Sub-Plenary 2-1

“What’s Past is Prologue”: The (Re-)Emergence of Purpose for Organizations and Organizing


Friday, July 5, 2024, 16:00–17:30 CEST

U6 Building – “AGORÀ” | Room: U6-P0-07 | Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo, 1 | 20126 Milano

Deepika Chhillar, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
Ricardo Flores, University of Victoria, Canada
Luca Manelli, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Rodolphe Durand, HEC Paris, France
Matt Kraatz, Gies College of Business, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
Renate E. Meyer, WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
Roy Suddaby, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada

There is a growing interest in academic and practitioners’ communities about organizational purpose. Purpose provides the reasons why the organization and its members perform their activity, and it is generally considered a core principle in supporting people in making sense of “who we are” and “what we do”. Even though the interest in purpose has been latent for an extended period, emerging research is starting to bring purpose to the front seat of the conversations in organization studies (Clegg et al., 2021; Durand & Huynh, 2020; Leixnering et al., 2022; Morrison & Mota, 2023). However, there are still many issues that need to be clarified and understood, both theoretically and methodologically. For this reason, with this sub-plenary we seek to generate fruitful conversations about advancing research on purpose in, around, and across organizations and organizing processes.

The sub-plenary appeals to various constituencies within the EGOS community and is tightly linked to the theme of the EGOS Colloquium 2024:

  • First, there is a conceptual link. We consider time, space, and people as the three vectors or the dimensions of the “social scaffolding” through which we interpret purpose in organizations. These three vectors will be used by us, as organizers, to summarize and wrap up the insights that emerged from the panelists’ presentations.

  • Second, there is a connection related to the choice of the panelists. The sub-plenary session will leverage the research experience of the four panelists, who have contributed significantly to the “big tent” of institutional theory, but whose research cannot be entirely categorized within the narrow boundaries of institutional theory. Therefore, panelists themselves are at the “crossroad” of institutional theory and other theoretical streams and thus in a liminal position to provide fresh insights on the concept of purpose in organization studies.

  • Third, the choice of the topic of the sub-plenary session. Organizational purpose is a concept that transcends organization studies’ sub-fields, arguably being at the “crossroad” of different disciplines, even beyond the field of organization studies (e.g., sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc.).

The three most important takeaways and insights that the audience could extract from attending this session would be:

  1. Identifying (some) cutting-edge research avenues that junior and more senior researchers in the EGOS community can pursue. At a minimum, these presentations and discussions can inform participants’ own thinking about purpose, including methodological and empirical challenges (which are particularly salient for doctoral students and junior researchers).

  2. Fostering a discussion on the concept of purpose in its own right, By involving well-known scholars who have shaped the field for many years, this session can provide additional legitimacy to this concept as a research object.

  3. Providing conceptual elaboration about how time, space, and people can function as “sensitizing concepts” to imagine theoretical advancements about the concept of purpose.

The sub-plenary leverages the four panelists’ vast research experience and expertise. The organizers will moderate the discussion for those participating in person and those attending the session online. We envision the session to be structured in the following format:

  • Thematic introduction of the session’s structure and panelists by the organizers

  • Roy Suddaby on organizational purpose and social value judgment

  • Renate E. Meyer on organizational purpose and institutional change

  • Matt Kraatz on organizational purpose and values

  • Rodolphe Durand on organizational purpose and governance

  • Organizers synthesize emerging insights & links to the themes of time, space, and people

  • Moderated Q&A between the public and the panelists


  • Durand, R., & Huynh, C.-W. (2020): “Legitimacy judgements and prosociality: Organizational purpose explained.” In: G. George, M.R. Haas, H. Joshi, A.M. McGahan, & P. Tracey (eds.): Handbook on the Business of Sustainability. The Organization, Implementation, and Practice of Sustainable Growth. Research Handbooks in Business and Management series, Vol. 919. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 43–62.
  • Leixnering, S., Meyer, R.E., & Doralt, P. (2022): “The Past as Prologue: Purpose Dynamics in the History of the Aktiengesellschaft.” In: R.E. Meyer, S. Leixnering, & J. Veldman (eds.): The Corporation: Rethinking the Iconic Form of Business Organization. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 7. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 97–120.
  • Morrison, A.D., & Mota, R. (2023): “A theory of organizational purpose.” Academy of Management Review, 48 (2),

Deepika Chhillar …is a PhD student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Rodolphe Durand is the Joly Family Purposeful Leadership Chair at HEC Paris (France) and the founder and academic director of the Society and Organizations Institute, which he launched in 2009. He received the R. Scott Award in 2005 from ASA, the EURAM Imagination Lab Award for Innovative Scholarship in 2010, and was inducted Fellow of the Strategic Management Society in 2014. Rodolphe’s research appeared in leading journals, such as the American Journal of Sociology, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Studies, Administrative Science Quarterly, and Strategic Management Journal.
Ricardo Flores …is Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada.
Matt Kraatz is Merle H. & Virginia Downs Boren Professor of Business Administration at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA. He is the Associate Director of the Illinois Strategic Organizations Initiative. Matt was the 2012 Division Chair of the Organization and Management Theory (OMT) Division of the Academy of Management. His research has appeared in the Academy of Management Journal, the Academy of Management Annals, American Sociological Review, Strategic Management Journal, and Organization Science.
Luca Manelli …is a post-doctoral fellow at Politecnico di Milano, Italy.
Renate E. Meyer is Professor for Organization Studies at WU in Vienna, Austria, and at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Organization Studies and the 2021 Division Chair of the Organization and Management Theory (OMT) Division of the Academy of Management. Renate’s research appeared in top-tier outlets such as the Academy of Management Journal, Organization Studies, Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, and Journal of Business Ethics.
Roy Suddaby is the Francis G. Winspear Chair of Management at the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria, Canada. He is a past Editor of the Academy of Management Review and Associate Editor of the Academy of Management Perspectives. He has been an Editorial Board member of the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, and Journal of Business Venturing. Roy has won best-paper awards from the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, and the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada, as well as the Greif Research Impact Award from the Academy of Management.