Sub-theme 37: "So what do you do?" The art of practice in the 21st century organization

Garance Maréchal
University of Liverpool Management School, UK
Pierre Guillet de Monthoux
Stockholm University, Sweden
Stephen Andrew Linstead
University of York, UK

Call for Papers

Passion and the Arts are unthinkable apart – passion gives rise to creativity, the arts inspire passion. But passion can also be defined as pain and as a burden: the suffering that an artist endures with the hope to create art. Similarly, art is not only about beauty. Art also alerts us to the ugliness, evil and suffering in the world. The picture of organizations that we get from popular culture is often a critical one but the arts are increasingly held up as having the potential to revitalize them. Creativity is what contemporary organizations will supposedly need for the future, but is artistic creativity so easily transferable across domains?

Art itself is practice. It requires discipline… a form of passion. Passionate engagement makes art, in creation and reception, both personal and a construction by its interpreters. Can organizational contexts nurture the creative expression of inspiration? Are innovation or performativity the only valued outcomes of creativity in organizations? Are there less obvious or everyday creative practices – such as play – that go unnoticed but are no less passionate and important?

Even appreciative consumers and audiences sometimes wonder (and art and creative practitioners are often asked), "So what do you do?" Creative and interpretive constructions, or aesthetics, are socially shared and negotiated– they involve power relations. Politics, for Jacques Rancière, is itself aesthetic because it engages in a partitioning of social experience, creating "forms" of life: the "partition of sensibility". How political is the contemporary aesthetics of organization?

The paradox surfaced by aesthetic approaches is that specific organizational practices remain fluid and resist definition at the levels of both skills and concepts. For instance, aesthetic leadership can make space for followers to be fully creative and passionately committed members of the organization paying attention to affective as well as operational issues, but how this is accomplished is often mysterious and elusive. Do learning, strategy, marketing, communication, and training and development display similar paradoxes? Do we need to think motivation, vision, transformation and desire, differently? Can we speak of passionate administration? Is Maslow’s hierarchy also Shakespeare's? Powerful and demanding roles may be a threat to the actor’s sense of self. What burdens do new organizational forms and fluid roles place on practitioners and their identities?

As well as these considerations, this stream invites submissions addressing a range of issues relating to the art of practice. We are especially interested in three broad questions:

  1. Is passionate practice different in art and organization?
    To what extent can management and organizational practices be considered art, and to what extent can the domains learn from each other? Are managers flattering themselves when they consider management to be an art? Are musicians and actors and painters "selling out" when they engage in commercial consultancy? Is "play" trivial or a critical skill for creative living and organizing?
  2. Can the arts offer a basis for transformation or regeneration of organizations and social regions?
    "Creative cities" and "cultural regeneration" are terms often deployed to suggest that art and business can together offer the potential to build post-industrial economies and the type of flexible creative firms that are needed to succeed within them. Are art and organization’s interests incommensurable? Or do we need to recognize that art, creativity and business have always been implicated in each other, and the challenged is to find the best 21st century means of developing these relations?

  3. How can the "poetics" of managerial practice be explored through arts-based methods and methodologies?
    Short courses and high impact consultancies have been with us for some time, but recently projects with longer time-cycles, such as practice-based doctorates, using arts methods have been developed – and the "evidence" base is growing. What have we learned? What are we learning? What do we need to learn and how?

We invite papers that may be theoretical, case based or methodological in orientation. That cross boundaries in engaging arts and organizational practice and that may be transgressive in thought, mode or proposed presentation. Abstract and theoretical papers need to address practice knowledgably; engaged and performative contributions need should evidence sustained, considered, theoretically informed reflection. Considerations of our own passionate academic practices, and are autoethnographic or performance led, are also welcome.

Garance Maréchal 
Pierre Guillet de Monthoux 
Stephen Andrew Linstead