The Function of Fear in Institutional Maintenance: Feeling frightened as an essential ingredient in haute cuisine

Michael J. Gill*, Robin Burrow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fear is a common and powerful emotion that can regulate behaviour. Yet institutional scholars have paid limited attention to the function of fear in processes of institutional reproduction and stability. Drawing on an empirical study of elite chefs within the institution of haute cuisine, this article finds that the multifaceted emotion of fear characterized their experiences and served to sustain their institution. Chefs’ individual feelings of fear prompted conformity and a cognitive constriction, which narrowed their focus on to the precise reproduction of traditional practices while also limiting challenges to the norms underpinning the institution. Through fear work, chefs used threats and violence to connect individual experiences of fear to the violation of institutionalized rules, sustaining the conditions in which fear-driven maintenance work thrived. The study also suggests that fear is a normative element of haute cuisine in its own right, where the very experience and eliciting of fear preserved an essential institutional ingredient. In this way, emotions such as fear do not just accompany processes of institutionalization but can be intimately involved in the performance and maintenance of institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-465
Number of pages21
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • emotion
  • fear
  • fear work
  • haute cuisine
  • institutional work
  • phenomenology

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