Sustaining the ivory tower: Oxbridge formal dining as organizational ritual

Di Domenico, MariaLaura and Phillips, Nelson (2009). Sustaining the ivory tower: Oxbridge formal dining as organizational ritual. Journal of Management Inquiry, 18(4) pp. 326–343.



In this ethnographic study of formal hall ritual in Oxbridge Colleges, the authors show how this special form of dining plays a key role in organizational cohesion, demarcation, and continuity. Formal hall serves as a central organizing principle of the colleges, having social, political, and pedagogic facets. Drawing upon participant observation of 22 formal dinners, this article explores its significance on different levels. It examines how formal hall creates social stability, provides historical continuity, reaffirms hierarchy and bureaucratic order, perpetuates exclusivity and reverence, and provides college level space for organizational politicking, relationship-building, and information exchange. It also cements important stakeholder relations at broader societal levels. Furthermore, these outcomes feed into its overriding purpose of solidifying shared elite identity through selective membership and participation. Transgressions against this elitist formal dining ritual are also addressed, being conceptualized on a continuum from “higher order” to “lower order” according to degree of potential threat to the ritual. The authors conclude with a discussion of their findings’ implications for research on organizational ritual, whereby inclusion, exclusion, and identity issues lie at the heart of the ritual’s power over organizational processes, and the social control of actors not solely within but also beyond immediate organizational boundaries.

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