Dissensual Leadership: Rethinking democratic leadership with Jacques Rancière

Barthold, Charles; Checchi, Marco; Imas, Miguel and Smolovic Jones, Owain (2020). Dissensual Leadership: Rethinking democratic leadership with Jacques Rancière. Organization, 29(4) pp. 673–691.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508420961529


The democratic leadership literature emphasises those leadership practices that involve dialogue and communication within the frame of reference of existing organizational structures, discourses and hierarchies. Our contribution is to problematise this approach to democracy from the perspective of the work of Jacques Rancière, which highlights the importance of dissensus, that is to say a breaking away from organizational structures and hierarchies. We argue that this allows us to conceptualise collective leadership in a postfoundational way that connects a critique of individual and organization-bound leadership to a democratic logic, in particular through Rancière’s analysis of the myth of the murder of the shepherd. This also enables us to study radically disruptive, non-hierarchical and pre-dialogic dimensions of leadership that may destruct as well as construct. Two democratic leadership practices are outlined: contingent acts of leadership and the practice of radical contestation. Our argument is that both practices of democratic leadership can be deployed as radical ruptures and disruptions of organizational orders, beyond dialogue.

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