Sub-theme 15: Transboundary Risks and Crisis Management

Sytze F. Kingma
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Robert P. Gephart Jr.
University of Alberta, Canada
C. Chet Miller
University of Houston, Bauer College of Business, USA

Call for Papers

Risks and crises are among the most significant challenges faced by organizations and management. And the world of risks and crises has been rapidly changing. In specific terms, the drivers of modernization – globalization, new technology, tightly coupled infrastructures and supply chains – have given rise to potential and actual trans-boundary disruptions. These disruptions (1) cut across geographic and functional boundaries, (2) span political boundaries and policy domains, and (3) unfold rapidly with unforeseen implications. Examples of events associated with these disruptions include the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the SARS pandemic threat and the recent financial crisis. This new risk environment confronts managers and organizations with threats that can materialize rapidly, disrupt critical systems and call for a reassembling of organizations.

The time when risks and crises could be viewed as rare events that required specialized managers is over as trans-boundary disruptions have become ubiquitous. As a result, organizational leadership has increasingly become a matter of crisis leadership (Boin, t-'Hart, Stern & Sundelius, 2005). The need for organizations and managers to reduce or manage uncertainty has never been higher (Beck & Holzner, 2007). But the capacity of organizations and management to manage such uncertainty appears to be lagging and managers and organizations seem unprepared to deal with this situation (Hutter & Power, 2005).

We welcome papers that specify, reflect upon or challenge strategies aimed at managing trans-boundary risks and crises. Empirical analyses may involve case studies, discourse analyses and qualitative research as well as quantitative designs, surveys and risk assessments. In addition, prospective contributors may wish to consider but are not limited to the following research questions and issues:

  1. How do organizations and actors conceptualize or give meaning to trans-boundary risks and crises, and how do such conceptualizations influence planning and other actions (Lupton, 1999)?
  2. How do localized risks and crises differ from trans-boundary risks and crises which cross functional and geographic boundaries as well as political boundaries and policy domains, and which produce rapid and unforeseen impacts?
  3. Why are some organizations better at coping with trans-boundary risks and crises than other organizations? That is, why do some organizations heed early warnings, effectively adapt to new threats, manage to protect their members against the consequences of these threats, and learn the right lessons after such events materialize – whereas many others seem to fail in the face of these challenges?
  4. Which existing organizational theories have the most explanatory power in understanding trans-boundary risks and crises? For example, Perrow's normal accidents theory (1999) argues that trans-boundary risks and crises are inherent and unavoidable in complex technological systems. In contrast, high reliability theory (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001) argues that risks can be effectively managed internally through use of special workplace practices. The rigorous empirical assessment of these and other theories would be welcome.
  5. Is the conceptual distinction between theories of anticipation and resilience still useful for management? Wildavsky (1988) identified the classic tension between anticipation and resilience in thinking about new risks and crises. Has one or both strategies proven more successful in practice? Can researchers show which one of the strategies works best?
  6. Have organizational continuity plans, which were widely embraced after 9/11, actually changed structures and processes to minimize risk? Or have managers and organizations merely adopted the discourse of continuity planning? Can we see differences in organizational effectiveness based on adoption or non-adoption of business continuity planning?
  7. What crisis management strategies are effective? There are many prescriptive theories on crisis management and many case studies. What can we say, based on research, about the effectiveness of crisis management strategies?
  8. What risk and crisis management issues relate to specific management disciplines or perspectives and how can these best be addressed? For example, how do trans-boundary risks and crises influence the roles and problems faced by general managers, a key focus of business policy and strategy? How do risks and crises influence human resources policies and how do human resources policies and planning influence risk and crisis management? Are cross-border firms, a key focus of international management, more exposed to trans-boundary risks and crises than firms that have only domestic operations? How can we change organizations to be more resilient in the face of risks and crises?


Beck, U. (1992): Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Beck, U. & B. Holzner (2007): "Organizations in world risk society." In: C.M. Pearson, C. Roux-Dufort & J.A. Clair (eds.): International Handbook of Organizational Crisis Management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 3-24.
Boin, A., P. 't-Hart, E. Stern & B. Sundelius (2005): The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership Under Pressure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gephart, R.P. (1993): "The textual approach: risk and blame in disaster sensemaking." Academy of Management Journal, 36, 1465-1514.
Hutter, B. & M. Power (eds.) (2005): Organizational Encounters with Risk. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Lupton, D. (1999): Risk. London: Routledge.
Perrow, C. (1999): Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Princeton University Press (second edition).
Turner, B.A. & N.F. Pidgeon (1997): Man-Made Disasters. Butterworth-Heinemann.
Vaughan, D. (1996): The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. University of Chicago Press.
Weick, K.E. & K.M. Sutcliffe (2001): Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity. Jossey-Bass.
Wildavsky, A. (1988): Searching for Safety. Transaction.


Sytze F. Kingma 
Robert P. Gephart Jr. 
C. Chet Miller