Arndt Sorge

EGOS Honorary Member 2010

Laudatio by Sigrid Quack

My first encounter with Arndt Sorge, as far as I can remember, took place at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin in 1988. Arndt was senior research fellow and co-ordinator in charge of the Technology and Entrepreneurial Initiatives area in the Labour Market and Employment unit. I was starting my PhD research at the same institution. While our career paths have crossed many times since then, I will never forget my first impression of him: Arndt was sitting in his office behind piles of books, wearing arm sleeves over a plaid shirt, the remains of a pencil held together with a metal holder stuck behind his ear, whilst small clouds of smoke bubbled up from his pipe. There were also some model airplanes on display on shelves.

There was something very local looking about him, I thought. Both feet firmly on the ground. Yet, there was also clearly something that made him stand out in the crowd: he wasn't at all like the typical German scholar. Well, as I came to know Arndt better and learnt more about his academic achievements, I realized that my first impression was both, right and wrong, and that the dialectic reasoning – could help me resolve apparently contradictory impressions.


Among the scholars of his generation, Arndt Sorge stands out as a truly cosmopolitan and polyglot scholar. There are few German colleagues of his age who have similar cross-national careers, international research experience and multilingual publication records. This is even true for the founding generation of Super-EGOS, as they called themselves, of which Arndt was part. And they were all pretty internationally and European in orientation. In the course of his career, Arndt has held positions at nine academic institutions in four European countries, not to mention shorter stays as visiting researcher. Apart from his mother tongue, he speaks fluently and publishes in English, French and Dutch – mastering these languages as if they were his mother tongue, German. There are also entries in Italian and Spanish in his publication list, and knowing his amazing capability to pick up new languages, I would not be surprised if he had written them, too, or at least edited the translation.


Born in Düsseldorf in 1945, he studied in Freiburg, Cologne and Münster. Already during his time at the University of Münster, he visited social research institutions in Denmark, Austria and France, including his first visit to the Laboratoire d'économie et de sociologie du travail in Aix-en-Province. He became a research fellow at St. Anthony's College in Oxford and Henley Management College. During his time at the WZB in the 1980s, Arndt became a driving force in pan-European research projects on industrial and organizational democracy, as well as on microelectronics and manpower in manufacturing. Some of his long lasting and most productive research collaborations with scholars from other countries, such as Malcolm Warner and Marc Maurice, date back to this time. Subsequently he held professorships at the universities of Maastricht, the Humboldt in Berlin, Tilburg and Groningen before recently returning to the WZB as director of the Internationalisation and Organisation unit.


The fascinating thing about Arndt is that as he extended his horizon from the German to other academic traditions, he remained firmly rooted in his own culture and traditions. This did not prevent him, though, from selectively learning from other academic traditions. In fact, the seriousness with which he engaged in cross-border intellectual exchange and his human and intellectual curiosity rarely left him a "stranger" to the new academic universe he was exploring. Rather, local colleagues would often be surprised to the extent Arndt could become a local and assimilate local traditions. Like Simmel's stranger, he was close and far at the same time, he could look at issues from the insider and outsider perspective, and this position at crossroads provided some of the sources of his academic creativity. Hence, my first impression about being local and different at the same time was not that wrong. In many ways, Arndt Sorge is an academic incarnation of what Sidney Tarrow characterised as a rooted cosmopolitan.


The tension between universalism and particularity, between global and local, broad societal and institutional logics and more specific functional task requirements are key themes originating from Arndt's interest in cross-boundary social interactions. These run like a leitmotif through Arndt's academic achievements and his contributions to the scholarly community. There is certainly not enough space and time here to develop all the dimensions along which Arndt has made outstanding and lasting contributions to the field of organization studies and the EGOS community over the last 30 years. I will make a modest attempt to present his lifetime achievements in three different professional roles: firstly, as a scholar, then, as an editor and finally as an EGOSian.


Let me begin with Arndt's contributions as a scholar. Writing a laudatio about somebody you believe to know quite well has sometimes surprising and revealing effects. In this case, it brought me to Arndt's doctoral thesis, defended in 1975 at the University of Münster, with the German title: "Einheitlichkeit und Verschiedenartigkeit industrieller Demokratie im zwischengesellschaftlichen Vergleich" which roughly translates into "Uniformity and diverseness of industrial democracy in cross-country comparison". While in 1975 it was by no means predictable that the author would become the cosmopolitan and polyglot scholar of international recognition that we honour today as EGOS honorary member, the subject and approach taken in this work seems to encompass and foreshadow key themes that Arndt nurtured and brought to maturity during the following decades. Like a seed contains the size, colours and forms of the future plant, this PhD thesis contained the germs of the research and publications for which Arndt is known today and for which he has received international recognition.


First, there are the cross-national variations of organizational forms and practices which he analysed so meticulously in his comparative studies of work organization and technology in the manufacturing industry, undertaken in cooperation with French colleagues from Aix-en-Provence and British colleagues from Henley Management College. Theorized as "societal effects", and presented in a joint article with Marc Maurice and Malcolm Warner in the first issue of the newly founded journal Organization Studies in 1980, this framework subsequently inspired many European scholars to abandon universal or narrow contingency perspectives on organizations and to explore the interactions between organizations and societal and institutional contexts.


The publication of the 1980 OS article was a pioneering work in European organization theory; it provided a guiding framework of how to elaborate the mission of the newly founded journal as an "international multidisciplinary journal devoted to the study of organizations, organizing, and the organized in and between societies". The article is still a classic today for everybody who engages in cross-country comparisons of organizations; as of June 2010 it was the 22nd most frequently cited article in OS. One of the reasons why it keeps being cited - despite more fashionable competing frameworks of recent date such as the varieties of capitalism approach – is that Arndt's article provides a much richer sociological understanding of how the social and institutional fabric of societies intersects with forms and processes of organizing.


A second leitmotif in Arndt's work deals with the tensions which arise in organizing out of specific functional task related contingencies on the one hand and broader societal and institutional contexts and professional and organizational politics on the other hand. The materiality of specific production and service functions and their particularities are seen in Arndt’s work as a baseline argument towards which societal and institutional effects, but also micropolitics in subunits of organizations need to be brought into position. One best way is not associated with the fit between functional needs and specific organizational forms and practices. Instead, performance is seen as the result of the capacity of actors to link up and combine distinctive and even opposed task contingencies and strategy elements. The interactions between societal and industry profiles implies innovation and change of business strategy, organization and human resources.


Ten years after the societal effect article, Arndt was revisiting the agenda with his strategic fit article published in OS in 1991. This article draws on interactionist and pragmatic theorizing to overcome dichotomies between opposites. Similarly, Arndt's collaborative work with Offenbeek and Knip on the introduction of nurse practitioners in Dutch hospitals, published in in OS 2009, engages critically with the contingency approach. The organizational redesign of work structures, while responding to functional demands of task specificity, leads to different outcomes in different subunits because functional demands are interpreted differently depending on the local professional and organizational micro-politics prevalent in the respective unit.


A third key theme of Arndt’s is the interrelation of the global and the local: in many ways, this is an iteration of universalism-particularities themes. Arndt's book "The global and the local: Understanding the dialectics of business systems", published by Oxford University Press in 2005, takes up the intrinsic tensions between action systems and institutional design. A central claim, developed with a splendid mastery of historical detail, is that internationalization processes involve (in dialectical ways) processes of localization – a theme that you find discusses in many of the this year's subthemes and key note speeches. Hence, societies develop as a recombination of elements of global and local cultures and institutional elements. Internationalization involves both, moves towards universalisms and particularisms.

Within multinational organizations, this can lead, as shown in the Calori price winning article, co-authored with Ann-Wil Harzing, to internationalization strategies being directed towards universalism, while control systems remained more strongly rooted in the country of origin of these enterprises.


Like Arndt's earlier research, his publications are landmarks in organization and globalization research. They bring the particularity of specific social settings and their relation to more universal principles of social organization back to the center of organization research. Some directions in organization studies have led away from these insights and led to impasses. The questions posed by Arndt in his work on the global and the local, namely how to achieve a successful integration of different parts within a global framework are still very relevant, even if one does not necessarily follow his answers. In particular, a rereading might help to overcome simplistic dichotomies of global conversion versus local decoupling.


While Arndt has generously shared knowledge and insights with us in many areas, I am afraid that he has been holding back on others. You many have wondered why all these airplanes were passing over the conference venue during the last days. Now, they were all honouring Arndt. Many of you may not know that he has a lifelong passion for everything related to aircraft. This year he is presenting his first paper on the aircraft industry at this EGOS Colloquium.


Yet, Arndt has not only enriched our scholarly community with pioneering and provoking scholarly contributions. It is also as a journal and volume editor that he has shaped the directions and agendas of organization studies as a field. He has served as a member of editorial boards of various international academic journals. He is the editor of a number of yearbooks, encyclopaedias and edited volumes which aim to synthesize the state of the art of our interdisciplinary field. Arndt’s theoretical and methodological pluralism, his broad historical and inter-disciplinary knowledge and his fascination and mastery of details made him an ideal choice for the position of an editor.


At EGOS, of course, we owe him especially for his long-standing and continuous involvement in Organization Studies. Being one of the authors of the very first issue of OS, Arndt has served the journal as an author, reviewer, editor and member of the advisory board. Having started as book review editor in 1989, Arndt moved on to be co-editor in 1992. Four years later, he was appointed as the fourth editor-in-chief of OS, and the first of non-British origin, again a testimony of his cosmopolitan orientation and polyglot capabilities. His vision of the journal was "to reinforce our identity as a multi-national and world-wide journal, with a European inspiration" (Sorge 1997). This was reflected in the multinational composition of the editorial team, and efforts to account for and increase the submissions from Asia-Pacific.


Arndt's attentiveness to the material details of academic production (to come back to the pencil stub imagery at the beginning of my laudatio) led him to improve the electronic and technical infrastructure of the submission process (communication was now using email, and final submission on diskette). To improve operating conditions, he even decided to move to a more promising location at the WORC Institute at the University of Tilburg in The Netherlands. This is the only case in the history of the journal where the editor moved because of the journal and not the journal moved because of a new editor.


Yet, the most important and lasting contribution that Arndt made to OS as editor-in-chief was certainly in terms of the plurality and quality of the journal. For him, reviewing and commenting on the work of colleagues was an intellectual endeavour and pleasure at its best: he enjoyed it for its communicative and interactive nature, and while his straightforwardness could be tough for authors, reviewers and co-editors alike, he fostered and communicated a developmental perspective to bring out the best potential in the manuscripts. The EGOS and OS community cannot be grateful enough to Arndt for building and maintaining the bridgehead to academic communities in different countries. An astonishing number of articles reviewed in the period of Arndt’s service as editor-in-chief still rank among the most frequently read and cited articles of OS, covering a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches and topics.


While Arndt once stated in an editorial that it would be against his ingrained Prussian nature to make lengthy statements about his sentiments, there can be no doubt that he has a deep emotional attachment to the journal. And while there have sometimes been arguments along the way, his arguments have always been inspired by constructive criticism directed to further develop the journal as one that is distinctive in content and style, and that emphasizes the "organizations, organizing and the organized in and between societies". In this sense, Arndt’s lifelong research agenda of the tensions between universalism and particularity, between the global and the local, can also be instructive in dealing with the challenges that the current editor-in-chief, David Courpasson and his editorial team have identified as "the challenge of incorporating different strands of culture, experiences, and knowledge" in the way of the creative recombinations that Arndt’s dialectical pragmatism would suggest emerging from tensions between contradictory logics.


Last but not least, we honour Arndt for his abiding and invaluable contributions to the European scholarly community which has developed over the last 30 years under the roof of EGOS. Arndt has been a thriving member of this community from its foundation in the mid-1970s through the period of its formalisation as an association at the beginning of the 1990s, up until today. My attempts to track the historical record have brought me to the tentative conclusion that he has not missed many EGOS conferences since his first attendance in 1979 at the meeting in Noordwijk. He has served the community in many official capacities, as well as in informal roles.


Just to mention a few of the hats he has been wearing over all these years: He was a member of the coordinating committee from 1986 until 1993; he organized the Colloquium in Berlin in 1989; he has served several times as member of the Roland Calori prize committee and the EGOS Best Paper Award committees. Arndt has also been an active member of the Standing Working Group on "Comparative Studies of Economic Organization" – one of EGOS’ most longstanding and most productive SWGS coming to a close this year. Above all, however, Arndt has always been somebody who has interacted enthusiastically with younger and new scholars; he is a generous colleague and a talented teacher who has always taken an active interest in the personal well-being of his students and colleagues. He has tried to bring "fresh blood" to EGOS and to help younger scholars to understand the rules of the game. The wonderful PhD program which has become a constitutive element of EGOS Colloquia can be, for example, traced back to Arndt's initiative in giving courses on writing and publishing in international journals.


Let me conclude on a personal note: I am proud of an exemplary scholar, a non-conformist critic of academic overspecialisation and monoculture, a generous colleague and an amiable friend who has in the past been – and will continue to be for the foreseeable future – a thriving force in building and developing our common knowledge base and scholarly community. With all his achievements, Arndt has always remained a rather modest person. There is a saying that modesty is a virtue but that it won't get you far. Our laureate is the living proof of the contrary: Indeed, modesty can get you very far. Today we honour an exemplary EGOSian. I close with a citation from the laureate:


"Personally, I never have more scholarly fun than when I do something for EGOS or OS. On balance, this is where one comes across the nicest and most helpful people whether they are one's discussants, reviewers, authors or readers. I very much hope that in the future increasing numbers of organization students will share in such a feeling. It is an opportunity not to be missed." (Sorge in OS 1997)


Thank you, Arndt. EGOS is very proud of you.