Sub-theme 51: Practice-Based Approaches to the Study of Management and Managerial Work

Davide Nicolini
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK
Maja Korica
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK
Stefan Tengblad
University of Skövde, Sweden

Call for Papers

One of the most notable characteristics of the contemporary study of management and managerial work is the absence of work itself. While a web search of "management" and "work" returns millions of hits, a careful and systematic search in the literature will reveal that relatively few scholars actually studied the work of managers and even fewer have focussed specifically on the work itself.

What makes matters worse is that the majority of existing studies of what managers actually do follow what has become almost a formula. In particular, researchers continue to use structured observation as the method of inquiry, and carry out research in a manner that often resembles a sort of rehashing of old "time-and-motion-studies". At the same time, such scholars set as their goal the definition or refinement of generic managerial roles or functions, which they then compare with the work of seminal figures in the field, most notably Mintzberg (1973) and Stewart (1967). The result is a wealth of articles on the nature of managing that, apart some notable exceptions (see for instance Tengblad, 2012) replicate existing work and continue to uphold a rather abstract view of management, with inductive open-ended studies remaining few and far between. Consequently, we are left with a highly stylised image of managerial work, and remain in relative dark about the actual, concrete, mundane activities of managers, especially those operating in the higher echelons of organisations.

Our aim in this sub-theme is therefore to break this analytical and methodological mould and attempt to reinvigorate the study of managerial work through the adoption of practice–based approaches to the study of organisation (Nicolini, 2012). Our interest is thus in management as a set of specific work practices. More specifically, a practice-based approach directs our attention to the analysis of the details of work and its moment to moment accomplishments, the intricacies of the interactional order, the role of language and discursive practices, the active role of materials and technologies, and the power relations embodied in the arrangements that make up everyday life. In so doing, it promises to bring work back into the study of management and managerial work (Barley & Kunda, 2001) – a promise made some time ago, and as yet largely unfulfilled.

On this basis we invite scholars to submit papers that address the study of management and managerial work utilising a range of approaches and methods sensitive to the situated, social, historical, discursive, and material nature of managerial activities. We are interested in empirical, methodological, and meta-theoretically focused papers, as long as they focus on identifiable managerial work practices and they address such practices analytically. Contributions which provide and analyse exemplars, instances and illustrations of the complex work of managers are particularly welcome. We are interested in bridging perspectives and contexts and thus welcome studies that belong to different research traditions and explore managerial work practices in diverse organisational and institutional contexts.

We envisage participants engaging with topics and questions such as the following (this list is not exclusive):

  • Ethnographic and micro-analytical explorations of the mundane activities of managers and executives
  • Front and back office (or stage) aspects of managerial work
  • The constitution of management and top management through mobilisation of specific discursive practices
  • Analysis of managerial conversations and discourses in interaction
  • The role of artefacts and objects in sustaining managerial work and constituting managers
  • Practices of gendering among managers and the constitution of the 'glass ceiling'
  • Working as a manager in marginal, extreme or unusual situations
  • The entanglement of social technologies and managerial work practices
  • Benefits and pitfalls of different methods and methodologies when it comes to studying, observing, and analyzing managerial work practices
  • Studies of management practices in various sub disciplines, e.g., in which ways do marketing, accounting and production managers work
  • Cross-cultural studies of managerial work
  • Types of managerial work such as emotional work, institutional work, etc.



Barley, Stephen R. & Gideon Kunda (2001): 'Bringing work back in.' Organization Science, 12 (1), 76–95.
Mintzberg, Henry (1973): The Nature of Managerial Work. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Nicolini, Davide (2012): Practice Theory, Work and Organization. An Introduction. Oxford: University Press.
Stewart, Rosemary (1967): Managers and their Jobs. London: Macmillan.
Tengblad, Stephen (ed.) (2012): The Work of Managers. Oxford: University Press.


Davide Nicolini is a Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. He co-directs the IKON Research Centre at Warwick Business School and the Warwick Institute of Health. His current research focuses on the development of a practice-based approach to the study of organizational phenomena, and its implications for the understanding of knowing, collaboration and change in organizations.
Maja Korica is a Research Fellow at the Unit for the study of Innovation, Knowledge and Organisational Networks (IKON), Warwick Business School, UK. She received her DPhil (PhD) from the University of Oxford. She is working on a large ethnographic project focused on closely examining work practices of chief executives in the UK healthcare sector, and their use of 'evidence' in everyday decision-making.
Stefan Tengblad is Professor in Management Studies at University of Skövde, Sweden. His research has been oriented towards managerial work, human resource management and business ethics. He has published articles in 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Organization Studies', 'Journal of Business Ethics', 'Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management' and 'Scandinavian Journal of Management'.