The Materiality of Absence: Organizing and the case of the incomplete cathedral

Elena Giovannoni, Paolo Quattrone

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This study explores the role of absences in making organizing possible. By engaging with Lefebvre’s spatial triad as the interconnections between conceived (planned), perceived (experienced through practice) and lived (felt and imagined) spaces, we challenge the so called metaphysics of presence in organization studies. We draw on the insights offered by the project of construction of the cathedral of Siena (1259-1357) and we examine how it provided a space for the actors involved to explore their different (civic, architectural and religious) intentions. We show that, as the contested conceived spaces of the cathedral were connected to architectural practices, religious powers and civic symbols, they revealed the impossibility for these intentions to be fully represented. It was this impossibility that provoked an ongoing search for solutions and guaranteed a combination of dynamism and persistence of both the material architecture of the cathedral and the project of construction. The case of the cathedral of Siena therefore highlights the role of absence in producing organizing effects not because absence eventually takes form but because of the impossibility to fully represent it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-871
Number of pages23
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number7
Early online date22 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Lefebvre, incomplete architectures; space; materiality; absence; medieval cathedral

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