Brunsson, N. (2003): Organized Hypocrisy (note A)

Brunsson, Nils (2003) Organized Hypocrisy i Czarniawska &Sevon (eds) The Northern Lights – Organization theory in Scandinavia, pp 201-222,Trelleborg : Liber. AB20 sider


Traditional decision theory: a decision is indicating a corresponding action which will occur in the future

Talk → ↑ action

Hypocrisy: to act opposite of what is said/decided

Theory of hypocrisy: talk/decisions compensate for actions

Thus the opposite of the traditional decision theory

Talk/decision → ↓ action

Action → ↓ talk/decision

(talk/decision decrease the likelihood of a corresponding action. And action decrease the likelihood of corresponding talk/decision)


Hypocrisy creates opportunities – it facilitates action in a conflict situation

It offers a high degree of freedom

Hypocrisy is tied to an actor – only actors can be hypocritical

Actors: individuals or organizations

Hypocrisy is kind of an inconsistency within the actor

This is abnormal = problem

Hypocrisy is a response to a world in which values, ideas, or people are in conflict

Hypocrisy is normal within organizations because it is impossible to meet everybody’s demands and to make everybody happy.

You can either make a few very happy and a lot very unhappy, or you can use hypocrisy and make most happy

With hypocrisy no one’s needs are fully meet, but no one is left totally unsatisfied

Too much hypocrisy is morally wrong, but too little is fanaticism

Hypocrisy makes it possible to keep a high morale

Hypocrisy can be a way to handle conflicts

Different kinds of conflict occurs due to:

Interpersonal relations: Difference among people

Time aspects: Different demands over time

Intrapersonal aspects: Different roles

The theory of hypocrisy only works on people who believe in the traditional decision theory (talk → action)

Thus, it only works when people find talk/decisions important

The theory of hypocrisy only works when people do not believe in it!!

Hypocrisy makes it easier to say controversial things and to make controversial decisions.

Hypocrisy makes it easier to maintain the legitimacy of organizations, even when they are subjected to conflicting demands

Talk and decision generally reach a greater audience than the actions do. Many people might therefore view talk/decisions as equivalent to actions

Organisational hypocrisy can both be intentional and unintentional

Unintentional: it is just an answer to a conflict

A long timeframe for the hypocritically promised action is useful because conflicts and demands usually change over time

A timeframe creates tolerance for the discrepancies among talk, decision and action

Many will think that the situation has changed too much for the old decision to become action when the timeframe is met. Then the whole situation must be re-evaluated in its current context

Situations can also lose their importance by being forgotten

Diversity between ideology and practice:

Talk/decision are often less expensive than action

Some things can be done but not said (eg. Ethics)


The posture that a hypocritical organization is not a hypocrite

One continues to be a hypocrite but one claims that one is not

Hypocrisy only works for materialists who do not believe in hypocrisy

It is therefore important to convince the materialist that the organization is one actor and that there is no hypocrisy

Based on the demand that one should not be a hypocrite

The norm of consistency: the norm that actors should not be hypocrites

There is a risk of the hypocrisy to be discovered and viewed as a sin and get sanctioned

Whether we are dealing with one actor or many over time can influence our tolerance of hypocrisy

We tend to think that a new actor has been created

This creates a tolerance for hypocrisy because it is viewed as inconsistency between 2 actors rather than inconsistency within one actor (= hypocrisy)


Swedish government banded cage hens in 1987 as a 80th birthday present to the animals rights activist: Astrid Lindgren. The hens were still in small cages when she died at the age of 95!

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