Sub-theme 30: Performativity by Design!?

Jean-Pascal Gond
HEC Montréal, Canada
Kenneth Starkey
Nottingham University Business School, UK
Alex Wright
The Open University Business School, UK

Call for Papers


How do theories affect organizations and organizing? How are they designed into being, consciously and subconsciously by actors, as they progress their practice? Papers in this track will address these and related questions by focusing on performativity and the related concept of calculability.

Performativity scholarship can move beyond work in the anthropology of markets (Callon, 1998, 2007) and social studies of finance (MacKenzie, 2006, 2007) to study how theories actually shape organizational practices (e.g., Cabantous & Gond, 2011; Cabantous, Gond & Johnson-Cramer, 2010). Latour suggested in 1996 that management sciences are probably the most performative of all sciences as they design their objects.

The present use of performativity by scholars has its origins in the work of J. L. Austin (1962) who identified that certain utterances had a performative quality, i.e. they did things. Austin (1962: 5) used the example that the phrase "I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth" uttered prior to the smashing of a bottle during a naming ceremony, performs the act of naming, whereas, a simple statement such as "it is raining" is not performative, as it does not result in rain falling. However, Austin recognized that mere words alone are seldom enough, that the (material) contexts in which words are uttered imbues them with an authority and legitimacy that makes them meaningful.

MacKenzie's work reveals that some models and theories change behaviour amongst their users, so that the model or theory becomes more accurate. Therefore, models matter, not because they accurately represent reality, but because they change reality. MacKenzie (2007) asserts that the Black-Scholes-Merton model of option pricing became the dominant model used by traders on the Chicago Board Options Exchange in the 1970s, not because it was better at predicting price patterns (in fact, it performed worse that some other models), but because its ease of use and its incorporation within socio-material devices changed the behaviour of traders to fit with the theory, which consequently altered price patterns so that they began to resemble the model more.

While the lens of performativity has been applied most often in the field of economics, one can see how management could be a fruitful field for its elaboration. We encourage research papers dealing with performativity from both the private and public sectors. The New Public Management agenda has the potential to offer insightful examples of performativity and counterperformativity. Furthermore, studies that use performativity to question taken-for-granted discourses revealing underlying design mechanisms in specific strategic (e.g. scenario planning, balanced scorecard), management (e.g. HRM systems, marketing) and organization theories (e.g. systems, institutional), are equally welcome.

Use of the term 'performativity' draws on a variety of alternate theoretical stances. We require authors to make clear which form of performativity they are discussing; of course, this does not preclude submitters from including more than one type in their research where this is appropriate. Also, we are interested in instances of counter-performativity, when behaviour is progressively less than how it is depicted, and in how sociomateriality, the non-human actors, influence and shape practice.


We welcome papers, preferably empirical, but conceptual as well with a possible – although not exclusive – focus on the following topics:

  • Generic performativity
  • Effective performativity
  • Barnesian performativity
  • Counterperformativity
  • Sociomateriality
  • Conceptual debates
  • Performativity as 'performance' in the Gofmanian and Judith Butler sense
  • Critical management studies perspectives on performativity
  • As constitutive of dynamic routines, following Feldman and Pentland (2003)


Austin, J.L. (1962): How to Do Things with Words. Edited by J.O. Urmson & M. Sbisà. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Cabantous, L. & J.-P. Gond (2011): "Rational decison-making as performative praxis: explaining rationality’s éternel retour." Organization Science, 22 (3), 573–586
Cabantous, L., J.-P. Gond & M. Johnson-Cramer (2010): "Decision theory as practice: Crafting rationality in organizations." Organization Studies, 31 (11), 1531–1566
Callon, M. (ed.) (1998): The Laws of the Market. Oxford: Blackwell
Callon, M. (2007): "What does it mean to say that economics is performative?" In: D. MacKenzie, F. Muniesa & L. Siu (eds.), Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 311–357
Feldman, M.S. & B.T. Pentland (2003): "Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change." Administrative Science Quarterly, 48 (1), 94–118
Latour, B. (1996): Que peuvent apporter l’histoire et la sociologie des sciences aux sciences de la gestion? [The use of science studies to renew a few questions of management sciences]. Paper read at XIII˚ Journées nationales des IAE at Toulouse
MacKenzie, D. (2006): "Is economics performative? Option theory and the construction of derivatives markets." Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 28 (1), 29–55
MacKenzie, D. (2007): "Is economics performative? Option theory and the construction of derivatives markets." In: D. MacKenzie, F. Muniesa & L. Siu (eds.), Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 54–86


Jean-Pascal Gond Jean-Pascal Gond is Visiting Professor at HEC Montréal (Université de Montréal). His research builds on organization theory and economic sociology and investigates the social construction of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and the role of social rating agencies in the development of socially responsible investment. His recent works also focus on the performativity of economic forms of rationality. His research has been published in journals such as Organization Science, Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Human Relations, Business and Society, Business Ethics Quarterly, Journal of Business Ethics, Finance Contrôle Stratégie and Revue Française de Gestion.
Kenneth Starkey Ken Starkey is Professor of Management and Organisational Learning at Nottingham University Business School. His current research interests are management education, sustainable strategic management, the social theory of management and management and design. He has published articles in, for example, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Learning & Education, Strategic Management Journal and Organization Science. He is author of a number of reports on the future of management research and management education. His most recent book is The Business School and the Bottom Line (2007, Cambridge University Press, with Nick Tiratsoo).
Alex Wright Alex Wright is Lecturer in Strategy at The Open University Business School in the UK. He received his PhD. from Nottingham University Business School. His current research interests are focused on strategy-as-practice, performativity in the public sector, and dynamic routines as communications. He has held posts as Visiting Scientist at Bremen University, Germany, and Research Fellow at UNISA, South Africa.