Business Week Feb 11 2002: p. 35 ENRON THEATRE

Enron Metatheatre:

A Critical Dramaturgy Analysis of Enron’s Quasi-Objects

David M. Boje, New Mexico State University

Paper presented at the Networks, Quasi-Objects, and Identity: Reintegrating Humans, Technology, and Nature session of Denver Academy of Management Meetings. Tuesday August 13, 2002.  Revision Date: August 9 2002.


1. Characters 1. Characters
2. Plots 2. Plots
3. Themes 3. Themes
4. Dialogs 4. Dialogs
5. Rhythms 5. Rhythms
6. Frames 6. Frames
7. Spectacles 7. Spectacles


Through a textual analysis of Enron documents, news articles, congressional transcripts, and interviews, the author illustrates how theatre and antenarrative play in the historical revisionism of Enron as it tries to fend off its collapse with last minute script changes as the LJM partnerships unravel. Enron’s LJM partnerships are an example of quasi-objects, the hybrid of theatrics to economics that sustains fraud in ways that seduce spectators to suspend their disbelief.  An antenarrative, quasi-object, and metatheatric analysis of Enron’s LJM partnerships has important implications for organizational behavior, organization theory, and strategy.


There is great antenarrative difficulty in unraveling the mess of interlinking off-balance sheet financial partnerships named LJM, JEDI and Chewco. Shareholder lawsuits seeking $60 billion (U.S.) allege that Enron executives, Vinson & Elkins law firm, and Arthur Andersen accountants concealed Enron's deteriorating financial condition in creatively constructed earnings statements and annual reports over the last five years, while selling several hundred million dollars in company stock. The partnerships were alleged shell companies created to boost profits and hide debts, while Enron executives sold off their stock at inflated prices, and issued earnings reports they knew to be incorrect. The Wall Street Journal’s investigative reporting (Emshwiller, 2001) helped expose the hollowness of Enron's financial façade; WSJ blamed a culture of "highly questionable financial engineering, misstated earnings and persistent efforts to keep investors in the dark". 

My theory contribution is to invoke Augusto Boal (1979) and Guy Debord (1967) to give Aristotle’s (350 B.C.E.) Poetics a more critical (postmodern) dramaturgy turn.[i]  Critical dramaturgy is enscripted in Krizanc’s (1981) play Tamara, which has simultaneous scenes occurring on multiple stages, and where spectators do not stay in their theatre seats, but walk and run to chase the actors from stage to stage in a network of plots and unfolding storylines (Tamara, 2001; Boje, 1995).  Enron is theatrics in ways I think restructures capitalism; it is the Theatres of Capitalism (Boje, 2002a); it is the commodification of daily life in Theatres of Consumption (Firat & Dholakia, 1998); it is the theatre of Debord’s (1967) Society of the Spectacle; and it is the theatre of the Megaspectacle (Best & Kellner, 2001). There is not the space for a full literature review of organization theatre. In brief, there are four main corporate theatre paradigms: (1) Goffmanesque metaphoric sociology of theatre (most applied in leadership studies); (2) Burkean/Shakespearean (organization life is theatre); (3) managerialist theatre (a technology managers purchase to control/motivate employees using professional actors & playwrights); and (4) Debord’s Society of the Spectacle theatre (spectacle façades to deceive investors).  The interested reader is directed to, Oswick, Keenoy David Grant’s (2001) “Dramaturgy and Organizing,” issue, who observe the field of organizational dramaturgy is split between Goffman-ites who assume theatre is a metaphor (Mangham & Overington, 1987 in their early work) to apply to organization, and Burkeans who say “organization is theatre” (Boje, Cunliffe, & Luhman, 2002; Harvey, 2001; Kärreman, 2001; Maier, 2002; Pine & Gilmour, 1999; Rosen, 1985).

Without a critical dramaturgy perspective, a one-sided dramaturgy is likely to end in the kinds of mega-scandal that Best and Kellner (2001) call “megaspectacle” (Rosile, Best, & Boje, 2001). My critical postmodern definitions are in the 3rd column of Table 1; some words are the same as Aristotle and Burke, but my Septet meanings are quite different. I prefer a more critical postmodern (Alvesson & Deetz, 1996; Best & Kellner, 2001) approach to dramaturgy that is a complementarity of critical theory and postmodern theory.

I have developed the Septet thesis elsewhere (Boje, 2002a, b), and will focus here on Metatheatre and its more antenarrative relationships. Briefly put, Septet dramaturgic elements (i.e. seven theatre elements: characters, plots, themes, dialogs, rhythms, spectacles, & frames) are used to assess Enron’s whirlwind antenarratives and their scripted performance in ongoing Metatheatre. I contend that underneath Enron Metatheatre are competing Tamara-esque antenarratives, the stories-a-making, the Septet elements refusing closure. My intended contribution is to develop a critical dramaturgical theory of the trajectory dynamics of Enron’s Tamara-esque storytelling organization, tracing how official linear narrative trajectories interweave with antenarrative ensembles in Enron’s alleged LJM fraud.


Table 1: Poetic, Pentad, and Septet Grammars of Dramatis Personae

Poetic (Aristotle)

Pentad (Burke)

Septet (Boje)

1. Plot (or Fable)

1. Act

1. Plots – have become inter-plots, interconnecting pre-plots in networks, in the middle of being worked out.

2. Character (or Agent)

2. Agent

2. Characters – the cast of characters are in the middle of being enrolled, and characters morph their persona in schizophrenic ways.

3. Theme (or Thought)

3. Purpose

3. Themes – themes of oppression fan out in rhizomatic weaves, and are met by themes of resistance.

4. Dialog (or Diction)

4. Agency


4. Dialogs – obfuscating language and double-speak mixed with euphoric testimonials and bland reassurances attain and shed meanings.

5. Rhythm (or Melody)

5. Rhythms – rhythmic resonances self-organize in chaotic patterns that refuse to freeze, and often disintegrate what was just integrated.

6. Spectacle

5. Scene

6. Spectacles – spectacles are intertextual to other spectacles; they embed in socio-economic contexts by decontextualizing and recontextualizing.

* Frame of Mind of spectator

* Frames of Acceptance/Rejection

7. Frames – Frames are ideologies that are in dialectic contest, resisting each other, and refusing to synthesize.

Key: * = Discussed, but not one of their main dramaturgical elements (Source of Table, Boje, 2002c). Appendix A offers re-readings of Aristotle, Burke, Boal, Freire, Debord, Best and Kellner, to set out the new Septet re-definitions.


Enron plots range from romantic, tragic, comedic to satiric and ironic. The plots are antenarrative and intertextual; each is an arbitrary choice from a spectrum of possible emplotments (Ricoeur, 1984). Characters (as the results below will exhibit) are enrolled and cast to be players in the LJM antenarratives. Some emplotments include such characters as President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney (noting their oil relations to Enron); other emplotments seek to pin LJM on Fastow and Skilling (e.g. Sherron Watkins congressional testimony).  Themes of LJM span what Freire (1970: 86) calls a “thematic universe” defined as a complex of “generative themes.” Antenarrative plurality is exhibited in the LJM transactions as partnerships are created, transformed, then dissolved. The antenarrative quality of LJM themes is that they are not isolated, but are intertextually connected, dynamic, and interpenetrating (to other off-the-balance-sheet partnerships). Dialogs about system reform, push along the LJM themes in what Business Week (March 4, 2002: 18) called a “flurry of rhetoric about tighter accounting rules includes the use of metaphor and more responsible corporate boards. And then a long silence until the next time.”  Aristotle (350 BCE: #1549b, p. 5) says, “a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.” The dialogs surrounding the off-the-balance-sheet partnerships (except LJM which is explained below) are right out of Star Wars and Jurassic Park with names like JEDI and its sequel JEDI II (Joint Energy Development Investments), and the infamous Chewco Investments (as in Chewbacca). The Jurassic metaphoric names include Condor and Raptor.  I am most excited about resituating Aristotle’s Poetic element, rhythm, into more contemporary analyses. I define rhythm as the interaction of order and chaos, flowing, in asymmetry and symmetry, in acts of improvisation and emergent recurring patterns.  The Enron partnership rhythms are on the move, in a self-organizing complexity since 1997, only unraveling in August, after Skilling resigns as Enron’s CEO, and becoming public scandal in November, when the Big Three stock rating agencies, downgrade Enron to junk bond status. Frames for (Burke, 1937) are dialectic, ideological struggles between those who accept the tragic and comedic and those who, like Marx, see exploitation as something that is grotesque and burlesque, and must be exorcised from capitalism. In Enron, the frames of acceptance (how stakeholders accept the comedic and tragic aspects of Enron executive greed and politicians influence-selling, as inevitable, ‘nothing can be done about it’) are opposed by frames of rejection (those who put Enron and Andersen into media and congressional inquisitions, allegedly to root out executive proclivity for more grotesque fraud and more burlesque sexual scandal).  Aristotle (350 BCE), also wrote about frames, the “frames of mind” of the spectators, who must be persuaded through dialog and rhythm (or melody), and the proper poet must frame theatrics in ways that persuades them that a tragic flaw (e.g. hubris or greed) in the hero will ultimately bring about their reversals of fortune; so too, in Enron and Andersen, do commentators root out tragic character flaws, to get the public to purge their own tragic flaws, rather than accept greed as inevitable tragic comedy of Free Market, Deregulated capitalist ideology. Finally, the seventh element in the Septet (Table 1) is the spectacle, which for Guy Debord (1967) comes in three types (concentrated, diffuse and the integration of the first two). Best and Kellner (1997) develop Debord’s spectacle types and in 2001 propose the “megaspectacle,” our national fetish to use the media to turn war or scandal into mass entertainment (e.g. the Gulf War and War on Terrorism are popular culture events, as were Watergate, the OJ Simpson trial, and the funeral of Princess Diana). Elsewhere (Boje, 2002a, b) I have worked out the Septet analysis of Enron. Here I will focus on the more theatrical aspects of Enron’s Poetic oppressions: how LJM is accomplished in metatheatre and metascripting (terms are explained below, as they are used in the analysis). “Politicians have always known that the spectacle of the mighty brought low can appease an angry public” (Gearan, 2002: D1). That is also my thesis here: the Enron, Andersen, and WorldCom spectacles are being plotted, characterized, themed, into dialogs and rhythms, that metascript the metatheatrics to appease an outraged public, fearful their own fortunes are being reversed. I say this is dramaturgy run amuck. .

The structure of the article is as follows: I will review my method, then illustrate how Enron’s financial reengineering was accomplished with quasi-objects, antenarrating, and Metatheatre (terms are defined below, as they are applied). I will then trace the theatrics and antenarrating of the off shore LJM Cayman and LJM2 shell-partnerships, theorizing them as quasi-objects enacted outside the surveillance of federal regulators. I end with implications and contributions of the analysis for OB, OT, and strategy.


            The goals of the study were to identify and explicate antenarrative trajectory dynamics found in Enron texts, congressional transcripts, and news articles. This section explains the choice of texts and the method used for textual analysis.



            Texts are systems suspended in intertextual dialogue with texts of other times and places. “As such, the intertextual network is antenarrative in its dynamic, unfinished and embedded qualities” (Boje, 2001a: 74). Enron texts chosen for analysis in this study were journal and news articles, congressional transcripts, and key Enron memos and reports.  The texts collected were for a larger project that accumulated excerpts from 1985 to July 2002 in a wide range of international and national news sources. They included searching directors such as Lexus Nexus, Proquest, congressional transcripts, as well as web reports such as SEEN (2002), and the Powers (2002) report.  In addition, I collected semi-structured interviews from a key informant, who worked on Enron’s trading floor. I worked with a large corpus of text, for example 9,684 news articles were published between December 2001 and March 2002. Just on Fastow, there are 473 articles on Fastow between Aug 3 2002 and March 21 1998.

Texts were organized chronologically by theme (such as scandal, fraud, Bush involvement, New Economy, etc). For this study, I read excerpts chronologically, week-by-week, and made notes on examples of antenarrative trajectory and historical revisionism (e.g. characters rewritten from hero to villain after an event; or plots re-emplotted post hoc). My interest was in looking at the intertextual movement of utterances between different genres of texts (such as between speeches, annual reports, congressional testimony, and news accounts). In this way I could trace what utterances migrated intertextually. My interest was in movement and rehistorization of characters and Enron corporate culture; I therefore did not treat articles, memos, stories, transcripts or interviews as unique independent data points.  In short, the analysis is meant to be intertextual and rhizomatic.

I did a close read of the assembled texts to trace antenarrative trajectories, revisionism, and examples of metatheatrics.  Like Grimes (2002: 388), I assume that “rather than revealing authors’ intentions, closer reading is based on readers’ interpretations arising from detailed engagement with the text.”


This section presents, in turn, examples and definitions of quasi-object, antenarrative, metascript, and Metatheatrics. The Septet elements of Table 1 in inter-woven into the analysis. I begin with an example of LJM is quasi-object, and then explain why I think so.

LJM, A Quasi-Object - The L in LJM stands for Lea, as in ‘Lea,’ Andrew Stuart Fastow’s wife (also heiress to a Houston real estate fortune); J and M are initials of their two children (Maier, 2002). Fastow has admitted that he pocketed $ 45 million from the off-balance-sheet partnerships he created, with names like LJM, Raptor and Chewco. His chief lieutenant, Michael Kopper, managed (along with Kopper’s domestic partner, William Dodson) to net more than $ 10 million; two other associates parlayed investments of $ 5,800 into $ 1 million.[ii]  “Those who knew Mr. Fastow at Enron described a man with twin personalities” (Barboza & Schwartz, 2002: 1).   Enron leaders exhibit different characters in different situations. “They say Fastow could be charming yet aggressive, quiet yet mercurial, and philanthropic yet bent on accumulating the trappings of wealth” (Barboza & Schwartz, 2002: 1). Andy Fastow had also crowed (say insiders) that the side vehicles kept $1 billion debt off Enron's books. Enron’s board of directors waived its code of ethical conduct to allow Fastow to wear as many hats as he wanted.

Quasi-objects contextualize, decontextualize, and recontextualize over time. For example Vince Kaminski, the top risk analyst at Enron, says he opposed the LJM partnerships from the get go, and when he raised questions, he was first ignored, then transferred to another department. Recent work on Quasi-objects by Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, Pierre Lévy, and Niklas Luhmann has significantly changed actor network theory. Serres (1983, 1987) and Latour  (1987, 1988a,b, 1996) show how quasi-objects mediate and transform personal and collective identity and network relations (Serres & Latour, 1995).[iii] Quasi-objects are unstable, realizing and derealizing at every turn. Jeffrey McMahon, Enron's treasurer, says he also complained about the LJM partnerships, and he also was transferred. And a UBS PaineWebber broker, says he too opposed the partnerships from the get go, but was also ignored, then transferred to another department. When he advised investors to dump Enron stock, he was fired when Enron executives complained to his bosses.[iv] And an Ex-Merrill Lynch analyst, John Olson, got in trouble for questioning Enron's dealings six years ahead of the pack.xx  The quasi-object of fictive-economics is a Metatheatre change in the network of theatres, and in the game of networking, in the Metascripts and in the antenarrative trajectories.

Antenarrative is a bet that a pre-story can be told and theatrically performed that will enroll stakeholders in intertextual ways that transform the world of action into theatrics; at the same time the antenarratives never quite get there. Antenarrative theory (Boje, 2001a) is closely tied to Kristeva (1980a: 36) and Bakhtin (1981), who suggest that each text has an intertextual “trajectory” that is historical and social (Boje, 2001a, O’Connor, 2002). And it relates to Fairclough’s (1992) critical discourse analysis, i.e. his advancing the idea that the intertextual trajectory is embedded in hegemonic struggle. Antenarrative shifts the focus narrative analysis from “what’s the story here” to questions of “why and how did this particular story emerge to dominate the stage?” Used as an adverb, "ante" combined with "narrative" or "antenarrative" means earlier than narrative. Antenarratives collect events and characters into their psychic economy. There are two trajectory models for studying antenarrative theatrics: the linear-diffusion model and the antenarrative-rhizome model; both are performatives of corporate theatre. We will explore antenarrating in the Whirlwind formation and defense of the LJM partnerships.

These partnerships were also accomplished in Enron’s Metatheatre. Metatheatre is defined as the TAMARA-esque evolution and revolution in dialectic cycles of theatric-integration and disintegration, the networking of simultaneous stage-crafted performances seeking to instruct and control spectators and actors; these erupt into more fragmentation. Each integrating attempt of presidents, congress persons and senators, corporate leaders and boards of directors to evoke spectacular theatre, to control the center stage, to enroll a cast of characters, that will influence spectators, soon disintegrates as the pull of multiple scripts, plots, and characters spin Metatheatre out of control. In Metatheatre, the dialectic of disintegration opposes the integrative attempts by executive players to control the global stage.

Enron is Metatheatre in 3 ways.  First, Enron is Metatheatre in how it sets out to deceive using façade and illusion. For example, each year (between 1998 and 2001), an elaborate theatre stage was constructed on Enron’s 6th floor to simulate a real trading floor; it’s expensive theatre, $500 to set up each desk, and more for phones in this stage-crafted spectacle, and more for the 36-inch flat panel screens, and teleconference conference rooms; the entire set was wired by computer technicians who feed fake statistics to the screens. On the big day several hundred employees, including secretaries, played their rehearsed character roles, pretending to be ‘Energy Services’ traders, doing mega deals, while Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay played their starring role in the Enron Dramatis Personae to a target audience of invited Wall Street analysts, who can not tell real from fake.[v]

According to former Enron employees, on the sixth floor of the company's downtown headquarters was a set, designed to trick analysts into believing business was booming… former employee Carol Elkin said that it was all an act, and that no trades were actually made there. The people on the phones were talking to each other.[vi]


            Second, Enron is Metatheatre as a way to control and motivate employees using the technology of theatre; several times a year, Enron hired choreographers and dramatists (Banerjee, 2002)[vii] to coach executives in character roles in elaborate corporate extravaganzas; executives and staff would dress in Star Wars or other costumes; executives would enter the ballroom riding Harleys or elephants to the thundering applause of employees and spouses.[viii]

Finally, Enron is Metatheatre in a much more important sense of Shakespeare’s “Life is theatre” a part of our daily lives in work and consumption (Boje, Rosile & Malbogat, 2002). For example Rebecca Mark’s globetrotting visits on the Enron jet, became a road show complete with an entourage of WB, WFO, IMF, CIA agents mixed along with Mark’s hair dresser, make up artist, and a flock of assistants. When Mark landed, the force of the Whitehouse landed with her. And the master of Enron Metatheatre, the Enron is Metatheatre is Ken Lay.

On October 4, 2001 “Kenneth L. Lay was on stage, one of the nation's most admired business executives presiding over an Enron Corp. energy summit at the Ritz-Carlton at Pentagon City. Appearing completely at ease, Lay told the assembled Washington policymakers that with more energy deregulation Enron and the nation would continue to flourish” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). In another room of the Enron TAMARA:


Back in Houston, Lay's treasurer, Ben F. Glisan, and another executive worked the phones, quietly breaking bad news to analysts for the nation's Big Three corporate credit-rating agencies: Enron was about to report significant losses for the third quarter. Its very survival depended on the rating agencies' pronouncements about its financial health. But the Enron executives' efforts to explain the losses, more than half of which involved a secret series of financial deals code-named the Raptors, surprised and troubled the influential analysts. "We were questioning and scratching our heads about the type of accounting they were using," John C. Diaz of Moody's Investors Service would later recall” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).


The quasi-object, shell-partnerships were accomplished with Metascripting. Metascript is defined as the multiplicity of scripts, mostly unwritten ones, that constitute the micro (utterances) and macro (inferences), the structure, behavior, social dysfunctions, and hidden costs/revenues, and the potential and complicity of the socio-economic performance of Metatheatrics of complex organizations (Boje & Rosile, 2002a, b interview with Henri Savall). Organizations do not have one script, they have a plethora of scripts: talking notes by executives; strategic plans, customer service dialog, what to say at your performance review, etc. Most of life is scripted, and we are suspended in networks of scripts.  Metascript is what Foucault (1970) would call the carceral, since even executives follow scripts, though they have a hand in writing and directing scripts for most of the cast of characters.

There are many examples of Enron metascripting. For instance, on October 12 2001, Enron crafted a script of its soon to be announced down-writing to partners at Arthur Anderson, who say they “strongly objected to the ‘non-recurring’ phrasing as misleading” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). The Oct. 16 news release is described as a masterpiece of modern business spin:

The company emphasized that setting aside the $ 1 billion in "one-time" losses, its profits had actually risen by 26 percent compared with the year before. The company was "very confident in our strong earnings outlook," Lay said in the release (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).


Theatrics supports the scripting, such as in the conference call with securities analysts later that day.

"We are committed to making the results of our core energy business more transparent to investors," he said, promising to provide more detail on the $ 1 billion in losses "later in the call." But Lay followed up with vague details and nearly impenetrable jargon He attributed the largest part of the $ 1 billion loss -- $ 544 million -- to "certain investments" in tech stocks and the "early termination in the third quarter of certain structured finance arrangements with a previously disclosed entity" (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).


And Lay left out critical details; the “previously disclosed entity” was LJM2. LJM1 and LJM2 had done a $2 billion business with Enron. There is an antenarrative interweave between metatheatrics and metascripting: theatrics performs the scripts, and cushion other scripts. On the morning of October 17 2001, the WSJ (Emshwiller, 2001: 1) carried a front-page story:

“Enron Corp reports third-quarter net loss of $618 million after $1.01 billion in charges that reflect risks it has taken in transforming itself from pipeline company into diversified trading company; charges include $35 million related to limited partnerships, LJM Cayman LP and LJM2 Co-Investment LP, run by chief financial officer Andrew S Fastow that raises conflict-of-interest questions” (First of three WSJ articles).


The WSJ article goes on to quote Lay as saying “all was well,” and “no conflicts had been committed.” Unraveling antenarrative trajectories means that cryptic bits and pieces of the LJM quasi-object come out.

            A second example of Metascripting is the way Enron’s lawyers draft scripts that are used by Enron board of directors to interrogate executives. For example, as October 2001 WSJ articles (e.g. Emshwiller, 2001a) circulated, Charles A. LeMaistre (President Emeritus, University of Texas) decided to question Andrew Fastow, about conflicts of interest in being Enron’s executive and CEO of LJM.  He was reportedly “timid about confronting the young executive about how much money he’d mad from LMJ, and asked Enron’s general counsel, James V. Derrick, to “prepare a polite script” that was “just the right tone” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01):

"We very much appreciate your willingness to visit with us." Armed with the script, LeMaistre telephoned Fastow and posed the question: How much?   It was $ 45 million, Fastow said.


LeMaistre wrote in the margin of his script: "incredible."


Fastow's answer apparently stunned Lay, too, he said later (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).. A day after publicly praising Fastow, Lay replaced him with former treasurer Jeffrey McMahon, who had questioned Fastow's conflicts in the spring of 2000 and soon found himself in another job with the company.

Enron’s success was masterful dramaturgy in all three Metatheatrical ways (façades to deceive investors, technology to control/motivate employees, and Enron life is theatre). Yet, the Metatheatre interplay of multiple, simultaneous, theatres and stages, disintegrated while its players tried to integrate and control the unraveling dramatis personae of Enron.  Enron did dominate, superstar of the energy markets, its theatre held power, but the TAMARA-esque dynamics, self-organized, and veered Enron into mega-scandal.

A good example of Metatheatre is Lay’s October 17 2001 performance. Enron’s narratives were unraveling, institutions were no longer willing to suspend disbelief.  For instance, on October 17 2001(a Wednesday) the SEC requested by fax, more information concerning Fastow and the LJM partnerships. Lay traveled on the 17th to “Boston … To try to mollify about 40 investment-fund managers and securities analysts” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).

Enron treated them to an elegant lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. Cued by a PowerPoint presentation, Lay led the analysts through predictions of ever-rising revenue.

What the analysts wanted to know about was the $ 1.2 billion error highlighted in that morning's paper. Instead, the Enron chairman attacked the critical press coverage, calling it an irresponsible wild goose chase. Lay vigorously defended Fastow and assured the audience there were no more losses coming from other private partnerships.

Gregory Phelps, who manages $ 1 billion in energy and utility stocks at John Hancock Advisers Inc., noticed that Lay was looking right at him.

"This is a one-time thing," Lay said, according to Phelps. "There is nothing else out there."

Lay took one or two more questions, then suddenly looked at his watch and stopped. Lay's aides said, " 'We have to go' and just hustled out of there," Phelps said later.


On October 18 2001 (Thursday), the SEC phoned Enron for details about Fastow and LJM Cayman and LJM2 Co-Investment partnerships. The next day (Friday), Enron shares ended the day at $ 26.05.  By Monday (October 22) news about the SEC had leaked in the financial wire services. Shares in Enron Corp. fell almost 21 percent (dropped by $ 5.40 to close at $ 20.65).  At 8:30 A.M.  (October 22) Lay was performing his theatre with 200 of Enron’s top-tier managers, in the Dogwood room on the 3rd floor of Houston’s downtown Hyatt (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01):

Most hadn't yet heard about the SEC investigation, and Lay didn't mention it. Instead, he told those assembled that Enron's board and senior management were united behind Fastow. Lay wanted his executives to unite behind Fastow, too.

As Lay talked, some in the audience checked handheld BlackBerry messaging devices. News of the SEC investigation flashed. Enron's stock price flashed, too. The shares were plunging. Before the day was over, the stock would drop 20 percent, to $ 20.65

Sharp, testy questions erupted about the company's vulnerable position and Fastow and his private partnerships.

Lay tried to reassure the managers.

 "Well, we don't think we did anything wrong, but knowing what we do now, we would never do it again," Lay said, according to Robert J. Hermann, then Enron's general tax counsel.

Hermann had everything invested in Enron: his professional pride, his network of golfing buddies and his retirement savings, worth more than $ 10 million before Enron stock began to tumble.

Hermann raised his hand and said: "Ken, there is a big disconnect. How can you say we didn't do anything wrong, but would  never do it again? Is 'what we know now' is that we got caught?"

Lay glared at Hermann. "It was like I'd put my head on the tracks," Hermann later recalled.

Vince Kaminski, the respected and normally reserved head of research, raised his hand and told Lay, "I'm in the terrible position of having to disagree with you."

"It's okay, anybody can," Lay said, according to one account. He invited Kaminski, a Polish-born mathematics whiz and expert in risk management, to speak.

Kaminski strode to the podium and accepted the microphone.

Enron should never have gotten involved in secret, high-risk deals with Fastow's private partnerships, he said. He had warned against that course back in June 1999.

"What Andy Fastow did was not only improper, it was terminally stupid," Kaminski said. "The only fighting chance we have is to come clean."

Lay looked "sort of blank," Hermann recalled. "It was like somebody getting pummeled, and he just stood there and took it."


Finally, Enron's new president, Greg Whalley, who had taken over when Jeffrey K. Skilling resigned in August, stepped in. "That's enough, Vince," he said.


A good example of metascripting combined with metatheatre is the early morning preparations of Tuesday October 23 2001. Lay is huddled with a small group of advisors in a conference room adjoining his 50th-floor office suite. They are rehearsing “a carefully worded script” prepared by Enron’s publicists and several executives (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). Lay is to preside over a live webcast chat with security analysts in an effort to quench the media firestorm about Fastow’s role in LJM partnerships.  The script “suggested that no one at Enron was responsible for the LJM partnerships. Failure it would seem, was an orphan” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01, bold is mine).

With minutes to spare before the conference, Ronald T. Astin, a lawyer with Enron's outside law firm, Vinson & Elkins LLP, was asked to help fix the script. He rewrote it to say that it was Fastow who presented the LJM proposal to the board.


Fastow read Astin's changes and exploded, Astin later told investigators. Fastow yelled that Astin was wrong about who was responsible for LJM. "It was Skilling!" he shouted.


At 8:30 a.m. Houston time, financial analysts from Boston to San Francisco joined the conference by phone and Internet.


"There has been a lot of recent attention to transactions Enron previously entered into with LJM, a private equity partnership,"


Lay said, addressing LJM and Fastow head on. "Let me reiterate a couple of things. We clearly heard investor concerns earlier this year, and Andy Fastow, Enron's chief financial officer, ceased all affiliations with LJM."


Lay added that Fastow was doing "an outstanding job." 

"We're very concerned the way Andy's character has been kind of loosely thrown about over the last few days in certain articles," Lay said. Fastow's role at LJM had been monitored rigorously so that Enron's interests would never be compromised, he said.


In the Enron-TAMARA, as Lay presided over his conference call, Andersen accountants listened in, assembled as a virtual audience in another room.   "The call did not go particularly well," Duncan would later say. "There were many pointed questions asked that the company appeared to struggle to fully answer"  (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). Duncan held his own meeting, following the conference call, and told his audit team to get serious about complying the Andersen’s document-retention policy. “Andersen had known for days that Enron could expect a SEC subpoena for its records, Duncan later testified. But none had arrived by that afternoon” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). The audit team put in a call to Sharon Thibaut, who oversaw document shredding, to send empty trunks for them to pack documents they wanted shredded; they filled over 18 trunks and another 30 boxes.  Thibaut could not handle the volume in Andersen’s shredders, so she called, an outside vendor, Shred-it, whose company motto is” “Your secrets are safe with us” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).

Enron’s TAMARA is a network of stages, and Lay, a starring character, had to hurry along to another theatrical stage, a Hyatt ballroom where several thousand Enron employees were assembled as spectators.  Lay begins his performance in dramatic fashion (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01):

"Let me say right up front, I am absolutely heartbroken about what's happened," Lay said.


"Many of you were a lot wealthier six to nine months ago, are now concerned about the college education for your kids, maybe the mortgage on your house, maybe your retirement, and for that I am incredibly sorry. But we are going to get it back."

Unlike previous performances, the employees were no longer willing to suspend debrief. They became critical of Lay’s performance.

Lay read a series of questions from the audience. Nerves were frayed. Decorum had vanished. One employee had written: "I would like to know if you are on crack? If so, that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start because it's going to be a long time before we trust you again."


Lay reacted to the critical reviews. That same day (Tuesday, October 23 2001), Lay took a $4 million cash advance from Enron. In the next three days, he drew down another $19 million. But, he repaid $6 million by transferring stock he owned to Enron; this avoided the SEC insider trading reporting requirement. “ A board member later called this Lay's "ATM approach" Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).

Lay announced, the next day, Oct. 24 (Wednesday) that Fastow had taken "a leave of absence." Lay said, "In my continued discussions with the financial community, it became clear to me that restoring investor confidence would require us to replace Andy as CFO."  That day (October 24, 2001), Carol Coale of Prudential Securities Inc., an early Enron skeptic, became the first analyst to break from the pack and issue a sell recommendation for Enron stock. Coale’s downgrading of Enron’s ratings, undid a good deal of Metatheatre.

More Metatheatre. On October 26th (Friday), Ben Glisan (Enron’s treasurer) and Fastow’s trusted aide), assembled his team of accountants and lawyers inside in-house attorney Kristina Mordaunt’s office at the 14000 Smith Street headquarters tower (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01): “Somebody tell me we didn’t to this” he pleaded. Yet it was he who had helped Fastow design the LJM partnerships, and had dreamed up the clever Star Wars and Jurassic names like Raptor, Jedi, and Ob-1.  With Fastow’s departure and the WSJ articles, the media began to get anonymous tips to look in to the Chewco deal (named after Chewbacca).  They sat around reviewing the Chewco Investments L.P. file, getting ready for the next media firestorm; the group found serious accounting errors. Chewco was a confidential partnership Fastow’s team had concocted to keep more than $600 million in debt off Enron’s books, keeping it hidden from analysts, average investors, and pesky regulators. Chewco was a precursor to the LJM1 and LJM3 private partnerships run by Fastow. Instead of seeking independent investors in Chewco, Fastow assigned his top deputy Michael J. Kopper to own and manage it and Kopper’s domestic partner William Dodson (a Continental Airlines employee). Kopper and Dodson put in $125,000 of their cash, borrowed $11 million more from Barclays Bank. The fact that Enron guaranteed those loans, further undermining Chewco's independence from the company.  Enron closed down the partnership in early 2001, and paid Kopper and Dodson $10.5 million. “Earlier, McMahon, then Enron's treasurer, had clashed with Fastow over the size of Kopper and Dodson's windfall, arguing that it should be no more than $ 1 million. Fastow prevailed” (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01).  The tragic flaw, noticed by Glisan’s team was that according to the accounting rules, 3 percent of Chewco funding had to come from outside investors in order for the partnership to meet the definition of independent.  “Through an apparent oversight back in 1997, Kopper and Dodson's stake in Chewco had fallen just short of the 3 percent outside equity stake required to make the deal conform to accounting rules”  (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01). 

Lay still hoped to turn the drama around and head off the SEC investigation. In Metatheatre terms, new cast members (new stars) can be added, and a tamer spectacle theatre enacted, one that finds a different scapegoat, to appease the spectators, media, and regulators. The scapegoat was, of course, Andrew Fastow; all Enron’s sins would be heaped onto his back. On October 28th (Sunday), Lay added Williams C. Powers Jr., dean of the University of Texas School of Law, to Enron's board. Powers was to head an inquiry aided by Wilmer, Cutler lawyers. Lay also hired former SEC enforcement chief William R. McLucas and his partners at the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering to conduct this spectacle.  The outside squad of inquisitors (lawyers & accountants) began to do their interviews, asking tough questions about Fastow and LJM. The spectacle turned to carnival, as the antenarrative weave began to further unwind. Kristina Mordaunt (Enron’s in-house attorney), whose office the Ben Glisan gang had met to review the Chewco and LJM fallout, got nervous and disclosed to general counsel Derrick that she was one of the investors in an LJM partnership. “I didn't want Lay to be blindsided,” she said.  Derrick advised her to talk to the attorneys assembled by Powers and McLukas, who had taken over most of Enron’s fourth floor.  She told them her antenarrative (Witt & Behr, 2002: A01):

Nineteen months earlier, in March 2000, Kopper had invited her to join in a confidential investment deal that would take place when the LJM1 partnership was terminated. Fastow had organized it. Ben Glisan and other Fastow confidantes also got a piece of the deal.

They called the partnership Southampton Place, after a swank Houston neighborhood favored by many young Enron executives. Southampton bought out the interests of one of LJM1's principal investors, a British bank, and then Enron brought out Southampton, adding another step to the process -- and another round of profit-taking.

When the deal was concluded in May 2000, the partners' secret profits were astounding. Glisan and Mordaunt had invested $ 5,800 apiece. Each got back a cool million. The Southampton investors had worked on both sides of the deals Fastow structured between LJM and Enron. Glisan and Mordaunt were responsible for protecting Enron's interests as the deals were struck, negotiating for Enron against LJM. Yet they had allowed themselves to be made rich by LJM's conflicted general partner -- Andy Fastow. Once the outside attorneys began hearing about Southampton, the Enron executives who'd invested in it were finished.

Enron’s metatheatrics may have been designed to reassure the Big Three ratings agencies. Fastow was still the scapegoat, but two more goats were added to the heard. On November 8 2001, Ben Glisan (Enron treasurer) and Kristina Mordaunt (general counsel to Enron) were confronted, fired and escorted by security from the building (Habiby, 2001: D2). Two more goats were added in, former Enron employees, Kathy Lynn, vice-president of an unnamed Enron division, and Anne Yaeger, identified by Enron as a non-officer employee were also implicated with LJM2.

But Fastow is one rich goat. Besides the $45 million Fastow says he made in the partnerships called LJM Cayman LP, known as LJM1, and LJM2 Co-Investment LP, Fastow earned a hefty salary and stock options at Enron. In 1999 and 2000, Fastow also sold $23 million in Enron stock. Shares of Enron have fallen 89 per cent, thus far, this year. Fastow is completing construction of an 11,500-square-foot house in Houston's wealthy River Oaks neighborhood. “Enron restated its earnings for the past four years and the first three quarters of 2001 to incorporate the first LJM partnership, as well as Chewco Investments LP and Joint Energy Development Investments LP, known as JEDI”  (Habiby, 2001: D2).

But the climatic collapse of Enron was immanent. Enron had borrowed from banks in NY, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany in exchange for promises of Enron share. With Enron’s shares falling dramatically since the October 16th disclosure, and the media storm that followed, the concern was that if the stock fell any further, Enron’s credit rating would be downgraded by the Big three, and lenders would want immediate repayment, thus bankrupting the company.  Desperate, on October 28 and 29 (Sunday and Monday), Lay called two Bush cabinet members (Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans) for support to head off the threatened downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service. Lay’s pleas are not heeded by the Whitehouse cabinet. 

The phone calls were a disappointment. On October 29 (a Monday), Moody;s cut Enron;’s credit rating to just above junk-bond level (noting the dip in market confidence in Enron). Enron, that day, locked down its company 401(k) savings plan for two weeks, barring employees from selling Enron stock, many had purchased for their retirement. More than $ 1 billion of the plan's funds had been invested in the company's stock at the beginning of the year, when the stock was selling for nearly $80 a share. Those savings vaporized as the price plunged, during the lockdown, down 28 percent from $13.81 to $9.98. Enron kept hope alive by courting Dynergy.

This next of example of Metascripting, came too late. And as we have seen several of the proposed script changes, had already been tried.  Sherron Watkins, who became America’s hero for confronting her boss Ken Lay, with a prophetic memo on Aug. 14, decided on October 30th to sit down and rewrite Enron’s script, in ways she believed would save the day. She sent this memo to Lay outlining Enron’s new metascript reassembled by Witt and Behr (2002: A01):

For herself, she made a bid for a big new job. She was available "ASAP" to become Lay's personal "devil's advocate," unraveling knotty accounting and unmasking employees who were lying out of self-preservation.

 For Lay and Enron, she plotted a course of damage-control to "rebuild investor confidence.

Step 1: Blame subordinates. The "culprits are Skilling, Fastow, Glisan and Causey."

"Lay to be open about his involvement or more importantly, his lack thereof," her memo said. "Lay to admit that he trusted the wrong people."

Step 2: Blame the lawyers and accountants. "Mistake #2: he relied on V&E and Arthur Andersen to opine on their own work."

Lay should now fire both firms. 

Step 3: Lay should be a statesman and work the system.

"This is a problem we must all address and fix for corporate America as a whole. Ken Lay and his board were duped by a COO who wanted (earnings) targets met no matter what the consequences, a CFO motivated by personal greed and 2 of the most respected firms, AA&Co and V&E, who had both grown too wealthy off Enron's yearly business and no longer performed their roles."

The bad news, Watkins concluded, was that Enron's sins had been "horrific."

The good news, she wrote, was that "Nobody wants Ken Lay's head. He's very well respected in the community."

The Metascript changes arrived too late. On November 28 2001 (Wednesday), the deathblow came; the Big Three credit agencies (Moody's, Standard & Poor, & Dun and Bradstreet) downgraded Enron stock to “junk” status. Dynegy (who Enron courted in a last ditch effort) immediately terminated its agreement to buy Enron. That very day, Enron temporarily suspended all payments, other than those necessary to maintain core operations; Enron’s shares fell 85%.


Post-collapse, each Enron character’s dramatics persona was retro-scripted to be more villainous than before. The public’s fear and rage at the unraveling Enron theatrics was met by Congressional hearings, agency investigations, and promises of systemic reform to 401 (k) pensions, insider trading rules, and a more transparent rhetoric in income statements. Retrospective script revisionism of characters, plats, dialogs, themes (and all the Septet elements) was a key factor; for instance, character revision occurred in the Powers (2002) report (I hypothesize that it is a spectacle move) to blame Enron's collapse on tragic leaderly character flaws: reprimanding Lay's lack of governance oversight, then focusing in two scapegoats: Skilling's short-term focus "get stock price up," and Andrew Fastow's off-the-balance sheet partnership that mislead an otherwise professionally managed company (is the emplotment I read). Keep in mind, Kenneth L. Lay, Jeffrey K. Skilling, Rebecca Mark, and Andrew S. Fastow (e.g. Kaminski & Baylor, 2001), were just days before the bankruptcy, still celebrated heroes on the pages of the business press and academic journals (e.g., Kaminski & Baylor, 2001 in Journal of Applied Corporate Finance celebrate Skilling and Fastow as heroic executives who skillfully implementing rigorous risk-management practices at Enron; Enron was voted Most Innovative Company and No. 22 on the Best Places to Work in America ranking).

A critical dramaturgical theory is necessary to explain the rhizomatic antenarrating, metascript changes, and the overall Metatheatre of Enron. As cast of characters was enrolled by Fastow (perhaps by Skilling and Lay) to create alleged shell-partnerships that would hide debt, while keeping a façade in play that would keep analysts, investors, employees, and regulators in the suspension of disbelief.  And when the masquerade was all but unmasked, Lay’s performances are masterful (or pathetic) examples of Metatheatre. Lay tries to recruit a cast of characters of credibility, and throw the lions a few scapegoats. Williams Powers, dean of the University of Texas School of Law, was added to Enron's board to head the inquiry, aided by Wilmer, Cutler lawyers (Witt & Behr, 2002). 

Quasi-objects bring together network of institutions, which would otherwise not be linked, in a way that shapes (constructs) identity and carries relationships of axes of ‘power, knowledge & ethics’ (Foucault, 1997: 318). Like Latour’s (1996) novel, Aramis, or the Love of Technology, Enron is a tale of an economic dream gone wrong, realized in dramaturgy run amuck. Enron’s quasi-object is ‘Enrononomics,’ a fictive-economics (an interpenetration of metatheatre and economics).  Enron’s quasi-object is the main metatheatre character, a financial technology project, known as the ‘Gas Bank’, an antenarrative that morphs into the energy-trading floors of the Enron building. Enrononomics is a New Economy innovation that is to lower energy rates through acts of deregulation, while creating a virtual corporation that makes bets on energy Wheels of Fortune. The deregulation change and Gas Bank development work involves a transorganizational, public and private network of institutions, whose dynamics change antenarrative trajectory during the “life” of the innovative project. The Gas Bank project lasted from 1989 to 2001, and is more than a collaboration of many public and private institutions, Wall Street analysts, Harvard and Stanford MBAs recruited to be traders, and politicians from countries around the world.

I am going to go out on a limb here. For a few weeks (January-March 2002), the media tried to turn Enrongate into the latest Watergate, interrogating Whitehouse, Congress and Senate about who knew, when did they know, and how much money did each elected official receive?  But, the Whitehouse did more than not return Lay’s calls when the late October 2001 Big Three threatened to change Enron’s rating to junk bond level; the Whitehouse led its own Metatheatre, along with Congress, to distance political contribution and Oil people appointed to the administration, from the pending Enrongate. Enrongate may yet recur in antenarrative fashion as Bush’s Watergate. In another analysis (Boje, 2002b) I pursue this line of inquiry; how did the Whitehouse prevent Enrongate from becoming Watergate?

For Democrats it was payback time, and within such a frame, dialog is about positioning. "There will be no witch-hunt," says Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), eager as ever to cloak his partisan instincts with the rhetoric of high-mindedness. Some rhetoric is not persuasive. For example,  “I've never seen a better example of cash 'n' carry government than this Bush Administration and Enron,” said Democrat Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, “who has received $3,500 in campaign contributions from Enron and $20,460 from Arthur Andersen since 1995” (Capital Briefs, 2002: 2). It was relatively easy for the Whitehouse to counter Democratic Enrongate emplotments by noting the many Democrats who had received Enron contributions. I believe that when Lay and Fastow refused to testify, and Skilling proved hard to interrogate, the Whitehouse retaliated with attacks on democrats and Clinton, to divert the media attention. However, the perfect firestorm still grew in megaspectacle scope, size, and intensity (Best & Kellner’s 2001 dimensions). So, the Whitehouse seamlessly shifted institutional inquiry to the accountants (the new scapegoats); most commentators now blame the accountants, especially Arthur Andersen’s auditors and consultants; President Bush is no longer a suspect though 5 members of his administration worked for Enron, and Lay was Bush’s chief contributor in gubernatorial and presidential campaigns (See Boje, 2002b for a list). For the most part, the media’s search for blame has moved on to Global Crossing, WorldCom, and Qwest; megaspectacle spectators have short attention spans.

Fewer scenarios implicate the wider system of political economy, Free Market capitalism’s lack of institutional checks and balances, and rarer still, not the Business College. For example, Michael Lissack  (email, June 29, 2002) and Ian Mitroff (email, July 9, 2002) are asking that the August 2002 meeting of the Academy of Management use every opportunity to discuss our complicity as business educators of the executives of Enron and Andersen: “Business Schools do not of course bear full responsibility for Enron, etc, but they have a responsibility to teach and to discuss ethical issues” (July 9, 2002).  Put it this way: “It also is simpler for the public, and perhaps for jurors, to understand the prosecution of one or two people for corporate crimes, lawyers said, as the difficult case of accounting firm Arthur Andersen may prove” (Gearan, 2002: D1).  There are important implications of a metatheatric, quasi-object, and antenarrative analysis of the LJM partnerships, which are summarized in the next section.



This study of Enron Metatheatre has important consequences for organizational behavior (OB), organization theory (OT), strategy, and management practice. Blame finding can be quite general.

In OB, Enron is a crucial case that for corporate culture and leadership-trait theory. Skilling’s rank and yank performance review method, in which the lowest 15% performers were let go, integrated Enron into a strong corporate culture; this corporate culture is being retrospectively revised to accentuate its more Yes-Sir subservience, risk-proneness, and its overt macho sexism. Before the collapse, in 2000 Enron was named one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America" by Fortune magazine (reaching position 22). Enron is being recast from integrated and strong corporate culture, to quite a differentiated and fragmented one (Martin, 1996). For instance, after the collapse, a story frequently told, is a ten-year struggle between Skilling and Rebecca Mark, which CEO Lay either ignored or encouraged, until Skilling won the contest (with the help of a spy/whistle blower) and Mark was forced to resign (over an affair). The struggle between Skilling and Mark, and their office romances, has been credited with cracking the corporate culture in ways that eventually toppled Enron. The second OB application is leadership. Most leadership analyses of Enron credit Lay, Skilling, and Mark as exhibiting personality traits that range between charismatic, arrogant, and Machiavellian. I will assert that these traits are dramaturgically enacted, and that their leaderly traits, as well as the corporate culture, undergo revisionism in reconstructed accounts after the collapse.

For OT scholars, interrogating Enron’s corporate theatre would extend discussions of institutional and transaction cost theories; how Enron failed to conform rules and norms of its institutional environment and how dramaturgy was used to control and metascript transaction costs.  Institutional theories have argued that there are mimetic, isomorphic, and normative pressures affecting the processes, appropriate (and inappropriate) practices, codified knowledge, and mental models of organizations (Barley & Tolbert, 1997; DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Greenwood and Hinings, 1996; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Meyer, 1994; Scott, 1995; Tolbert and Zucker, 1996). Meyer and Rowan, for example, argue that organizations subject to regulatory or professional control, such as accounting firms, face strong institutional pressures; whereas ambiguously defined organizations, such as Enron, would face lesser institutional pressures. Enron was able to subvert institutional constraints (laws, professions, public opinion, regulatory agencies) on its organizational activity (Barley and Tolbert 1997). Enron subverted what Scott (1995) argues are transnational corporation’s constraints on moral behavior, such is its constituted cultures (norms & cognitive factors), routines, and structures, as well as being suspended in a web of regulatory agencies. The institutional milieu of the transnational corporation presents coercive (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983), cognitive mindset (Wicks, 2001), and normative (Meyer, 1994) controls to shape and reinforce corporate behavior (Maynard, 2001: 18): “Corporate memory, custom, culture and the very real power to reward and punish keep employees in line and the organization moving steadily toward its goals.”   Energy industries were what Beckert (1999) would describe as “highly institutionalized;” Enron was able to use innovative financial strategies and its political contributions to deregulate those industries.  Indeed, Enron was able to bring pressure on a wide variety of institutions (regulators, professional, agencies, WTO, WB, & IMF) to deregulate energy markets, absolve Enron from paying taxes, and help third world countries purchase utilities and pipelines from Enron (SEEN, 2002). In addition, Enron was able to subvert not only institutional pressures, but also its own codes of conduct in ways that allowed alleged frauds to be perpetrated. Ironically, Enron’s code of conduct manual is selling on E-bay for more than its stock shares’ highest ever price.  Enron problematizes precepts of institutional theory, how corporate culture, its checks and balances (embedded in structures and routines) and regulatory institutions and industry norms would converge to influence it to present a positive image to the world in its texts (press releases, annual reports, press releases, and self-narratives). After the collapse, institutional inquires into blame ensued; Gephart (1993) did a study of backstage settings (Goffman, 1959, those that are publicly inaccessible) and public sensemaking ceremonies in blame pegging following a disaster, a fatal pipeline accident: “responsibility for the problematic management of risks, hazards, and dangers is allocated in a public inquiry setting through a complex process of sensemaking that reconstructs the disastrous events in a publicly visible setting” that involved mythmaking to account for the “operation of mysterious forces” (p. 1490-1495).  I will argue that an analysis of dramaturgy contributes insight into how Enron was able to reverse institutional pressures by sustaining a dramatis persona identity as New Economy entrepreneur, which masked its more predatory mindset and hyper-competitive practices. Further, following the collapse, institutional inquiry was constructed through dramaturgy to craft its blame-finding and myth creation. Little institutional research (except Gephart, 1993) addresses the way corporate theatre is used to circumvent institutional conformity pressures.  I address this incompleteness as a way to develop a critical dramaturgy analysis of Enron’s rise and collapse, and how certain accounting and trading practices came to be viewed as legitimate in the first place.  The lack of research on the dramaturgical aspects of institutionalization is considered a major contribution.

            For strategy Barry and Elmes (1997: ??), argue “Any story the strategist tells is but one of many competing alternatives woven from a vast array of possible characterizations, plot lines, and themes.”  A dramaturgical approach can make the political economies of strategy more visible, who writes the strategy “How do rhetorical devices function to increase (or undermine) strategic credibility? How are rhetorical dynamics used to "authorize" strategy and mask its subjectivities?” (p. 429-430). Two narrative trajectory models present quite different Enrons. In the first model, the founding story emerges fully formed from the head of the founder, Kenneth Lay, there is a quest where after some trials and tribulations, some helpers (Jeffrey Skilling & Rebecca Mark) spread the venture around the world; this is the heroic CEO narrative, a saga maintained in tact, diffused by a so-called strong corporate culture. Barry and Elmes (1997: 440) “Many strategic narratives seem to follow a simplified variation of either the epic Hero's Journey.”  Enron, after the Valhalla trading rogues scandal of 1987, enacts a romantic plot, portraying itself as Barry and Elmes (1997: 445) would say, “as recovering from a fall from grace, stemming perhaps from excessive growth or divergence from the founder's vision.” 

In the second model, ‘antenarrative’ (Boje, 2001a), Lay’s initial idea is no more than a bet, a weakling pre-story that Latour (1996: 119) calls a “whirlwind” since it “moves only if it interests one group or another” in nonlinear processes of antenarrative-translation and reconstitution, according to the interests of political groups. Only in retrospect and revisionism, is Lay’s founding strategy a journey tale. As Skilling and Mark struggle for control, Enron’s plots become increasingly polyphonic (Bakhtin, 1984); Lay takes a less authoritative role in strategy as the two strategies juxtapose. After the collapse, congressional hearings focused on assigning Lay more monological strategy authority, but his refusal to testify, left Skilling as the voice of Enron strategy. Skilling’s dramaturgical skills resulted in putting several congress people and staff members on the defensive. In this article I trace the dramaturgy of Enron, as it undergoes historical revisionism after the collapse in America’s largest bankruptcy. I discuss the implications of this examination for research and practice. There are also implications for chaos theory and strategy. Enron’s strategy enables a complex, dynamic system, which exhibited both unpredictability and underlying order. The relevance of chaos theory for strategy is as (Van de Ven & Garud, 1989;  Stacy, 1992; Parker & Stacy, 1994), how industries emerge. I hypothesize that rajectories of antenarrative ensembles have ordering and disordering results for complex organizations.

In sum, the contribution of this paper to OB, OT, and strategy is to develop and explore a critical dramaturgy theory that integrates the trajectory dynamics of antenarratives with metatheatrics and metascripting. The purpose of this article is to interrogate Enron texts and theatrical performances for antenarrative trajectory, historical revisionism, and institutional re-legitimation. Specifically, I focus on the following research questions: First, what antenarrative trajectories are found in Enron texts and performatives? Second, how have the characters of executives and institutions been historically rescripted following the collapse? Third, how do institutions control the narrative inquiry process and reinvoke their institutional legitimacy using Metatheatre? To do the analysis, the critical dramaturgical method elements are the Septet. Focusing on Enron texts and theatrics allows for a genealogical exploration of ways that antenarrative and metatheatrics interact. Examples of antenarrative trajectory and retro-revisionism are particularly informative because they illustrate how the status quo remains in power despite the difficult challenges to State and capitalism brought on by the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, and the collapse of Arthur Andersen, in its shockwaves.



I conclude that in Enron’s Metatheatre, the antenarrative trajectories co-created alleged frauds, and kept them moving, kept them hidden, while enrolling stock analysts, regulators, and even the Business Colleges as characters in hegemonic ways. In hegemony power is invisible but its impacts are felt; Enron’s hollowed out façade, the off-the-balance-sheet partnerships (many in the Cayman Islands, and other sites where surveillance is lax) seemed so very solid.

Antenarrative, Metascript, Metatheatre, Quasi-Object, and Septet draw upon other theories such as intertextuality, quasi-object, and critical discourse analysis. For example, antenarrative theory (Boje, 2001a) is closely tied to Kristeva (1980a: 36) and Bakhtin (1981), who suggest that each text has an intertextual “trajectory” that is historical and social (Boje, 2001a, O’Connor, 2002). Metascripts are obviously intertextual (networked systems of inter-scripts & the production, distribution, & consumption of Enron scripts), but so are the Tamara-esque Metatheatre networks of theatres. Similarly, Septet is intertextual, with inter-plots, schizophrenic Enron characters, inter-themes, etc. And the concepts I propose, relate to Fairclough’s (1992) critical discourse analysis, i.e. his advancing the idea that the intertextual trajectory is embedded in hegemonic struggle.  Fairclough’s (1992, 2000, 2001, 2002) critical discourse analysis focuses on how genres (types of texts) migrate, such as spoken utterances becoming written texts, and ways of talking and writing become metascripted into ways of acting, and these into Metatheatric ways that accomplish social changes in dialectical relation with other social elements (and orders of discourse such as dramatis identity) by entering into the causal texture of stages (and networks of theatrical practices) that recontextualize and rescript capitalism. 

Each antenarrative is a performative system of utterances, and there is intertextual translation and passage of utterances between networks of texts, as well as transconfiguration as one genre of text (a decision at an Enron board meeting) becoming another genre (footnote16 of Enron’s 2000: pp. 48-49 annual report), becoming the subject of yet another genre (e.g. Lay’s refusal to testify about footnote 16 or anything else in congress and senate hearings) to the media quotations of a few transcribed utterances for circulation in the Business and more popular press. Enron from 1985 to 2001 enrolled characters in an inscription of discourse (genres), in annual reports, gala parties and Presidential and gubernatorial inaugurations, and “trading floor” metatheatrics that disseminated a globalization of deregulation discourse in ways that colonized and appropriated local energy discourses in India, Dominican Republic, as well as Texas, Washington D.C., and California. Narrative and antenarrative cannot be disentangled from theatrical constructions of Enron that retextualized and rescripted the global economy.




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[i] I began to articulate a Critical Postmodern approach in Boje, Fitzgibbon and Thatchenkery (1996); See Alvesson & Deetz (1996) who discuss advantages of integrating critical theory with postmodern theory; and See Best and Kellner (1997, 2001) who have always done critical postmodern theory.

[ii] See The Washington Post, August 03, 2002, Saturday, Editorial; Pg. A18

[xxx] Newsweek (2002).‘Don’t Brainwash Analysts’ Newsweek 2002

[iii] The major concern in Lévy's writings (1983, 1995, 1997, 1998) is with the relations of community and personal identity to "cyberspace" or, as Lévy so often puts it, to "the virtual." 

[iv] IBID The Washington Post, August 03, 2002, Saturday, Editorial; Pg. A18

[v] See Banerjee (2002); In another version it is only 75 employees: ‘To impress a group of visiting Wall Street stock analysts, Enron executives once ordered about 75 employees, including secretaries, throughout its headquarters to come down to the trading floor to man phones and pretend they were making deals. It was a scene right out of The Sting - and it worked. The analysts left believing Enron couldn't make deals fast enough” (Gaber, 2002); A third source says only dozens of employees took part in the masquerade – See Cron (2002).

[vi] Report: Enron designed fake trading floor (2002). Posted: 1:22 p.m. CST February 22, 2002

[vii] "Appearances were very important," said Jeff Gray, a former economist at Enron Energy Services. "It was important for employees to believe the hype just as it was important for analysts and investors to believe it."… Each division … put on a skit it had polished for weeks, often with the help of professional choreographers. The capper was when one executive in charge of Enron's big power project in India rode in on a horse and another entered on an elephant. It was the second year that an elephant made it to the gathering, former employees said (Banerjee, 2002: 1)

[viii] See Schreyogg (2001) and Schreyogg & Noss (2000) and Meisiek (2002) - who see theatre as a more or less ‘managerialist’ technology to be used by management. They focus on how corporations employ professional actors, directors, and stage hands to set up theatre events that dramatize object lessons for employees, followed by focus groups facilitated by consultants.



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