City Research Online

Liminal Roles as a Source of Creative Agency in Management: The Case of Knowledge-Sharing Communities

Swan, J., Scarbrough, H. & Ziebro, M. (2016). Liminal Roles as a Source of Creative Agency in Management: The Case of Knowledge-Sharing Communities. Human Relations, 69(3), pp. 781-811. doi: 10.1177/0018726715599585


Studies suggest that the experience of liminality – of being in an ambiguous, ‘betwixt and between’ position – has creative potential for organizations. We contribute to theory on the link between liminality and creative agency through a study of the coordinators of ‘knowledge-sharing communities’; one of the latest examples of a ‘neo-bureaucratic’ practice that seeks to elicit innovative responses from employees while intensifying control by the organization. Through a role-centred perspective, our study found that both the structural and interpretive aspects of coordinators’ role enactments promoted a degree of creative agency. ‘Front-stage’ and ‘back-stage’ activities were developed to meet the divergent expectations posed by senior management and community members, and the ambiguity of their roles prompted an array of different role interpretations. Our findings contribute to theory by showing how the link between liminality and creative agency is not confined to roles and spaces (consultancy work, professional expertise) that are positioned across organizational boundaries, or free from norms and expectations, but may also apply to roles that are ambiguously situated within organizational contexts and which are subject to divergent expectations. This shows how neo-bureaucratic forms may be both reproduced and renewed through the creative responses of individual managers.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright Sage 2016
Publisher Keywords: Liminal, managerial practice, role enactment, knowledge-sharing community, neo-bureaucracy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of Human Relations 2015 pre-publication.pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
Download (927kB) | Preview


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login