Sub-theme 57: Designing Organizational Control: Paths and Stakes of a Practice-Based Perspective

Yoann Bazin
ESG Management School, France
Laurent Magne
DRM – CREFIGE, Université Paris-Dauphine, France
Jérôme Méric
CEREGE-IAE de Poitiers, France

Call for Papers


A recent prosecution involving a trader who took extremely exposed positions and endangered his employer revealed at least two main kinds of arguments. One about competency matters: middle office controllers were found unable to update their knowledge at the same pace as traders. The other about supervision: the whole hierarchy seemed to fail to catch abnormal signals from this trader's behaviour. Though apparently contradictory, both categories of arguments relate to a restrictive view of control: implementing tools and setting up devices and processes to ensure that organizational objectives are effectively and efficiently reached.

Why continue to consider control from a normative point of view embedded in organizational or flow charts? Would not it be preferable to study real life situations, how people (managers, controllers, etc.) make sense of these situations, how they elaborate their consciousness of acting (praxis), and possibly how they learn?

The aim of this sub-theme is to explore the design of control within organizations in a practice-based perspective. According to the "practice turn" literature in social sciences, organizational control can be viewed as a practice or a stream of practices.

For decades, control has been reduced to financial control and the use of principles directly inspired from scientific management. This is a heritage of the early technical approaches that have analyzed it as the design of a structure organizing coordination, tasks and responsibilities. The practice perspective may help widen the point of view of (both researchers and) practitioners, because it deals directly with their assignments, such as ensuring integrative unity and coordination (Follett, 1933). This social dimension of organizational control, in its function of behaviour orientation, influences the organizing and clearly participates in what Galbraith has called organizational development, i.e. the continuous design process.

The concept of organizational practice can be seen in many perspectives, and therefore leads to a wide (if not complete) view on control and its design. As an institutionalized and institutionalizing pattern of action, it potentially brings about considerable insights for the study of organizational control (going past classical dichotomies such as stability and change, individual and collective, reflexivity and mindlessness or local actions versus framing institutions). Furthermore, the connections between strategy design, planning and organizational control, should enable us to gain a better understanding of the multiple interactions inside and between organizations. Building on these, it will be possible to retain an open perspective on the subjects of control and its designs within organizations.

This sub-theme therefore welcomes contributions offering either (a) theoretical clarifications or (b) field-grounded empirical studies, in either concrete and abstract, daily and exceptional aspects. Thus, research drawing on philosophy, sociology and anthropology is welcome and would complement the focus on the integration of control, practice and organization. Potential research questions include:

  • What is the relevance of a practice-oriented view to organizational design?
  • How can we define the activities of designing and exercising control as practices? How can we integrate device-based and process-based approaches within a practice base view?
  • What are the roles of discourse (ostensive aspects of practices) and artifacts in the practice of control?
  • Does the practice-based-view of control help to deepen our understanding of change (or stability) and learning (or unlearning)?
  • How can we account for the exercise and human consequences of control on a daily basis?




Bourdieu, P. (1972): Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique. Paris: Points
Feldman, M. (2000): "Organizational routines as a source of continuous change." Organization Science, 11 (6), 611–629
Follett, M.P. (1933/1949): "Management Publications Trust." In: L.F. Urwick (ed.): Freedom and Co-ordination. London, 77–89
Gherardhi, S. (2000): "Practice-Based Theorizing on Learning and Knowing in Organizations." Organization, 7 (2), 211–223
Giddens, A. (1984): La constitution de la société. Paris: PUF
Orlikowski, W. (2000): "Using Technology and Constituting Structure." Organization Science, 11 (4), 404–428
Schön, D. (1983): The Reflexive Practitioner – How Professional Think in Action. New York: Basic Book


Yoann Bazin 
Laurent Magne 
Jérôme Méric