Sub-theme 30: Organizations of Organizations

Nils Brunsson
Uppsala University, Sweden
Hervé Dumez
Ecole Polytechnique, France
Dieter Kerwer
University of Munich, Germany

Call for Papers

Organizations cooperate in many ways. Their cooperative efforts may be more or less durable and more or less formalized. Sometimes organizations go as far as to assemble in a new formal organization with themselves as members. Because the new organization has organizations instead of individuals as its members, it can be characterized as an organization of organizations, or a "meta-organization". Its members may be firms, states or associations.

Organizations of organizations constitute an old form of organization, but the number of such organizations is increasing rapidly, not least on the trans- and international levels. Examples include international government organizations such as United Nations, the European Union or the OECD, as well as international non-governmental organizations, such as the International Air Transport Association, Star Alliance, Birdlife International or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Nonetheless, most meta-organizations are not international but local or national, such as local or national business associations, sports federations or associations of labour unions or churches.

Formal organizations of organizations have attracted relatively little attention in organization theory, where the standard assumption has been that members of organizations are individuals. The purpose of this sub-theme is to explore ways of obtaining a better theoretical understanding of this form of cooperation among organizations, as well as to collect empirical knowledge about how organizations of organizations function.

The fact that organizations have other organizations as their members raises a number of fundamental theoretical questions. How does this fact influence the identity construction and boundary work of member organizations? What happens to hierarchy and authority? How are transparency and accountability affected?

We know little about the development and trajectory of organizations of organizations. How and why are they initiated, and how do they recruit their members? What happens to them over time? Do the members become increasingly similar? Does the identity of the organization become more important than the identity of its members? Under what circumstances are organizations of organizations likely to be dissolved?

The internal functioning of these organizations is another important topic. For example, how are conflicts handled and how are decisions made? When does the organization dominate its members and vice versa? What factors make some members more powerful than others?

We also need to know more about how organizations of organizations differ from each other. Can we identify different types of such organizations that work differently? To what extent do the members, the environment, the age, or other factors determine how organizations of organizations function?

Theoretical as well as empirical papers are welcome to this sub-theme. We will explore the possibility of a common publication based on selected papers.


Nils Brunsson 
Hervé Dumez 
Dieter Kerwer