Emotions in Institutional Work: A Discursive Perspective

Johanna Moisander*, Heidi Hirsto, Kathryn M. Fahy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


This article focuses on the dynamics and interplay of meaning, emotions, and power in institutional work. Based on an empirical study, we explore and elaborate on the rhetorical strategies of emotion work that institutional actors employ to mobilize emotions for discursive institutional work. In an empirical context where a powerful institutional actor is tasked with creating support and acceptance for a new political and economic institution, we identify three rhetorical strategies of emotion work: eclipsing, diverting and evoking emotions. These strategies are employed to arouse, regulate, and organize emotions that underpin legitimacy judgments and drive resistance among field constituents. We find that actors exercise influence and engage in overt forms of emotion work by evoking shame and pride to sanction and reward particular expedient ways of thinking and feeling about the new institutional arrangements. More importantly, however, the study shows that they also engage in strategies of discursive institutional work that seek to exert power—force and influence—in more subtle ways by eclipsing and diverting the collective fears, anxieties, and moral indignation that drive resistance and breed negative legitimacy evaluations. Overall, the study suggests that emotions play an important role in institutional work associated with creating institutions, not only via “pathos appeals” but also as tools of discursive, cultural-cognitive meaning work and in the exercise of power in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-990
Number of pages28
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Discourse
  • Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)
  • Emotions
  • Institutional work
  • Power


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