Sub-theme 43: Performativity as Politics: Rethinking Performativity and Power Dynamics

Laure Cabantous
City University London, UK
Jean-Pascal Gond
City University London, UK
Yuval Millo
University of Leicester, UK

Call for Papers

Conceptualizations of performativity that have influenced organization scholars focus on the power of words and regard language as a powerful way of influencing organizational processes and identities (Bourdieu, 1987; Butler, 1997; 2010). Although power is inherent to the performativity mechanisms described by Butler (1997) or Callon (1998), organization scholars have overlooked the politics of performativity and the relationships between performativity and power. The concepts related to expressions of organizational and managerial power – such as leadership, strategic discourse, hierarchy or systemic power – have yet rarely been conceptualized through a performativity perspective (Vaara et al. 2010).

This sub-theme addresses this gap in the organizational literature. It aims both to rethink and reconfigure theoretically the politics of performativity and to empirically explore power dynamics inherent, but hitherto latent, in performativity studies. We welcome explorations of any of the three following topics, as well as other relevant ones.

(1) The power of performativity: Reshaping markets, organizations and actors

The concept of performativity sheds light on the socio-material mechanisms whereby theory gains the means of power to shape markets and organization (Cabantous & Gond, 2011; Callon, 2007). Yet, so far, performativity studies have focused mainly on theories derived from economics to study their influence on market functioning. In addition, we know little about how other bodies of expert knowledge – from management, history, art, sociology, biology or psychology – become powerful and shape various dimensions of social reality, such as organizational life, or market functioning.

We therefore aim to explore the following questions:

  • To what extent bodies of knowledge other than economics have the power to shape and reshape social reality?
  • How is the performative power of a theory enhanced?
  • What are the boundaries to the power of performativity?

(2) The performativity of power and politics: Rethinking power and politics

An important insight that emerges from the empirical studies that followed the concept of the performativity of economics is that theories affect practices through embedding in tools and devices (Callon et al., 2007). In spite of the centrality of this insight, the power dimension inherent to the emergence of such devices is underexplored. In a related manner, Latour and Weibel's (2005) insight according to which politics is performed through specific organizational mechanisms and socio-material devices has so far received little attention in organization studies.
This raises new questions:

  • How is power performed through techno-socio devices?
  • How is the performative power of organizational structure, managerial hierarchy or accounting inscriptions maintained?
  • What is the actual performativity of strategy knowledge?
  • How do organizations operate as political arenas or contexts supporting the expression and performance of specific political ideologies?

(3) Power in performativity: Reimagining organizations and markets as sites for performativity struggles

Another approach to performativity is exemplified by Callon's (2007) who suggests to re-imagine organizations and markets as sites for "performativity struggles". This perspective has yet to be explored. For instance, little is known about how alternative theories of decision making, HRM concepts or financial devices compete within organizations to influence behaviours and outcomes according to alternative assumptions about human behaviours. In addition, in recognizing the power of theories to alter organizations and markets, a more "politicized" concept of performativity can shed light on the ideological role of theories in the processes that govern actors and organizations (Rose & Miller, 1992) and re-imagine the functioning of powerful governmental and political actors in economic processes (Lascoumes & Le Galès, 2005).
Accordingly, we ask:

  • How is power in public administrations, industrial lobbies, and universities influenced by theories?
  • To what extent do international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank contribute to the performance of a specific approach to economics while reshaping economies?



Bourdieu, Pierre (1987): Choses Dites. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.
Butler, Judith (1997): Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge.
Butler, Judith (2010): 'Performative agency.' Journal of Cultural Economy, 3 (2), pp. 147–161.
Cabantous, Laure & Jean-Pascal Gond (2011): 'Rational decision-making as a "performative praxis": Explaining rationality's eternel retour.' Organization Science, 22 (3), pp. 573–586.
Callon, Michel (1998): The Laws of the Markets. Oxford Blackwell Publishers.
Callon, Michel (2007): 'What does it mean to say that economics is performative?' In: Donald A. MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa & Lucia Siu (eds.): Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 311–357.
Callon, Michel, Yuval Millo & Fabian Muniesa (eds.) (2007): Market Devices. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Latour, Bruno & Peter Weibel (2005): Making Things Public, Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lascoumes, Pierre & Patrick Le Galès, P. (2005): Les Instruments d'Action Publique. Paris: FNSP.
Rose, Nikolas & Peter Miller (1992): 'Political power beyond the State: problematics of government.' The British Journal of Sociology, 43 (2), pp. 173–205.
Vaara, Eero, Virpi Sorsa & Pekka Pälli (2010): 'On the force potential of strategy texts: a critical discourse analysis of a strategic plan and its power effects in a city organization.' Organization, 17 (6), pp. 685–702.


Laure Cabantous is Associate Professor at Cass Business School, City University London, UK. Her research agenda focuses on the performativity of management theories, calculative and modelling practice, and decision making. Her research has been published in journals such as 'Organization Science', 'Organization Studies', the 'Journal of Risk and Uncertainty'.
Jean-Pascal Gond is Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cass Business School, City University London, UK. His research, which investigates the social construction of CSR and the performativity of management theories, has been published in 'Business Ethics Quarterly', 'Organization Science', 'Organization Studies', the 'Journal of Management Studies'.
Yuval Millo is Professor of Social Studies of Finance & Management Accounting at the University of Leicester, UK. His recent research projects include the emergence of accounting standards, the transition of financial exchanges to electronic trading. His research has been published in the 'American Journal of Sociology', Accounting', 'Organizations and Society', 'Environment and Planning'.