Sub-theme 16: Institutional Work and the Institutionalization of Inequality

Thomas B. Lawrence
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
John M. Amis
Dept. of Management, University of Memphis, USA
Kamal A. Munir
University of Cambridge, UK

Call for Papers


Our aim in this sub-theme is to examine the role that institutions play in shaping systems of exclusion and inequality around the world. More specifically, our focus is on the relationship between institutions, inequality and institutional work (Lawrence, Suddaby & Leca, 2009). Institutional work describes "the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions" (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006: 215). In keeping with the Colloquium theme of "Design!?", we are interested in exploring the roles that individual and organizational actors play in the formation, ongoing operation, and potential transformation of institutions that work to include certain groups, while excluding others, reinforce unequal access to power and decision-making mechanisms, and provide freedom and wealth to some parts of society, while impoverishing and constraining others.

We are interested in institutional work that leads, or has led, to the formation, operation, transformation, or destruction of institutions associated with a broad range of social inequalities, including, but not limited to: differential access to health care, education, housing, food, economic resources, power structures, or areas of recreation; degradation of living conditions, the environment, social structures, or relationships; and direct or indirect exploitation of groups on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, disability, or sexuality.

In terms of perspectives, we are open to analyses of institutional actors who function at all societal levels, and who can be located outside or inside, at the centre or at the periphery, of an institution. These may include those with formal decision-making power, such as politicians at supra-national, national or local levels, corporate managers, senior civil servants, school principals, and leaders of non-profit organizations. We are also very interested in those who have informal power and are thus able to shape values and beliefs, such as film and television producers, media writers, designers, architects, professors, and enablers of mass forms of communication. Finally, we would like to see explorations of acts of resistance, ranging from the occasional and highly symbolic (Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a Birmingham, Alabama, bus) to the everyday tactics employed by the weak (silent non-compliance, gossip, petty sabotage, small theft and pilferage, etc.) (Scott, 1985).

We invite research that provides insight into a wide array of forms of institutional work that create, sustain or challenge inequality – locally or globally – including (but not limited to):


  • the creation and persistence of particular organizations (e.g., multilateral agencies, associations or clubs) and their impact on specific domains;
  • the development or employment of technology in the persistence and creation of inequality;
  • the use and exposure of devices that disguise inequality;
  • collective mobilization against (or in support of) inequality;
  • the construction of social mechanisms that institutionalize specific instances of inequality;
  • the exercise of power in relation to inequality;
  • the legitimization of particular domains of activity that lead to greater or lesser inequality;
  • silences and absence of theorization with respect to inequality in institutional analyses;
  • the role of particular methodologies and disciplines that perpetuate and even justify inequality in society.


To conclude, we particularly welcome work that seeks engagement with a wide range of theoretical and empirical approaches. These may include institutional logics, practices and/or routines, feminism, critical theory, critical race theory, actor network theory, sensemaking, semiotics, network analyses, discourse analyses, and action research approaches. We equally welcome case studies, comparative research projects, ethnographies, survey-based work, large statistical analyses, and conceptual pieces.





Lawrence, T.B. & R. Suddaby (2006): "Institutions and institutional work." In: S. Clegg, C. Hardy, W.W. Nord, & T. Lawrence (eds.): The Sage Handbook of Organization Studies. 2nd ed.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 215–254

Lawrence, T.B., R. Suddaby & B. Leca, B. (eds.) (2009): Institutional Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Scott, J. (1985): Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press


Thomas B. Lawrence Thomas B. Lawrence is the Weyerhaeuser Professor of Change Management, and the Director of the CMA Centre for Strategic Change and Performance Measurement, at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. His research focuses on the dynamics of power, change and institutions in organizations and organizational fields. It has appeared in such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Human Relations, Journal of Management Studies, Organization, and Organization Studies. He is a co-editor of Institutional Work: Actors and Agency in Institutional Studies of Organizations (2009), and the Sage Handbook of Organization Studies, 2nd Edition (2006).
John M. Amis John Amis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Memphis. His research interests center on issues of organizational and institutional change. In addition to two books, he has had 45 articles and book chapters published in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Organizational Research Methods, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, European Journal of Marketing, Consumption, Markets & Culture, and Journal of Sport Management. He sits on several editorial boards, including Academy of Management Review.
Kamal A. Munir Dr. Kamal Munir is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at University of Cambridge, where he has been based since 2000. He obtained his PhD in Organization and Management Theory from McGill University, Canada. Kamal has published several articles in organizational and technology journals, including the Academy of Management Journal, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Industrial and Corporate Change, Organization Studies and Research Policy, and has presented his work at numerous international conferences. In addition, he has written numerous articles for prominent newspapers and magazines such The Financial Times, The Guardian, Financial Express India, Dawn, Herald and World Business.