Sub-theme 23: Advancing Configurational Theory and Methods in Organization Studies

Bart Cambré
Antwerp Management School, Belgium
Peer C. Fiss
Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA
Axel Marx
Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven, Belgium

Call for Papers


The notion of configuration – the relative arrangement of parts and elements – arguably lies at the core of organization studies and is fundamental to those interested in designing and building better and more effective organizations. Yet, some 20 years after the emergence of configurational theory as a key perspective in organization studies in the 1990s, this approach has yet to deliver on its promise. While we know that configuration matters, the theory of configurations is still in its infancy and empirical research on configurations is just beginning to deliver on its promise.

We believe it is time we take the notion of configurations seriously. We therefore refer to configurational design as a key perspective on understanding organizations as complex systems of combinations of interrelated structures, roles and relationships in particular environments. In our sub-theme, we aim to re-open a discussion about the ways in which the concept of configuration is central to organizations and organizing. We ask: how can we reinvigorate configurational thinking in organization studies? What new theory and methods does it take to build a vibrant approach to organizations that places complex interdependencies in organizational architecture at its core? Beginning with the idea that organizations are multifaceted systems that are both designed and emergent, we hope to start a new discussion about the role of configurational thinking in organization studies.

We invite papers that enhance our understanding of both configurational theory and methodology in organization studies. As such, we welcome contributions from multiple theoretical perspectives and seek cross-pollination between the various approaches to understanding organizations as complex systems. We particularly welcome studies that incorporate insights from related disciplines. Likewise, we encourage both theoretical contributions that aim to clarify the theory and (causal) mechanisms of configurations, and empirical and methodological contributions that strive to enhance our ability to capture the dynamic nature of configurations. We are open to qualitative approaches such as historical case studies, discourse analysis, and ethnography, as well as quantitative approaches employing longitudinal or multi-level methods, or studies that bridge both approaches, including set-theoretic methods such as crisp and fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA).

We especially welcome submissions that engage the following kinds of questions:

  • How can our view and understanding of organizations and organizing be conceptually designed or redesigned, based on the configurational approach?
  • Applications of configurational methods and theory in different fields
  • What are the basic elements of configurations?
  • What are the key (causal) mechanisms of configurations? What is the role of configurations in causal explanations (i.e. necessary and/or sufficient configurations of conditions explaining an outcome)? How can causal mechanisms in designing effective organizations be applied?
  • How do we conceptualize configurations across levels of analysis? Empirically, how do we study configurations that reach across the individual, organizational, and supra-organizational levels?
  • Most prior work on configurations has focused on the infrastructure of material interdependences, but how can we expand this to integrate the socio-political and symbolic-cultural side of configurations?
  • Many organizational phenomena are essentially constituted by configurations of configurations. What is the role of complexity theory in understanding this aspect of configurations, and how can we build on its insights and methods?
  • How can we build both theory and method that allow for a dynamic rather than static understanding of organizational configurations?
  • How can we bring in the time dimension? How can we track configurations over time? What is the effect of time on configurations?


Bart Cambré Bart Cambré is Director of Research and associate professor of Business Research Methods at Antwerp Management School. He studied sociology and research methodology at the K.U.Leuven and development studies at the U.C.Louvain-la-Neuve. He received his PhD in the Social Sciences at the K.U.Leuven in 2002. His current research involves business research methods with a focus on the configurational approach, temporary organizations, quality of work, and organizational change. He also advises organizations on issues of quality of work and research methods. Bridging academic insights and practical management needs are his main focus.
Peer C. Fiss Peer C. Fiss is the McAllister Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. He is broadly interested in how meaning structures shape organizational actions and has studied this in the context of how practices diffuse, how they change, and how accounts framing and justifying practices are constructed. In addition, he has worked on configurational theory using set-theoretic methods such as fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA). We served as a convener at the 2008 EGOS Colloquium and will convene a track on “Constructing Categories” at the 2011 EGOS Colloquium in Gothenburg.
Axel Marx Axel Marx is research manager of the Leuven Center for Global Governance Studies, a University of Leuven ‘Centre of Excellence’. He studied sociology at K.U.Leuven and politics at University of Hull and University of Cambridge. His main research interest are non-state market regulation and research methods with a specific focus on Qualitative Comparative Analysis.