Sub-theme 27: Risk, Crisis and Emergency Management

Robert P. Gephart Jr.
University of Alberta, Canada
Kees Boersma
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Sytze F. Kingma
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

Organizational crises and risks cross important boundaries and domains, unfold in unanticipated ways, and impact widely dispersed people, organizations and societies. Recent crises such as the Eurozone financial crisis and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster show how crises breach critical infrastructures and create dangerous bridges that transport risks to geographically distant places and peoples. The results "can be devastatingly high" for organizations, individuals and societies (Pearson et al., 2007: vii).

This sub-theme advances knowledge of how organizational stakeholders experience and understand transboundary organizational crises. Past research (Gephart Van Maanen & Oberlechner, 2009) has shown that risks and crises tend to cross key national and political boundaries (Boin et al., 2005). Now, we need to gain nuanced and insightful knowledge of how individuals and collectives experience transboundary crises. And we need to provide stronger conceptualizations of boundaries in order to understand crises well enough to offer meaningful advice to those charged with crisis regulation and management.

Boundaries are thus an important focus for study. Boundaries are conceived in physical, temporal or spatial terms as complex, socially constructed, and negotiated entities that constitute, constrain, and enable organizations (Heracleous, 2004). Boundaries include cultural and symbolic boundaries that separate purity and danger (Douglas, 1966) and conceptually defined boundaries including efficiency, power, competence and identity (Santos & Eisenhardt, 2005). We seek papers that conceptualize boundaries in new ways, explore how boundaries are breached and bridged in crises, and provide insights into how boundary management influences crisis response and survival.

We also need deeper conceptual and empirical insights into the breaching and bridging that occurs across and through boundaries. "Breach" (a verb) means to break through, to go beyond, to quarrel and separate and (as a noun) refers to a break in an unfilled obligation, an infringement upon something, or an injurious inroad (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011). Transboundary crises and risks could be explored as phenomena that breach social order, disrupt physical systems, bring about injuries and break things.

In contrast, a bridge joins together places, cultures, perspectives, concepts, and other elements. Risk thinking can be a bridge to join things together (Mythen, 2008: 301). Bridging could be explored as a useful process where connections facilitate solutions to problems or as a harmful process where connections transport harms to new locales.

We encourage conceptual and empirical papers that explore the nature and role of boundaries in management of risks and crises, the forms of breaching and bridging that occur, and the effects of different types of breaches and bridges. And we encourage papers that use qualitative and/or quantitative methods.

The following questions illustrate sub-theme issues.

  • How can one usefully conceptualize boundaries (Santos & Eisenhardt, 2005; Heracleous, 2004) to understand how organizational crises and risks are experienced by individuals and collectives?
  • Which boundaries are important for managing organizational crises and risks? Does the pattern of importance differ across different types of crisis?
  • Which boundaries are likely to be breached or bridged in organizational crises and risks, and how? What are the micro-foundations and underlying mechanisms of breaching and bridging? Which existing theories are most useful to understanding these phenomena?
  • Who benefits from breaches and bridges in transboundary crises and who loses?
  • Which levels of analysis are most important: individual, group, organization or nation?



Boin, Arjen, Paul t'Hart, Eric Stern & Bengt Sundelius (2005): The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership under Pressure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Douglas, M. (1966): Purity and Danger: An analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London, UK: Routledge.
Gephart, Robert P., John Van Maanen & Thomas Oberlechner (2009): 'Organizations and risk in late modernity.' Organization Studies, 30 (2 & 3), 141–156.
Heracleous, Loizos (2004): 'Boundaries in the study of organizations.' Human Relations, 57, 95–103.
Mythen, Gabe (2008): 'Sociology and the art of risk.' Sociology Compass, 2 (1), 299–316.
Oxford English Dictionary (2011), retrieved from on December 8, 2011.
Pearson, Christine, Christophe Roux-Dufort & Judith Clair (2007): 'Introduction.' In: C. Pearson, C. Roux-Dufort & J. Clair (eds.): International Handbook of Organizational Crisis Management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, vii–xi.
Santos, Filipe & Kathleen Eisenhardt (2005): 'Organizational boundaries and theories of organization.' Organization Science, 16 (5), 491–508.


Robert P. Gephart Jr. is Professor of Strategic Management and Organization at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is Associate Editor of 'Organizational Research Methods' and serves on several editorial boards including the 'Academy of Management Journal', 'Academy of Management Review' and 'Organization Studies'. His current research interests include risk and crisis sensemaking, performance management and ethnostatistics.
Kees Boersma is Associate Professor at the Department of Organization Sciences of the VU University Amsterdam. His research interests include innovation studies and safety, security & surveillance practices. In 2008, he was member of the organizing team of the 24th EGOS Colloquium in Amsterdam and served as a convenor at previous EGOS Colloquia.
Sytze F. Kingma is a faculty member in the Department of Culture, Organization and Management at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He specializes in the fields of organizational space, technology, risk and safety culture.