Halloween, organization, and the ethics of uncanny celebration

Simon Kelly, Kathleen Riach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article examines the relationship between organizational ethics, the uncanny, and the annual celebration of Halloween. We begin by exploring the traditional and contemporary organizational function of Halloween as ‘tension-management ritual’ (Etzioni, Sociol Theory 18(1):44–59, 2000) through which collective fears, anxieties, and fantasies are played out and given material expression. Combining the uncanny with the folkloric concept of ostension, we then examine an incident in which UK supermarket retailers made national news headlines for selling offensive Halloween costumes depicting ‘escaped mental patients’. Rather than treating this incident as a problem of moral hygiene—in which products are removed, apologies made, and lessons learned—we consider the value of Halloween as a unique and disruptive ethical encounter with the uncanny Other. Looking beyond its commercial appeal and controversy, we reflect on the creative, generous, and disruptive potential of Halloween as both tension-management ritual and unique organizational space of hospitality through which to receive and embrace alterity and so discover the homely within the unheimlich.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Alterity
  • Halloween
  • Mental health
  • Organizational ethics
  • Other
  • Uncanny

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