary, blocking it. When it fosters meaning construction, emptiness acts as a catalytic factor, that is, as a reservoir of possibilities, in the sense of a future-oriented set of new meanings to be built by the agent. However, when emptiness plays the role of a blocking or anti-catalytic factor, emptiness become a hyper-generalized sign, i.e., an empty meaning. Third, this paper illustrates the applicability of these theoretical reflections on emptiness through the example of work. Specifically, both the burnout and the so-called “placardisation” phenomena are analyzed in terms of the anti-catalytic factors at play in work, which lead to feeling it as empty.


Emptiness Meaning-making Work meaning Empty work Burnout Meaningful work 



I am grateful for feedback on an earlier version of this paper from Jaan Valsiner.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) (Grant number: 99,999.007367/2015–05).

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  2. 2.Departamento de PsicologiaUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN)NatalBrazil

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