Sub-theme 52: Organizing Performativity: The Practical Life of Theory across Time and Organizational Settings

Karen Boll
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Jean-Pascal Gond
Cass Business School, UK
Paul L. du Gay
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

Through teaching, publishing and consultancy organization theory is transported from the business school to the practical realm of the organization. The sub-theme investigates what happens when such transportation takes place across time and organizational settings: What are the effects on organizations of using different organization theories and devices? How do different organization theories practically shape organizations and make 'the organizational' an object of intervention? The sub-theme focuses upon the proliferation and employment of organization theories and devices in organizational life – both currently and historically. It seeks to explore how the configurations and usefulness of organization theories have changed over time (du Gay & Vikkelsø, 2012a, 2012b).

Looking at present day organizations and their relations to organization theory there is a paradoxical situation. There is a proliferation of organization concepts and devices: LEAN initiatives, risk analyses, performance contracts and much more. Devices which may or may not be coupled to ideas in organization thought, but which attempt to organize activities and relationships. At the same time, however, organization theory also occupies a rather inferior place in organizational life and public debate. Organizational work seems to be assembled around mundane activities adhering to the accomplishment of certain tasks. In this work the legacy of organization theories seem to play a minor and often barely remembered role (du Gay & Vikkelsø, 2012a). We are therefore presented with a situation in which we can delineate both an excess and absence of organization theory.

We invite papers that explore the ability of organizational theory to influence organizations: what happens as theories and organizational devices take on a life in organizations? Also, we invite papers that examine why organization theory seems so absent from much daily work in organizations. Has organization theory lost some of its former ability to specify and intervene into organizational life?

As the sub-theme emphasizes the practical life of organizational theory we welcome contributions deploying a range of descriptive-approaches, such as those drawing on the anthropology of (market) organization and techniques; science and technology studies exploring 'organization devices' (Callon et al., 2007; Latour, 2010; MacKenzie, 2006); and detailed historical accounts of how classic organization theory (Barnard, 1968; Follett & Graham, 1995; Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967; Perrow, 1986; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1934) has changed itself and its relation to its field.

Questions and themes that may be addressed, but are not limited to:

  • Tracing the elements which make up organization theory and investigating how specific organization devices have influenced organizational realities.
  • Exploring how specific domains in organizations have been exposed to excess or absence of organizational theories and devices, and what consequences this has had.
  • Exploring whether something has been lost in organization theory: if some elements of organizational theory can be rediscovered to reinvigorated organization theory as a useful devices to solve organizational challenges.



Barnard, Chester (1968): The Functions of the Executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Callon, Michel, Yuval Millo & Fabian Muniesa (2007): Market Devices. The Sociological Review, Special Issue: Sociological Review Monograph Series: Market Devices, Vol. 55. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
du Gay, Paul & Signe Vikkelsø (2012a): Exploitation, Exploration and Exaltation: Notes on a Metaphysical (Re)Turn to 'One Best Way of Organizing'. What Makes Organization? WMO Working Paper Working Paper Series, 3. Copenhagen Business School.
du Gay, Paul & Signe Vikkelsø (2012b): 'Reflections: on the lost specification of "change".' Journal of Change Management, 12 (2), 121–143.
Follett, Mary Parker & Pauline Graham (1995): Mary Parker Follett. Prophet of Management: A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Latour, Bruno (2010): The Making of Law: An Ethnography of the Conseil d’Etat. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lawrence, Paul & Jay W. Lorsch (1967): Organization and Environment. Managing Differentiation and Integration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
MacKenzie, Donald (2006): An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Perrow, Charles (1986): Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Roethlisberger, Fritz Jules & William J. Dickson (1934): Management and the Worker. Boston, MA: Harvard University, Graduate School of Business Administration.


Karen Boll is Post-Doc at CBS. Her research interests revolve around how organizational devices shape organizational realities. Karen is affiliated with the 'What Makes Organization?' research program.
Jean-Pascal Gond is Professor at Cass Business School (City University, UK). His research investigates the social construction of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and his recent works focus on the performativity of economic forms of rationality.
Paul L. du Gay