Sub-theme 12: (SWG) Understanding Organization as Process: Organization without Design

Tor Hernes
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Robin Holt
University of Liverpool Management School, UK
Jenny Helin
Jönköping International Business School, Sweden

Call for Papers


The perspective of organization as a fluid, often uncertain and inherently open phenomenon is receiving increasing attention in organization and management studies. This increase in attention is accompanied by a growing appreciation of the fleeting and dynamic nature of work characterized as much by coping and innovative adaptation as it is the conscious application of pre-figured design or enacting routines. If the world we study is less a world of substances than it is processes, there occurs a profound shift in organizational concern in which securing relationships between inputs and outputs and the occupation of clear and distinct positions gives way to experiment and the capacity to make new connections and 'move on'. A process perspective opens up the ‘living’ character of organizational life-worlds.

This sub-theme urges submissions to consider how process views might extend and even dissolve the idea of organizational design. They might begin with a basic insight from process studies. Rather than understand design as something imposed upon life (the organization is built as an institutional structure within which agents act), process views extend the capacity of living to organization itself. Organization is life; a coming into being and a rolling together of people, relations, technologies, routines and practices. From this perspective, workers, managers, leaders, tools and resources, often been studied as 'substances', are instead approached as processes in the making, and institutional and physical forces as the structuring by which these processes find stability.

Process views have major implications for how we conceptualize and study organization. It challenges scholars to transcend the dualisms with which they typically think. Global and local; organization and environment; subject and object; stability and change; structure and use; social construction and reality; individual and collective; space and time; visibility and invisibility; presence and absence; self and other; past and future; all of these conceptual oppositions are brought into question. Process perspectives bring into critical relief the traditional sense of objectivity and neutrality that has characterized social science to date. They also challenge scholars to consider how in a world of process, a language of research and management that is dedicated to the identification of ‘things’ might be re-shaped. In wrestling with these questions, papers and conversation in the stream will not be limited to any one sub-discipline.

For this track, firstly, we will explore the potentiality and distinctiveness of a process perspective in relation to organization studies. A special emphasis will be on the grounding of process thinking and how that connects to current debates in the field. Therefore, we invite for this sub-theme:

  • Conceptual papers that investigate how main contributors towards process thinking can contribute to contemporary organizational concerns
  • Papers that discuss salient distinctions between theorists or strands of theories in process thinking and the impacts of the distinctions in relation to organization studies
  • Papers that bring other theoretical orientations (such as pragmatism, phenomenology or symbolic interactionism) into conversation with process work
  • Empirical papers drawing on particular process theorists or orientations to discuss specific phenomenon such as strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship, to name a few
  • Considerations of how an emphasis on movement and flow influence how we engage in fieldwork, make sense of fieldwork material and write our accounts.


Tor Hernes Tor Hernes is Professor of Organization Theory at Copenhagen Business School. Among his books are Understanding Organization as Process: Theory for a Tangled World (London: Routledge, 2007) and Actor-network Theory and Organizing (edited with Barbara Czarniawska, 2005, Copenhagen Business School). Tor Hernes works from a combination of process philosophy, systems theory and Actor-Network Theory.
Robin Holt 
Jenny Helin