Ballet for the Sun King: Power, Talent and Organisation

  • John Lever (Contributor to Paper or Presentation)
  • Swailes, S. (Contributor to Paper or Presentation)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Drawing on Norbert Elias’s (1983) work on court society, this paper examines the organizational developments that have led to the appearance of ‘talent’ as a distinct form of organizational subjectivity and habitus. We trace the origins of ‘talent management’ from the court of Louis XIV in the 17th century to contemporary forms of ‘elitist’ and ‘subjective’ talent management (Adamsen 2016). Bintley (2015) has shown how Louis XIV – The Sun King – pioneered the use of ballet as a social pastime in order to keep the nobility busy and suppress internal tension and dissent at the court, and we argue that talent management reflects a similar form of organisational ballet, control and politics. Arguably, talent pools are mechanisms through which senior managers corral and impose order on clever and ambitious groups for their own purposes and to head-off dissent before it threatens the established order. In conclusion, we argue that Louis XIV was the first to institutionalise ‘elitist’ and ‘ subjective’ approaches to talent management in the 17th century (Elias 1983), and that this approach has a much longer history that is currently recognised.
Period7 Jul 2016
Event title32nd European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium: Organizing in the Shadow of Power
Event typeConference
Conference number32
LocationNaples, ItalyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational