Organizational space as sites of contention: Unravelling relations of dis/order in a psychiatric hospital

Thorben Simonsen, Signe Vikkelsø

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


For some time now, scholars have advanced an interest in the unruly and emerging aspects of organizational space while arguing for theoretical integration, wayfinding, and synthesis to overcome conceptual fragmentation of the field. Taking inspiration from recent work focusing on the tensions that emerge from the interplay of architectural design and organizational action, our paper investigates organizational space by drawing on Mary Douglas’ work on purity and danger to unravel relations of dis/order in a newly built psychiatric hospital designed with a ‘healing architecture’. Using ethnographic data, we analyze the everyday ordering work of nursing staff within two inpatient wards and describe how it unfolds as a response to the patients’ use of the hospital design, which amplifies experiences of disorder for the nursing staff. We argue that the tensions between the ordering efforts of architects, nursing staff, and patients to make ward spaces conform to particular ideas also are an important reminder of the key insight in classic organization theory that organization involves perpetual negotations over purpose and concerted action. Unravelling such tensions through Douglas’ approach, we contribute with greater insight across theoretical preferences and conceptual differences into how but also why organizational spaces are continuously cast as ‘sites of contention’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • space
  • order
  • disorder
  • Mary Douglas
  • organizational tension


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