Coping with Excess

Coping with Excess

How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflows

Edited by Barbara Czarniawska and Orvar Löfgren

What does a stockbroker in Istanbul navigating the rush of incoming trading figures have in common with a mother in Stockholm trying to organize a growing pile of baby clothes? They are both coping with excess or overflow. This book explores the ways in which institutions, corporations and individuals define and manage situations of ‘too much’ – too much information, too many choices, too many commodities or too many tasks.

Chapter 14: Selective knowledge: learning to forget and ignore

Orvar Löfgren

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, organisation studies, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


There was a young faculty member in our sociology department who was called to sit on all kinds of committees, because he read – thoroughly – all the material sent out, unlike his older colleagues, who just skimmed the stuff distributed, from memos to research applications. I told him: ‘You’ll never survive if you don’t develop the skills they have; all this work will kill you!’My chapter explores this world of crucial but elusive academic skills used for surviving various types of overflows, as described in the interview quoted here. Scholars create overflow in many ways: downloading files, photocopying papers, buying books that may never be read but ‘may come in handy’. Office desks and filing cabinets are bursting with material; hard disks are overloaded and demanding more memory. In examining the ways in which these types of overflow are handled, my main interest lies in the social and cultural organization of selective knowledge in academia. Thesauruses equate ‘select’ with synonyms such as: choose, single out, distinguish, limit, favour. We are reminded that it is a concept loaded with cultural norms. What is important, unimportant, irrelevant or noteworthy in a given setting? The focus of this chapter is on the way routines and skills are produced and maintained as academics learn to ignore, forget, overlook and neglect.

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