David Buchanan and my article “The dark side of group behavior: Zombie apocalypse lessons” is accepted for publication in Academy of Management Perspectives (http://aom.org/Publications/AMP/Academy-of-Management-Perspectives.aspx) .
How will groups of survivors behave in a doomsday scenario? Will there be competition for scarce resources? Will they collaborate in reconstruction? We cannot research these questions directly, but we can find clues in four places. First, there are historical examples of apocalyptic events. Second, social identity theory offers explanations of group behavior. Third, there are studies of group dynamics in extreme contexts. We discuss the limitations of those three sources, prompting us to turn to a fictional account in search of ideas. Adopting a narrative theoretical lens, we consider ‘the theory on offer’ in the television series The Walking Dead, which portrays a zombie apocalypse. We find that group behavior is shaped by the nature of survivor group composition, and by the properties of the doomsday context they face. We demonstrate the potential for the emergence of a dark, violent side of group behavior. We illustrate a methodological solution to the problem of researching extreme contexts using ‘speculative fiction’. And we break new ground by exploiting the zombie movie genre, which addresses the ‘failure of imagination’ that can increase society’s vulnerability to unforeseen events. Our analysis has implications for organization theory, and for policy and practice in doomsday scenarios.