Sub-theme 12: (SWG) Re-processing Organization Studies: Rethinking Key Organizational Themes through a Processual Lens

Henrika Franck
Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
Joep P. Cornelissen
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mike Zundel
University of Liverpool Management School, UK

Call for Papers

Organization studies, as a subject area, appears to be caught in a paradox. In one sense, the more we set out to clarify and tighten our concepts, as schemas or categories of understanding, the less they seem to correspond with organizational life. For example, studies of institutions invoking paradoxical concepts such as embedded agency have shown that individuals frequently break the mold of shared logics when they behave in novel ways (e.g. Suddaby, 2010). Similarly, investigations of organizational routines have illustrated that organizational behaviours are not stable and repetitive, but are always performed afresh, changing in accordance with situational demands (e.g. Feldman, 2000). Others, again, have found that organizations are not stable and enduring, but prone to decay (e.g. Burgelman & Grove, 2007). It seems that success and growth also perpetuates failure and dispersal. These paradoxes in in our current theorizations point to a categorical and dualistic (Farjoun, 2010) way of thinking which fixes our gaze, helping us to communicate our ideas, but is as such limited and limiting in understanding organizations as complex and fluctuating processes (Cooper, 1986).

Process thinking in organization studies is an emerging perspective that helps to explain our difficulties in working around these paradoxes (e.g. Chia & Holt, 2009; Schultz & Hernes, 2013). It suggest that these emerge out of discrepancies between the structure of our explanations, which are grounded in logic, and the patterns of organizational processes which do not unfold in accordance with static classifications but continually transgress imposed boundaries. Process thinking invites us to acknowledge the complexity of organization, urging us to ask 'where does an 'organization' begin and end?' and whether we can speak of the 'same' organization at different points in time?

Drawing on a range of sources in philosophy, sociology, anthropology, art, and so on, process thinking helps us recognize the difference between the explanations and social as well as natural patterns, heeding Gregory Bateson's warning that the map is not the territory. As Bateson (1941) put it:
I want to emphasize that whenever we pride ourselves upon finding a newer, stricter way of thought or exposition; whenever we start insisting too hard upon 'operationalism' or symbolic logic or any other of these very essential systems of tramlines, we lose something of the ability to think new thoughts. And equally, of course, whenever we rebel against the sterile rigidity of formal thought and exposition and let our ideas run wild, we likewise lose. As I see it, the advances in scientific thought come from a combination of loose and strict thinking, and this combination is the most precious tool of science.


How, then, can organization studies keep up with a world that is unsettled and continually on the move? One response is offered in the form of studies that are alive to the idea that all things flow. Processual thinking raises important questions about the utility of timeless concepts, fixed taxonomies, categorical ways of understanding and linear causality in a world that is continually on the move. It also urges us to consider new methods of investigation and alternative means of conveying how organization happens.

The strict and loose was of thinking to which process theory invites us may therefore offer important new insights to key organizational themes. Rather than being a niche topic, process thinking allows us to rethink mainstream concepts such as institutions, routines, or strategy from a processual perspective, raising new questions, dissolving existing problems, or even creating new ones, in order to unsettle the fixity of our explanations.

Continuing the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG) 12 on process thinking/philosophy and organization, initiated in 2012, this year we want to invite you to join our discussion on rethinking key organizational themes processually. While we remain interested in process philosophical ideas per se, our particular focus this year lies on the possibilities that process thinking affords when it is applied to existing concepts and theories. We thus invite papers, essays, and performances on (but not limited to) topics and themes such as:

  • Process studies of organizational identity, organizational institutionalism, routines and coordination, organizational trust, ethics, justice and commitment; Sensemaking, strategy.

At the same time, we invite process specific theory and methodological papers on topics such as:

  • Process philosophy
  • Time and temporality
  • Methods for process research
  • Complexity
  • Presence/absence
  • Phenomenal experience
  • …



Bateson, Gregory (1941): 'Experiments in thinking about observed ethnological material.' Philosophy of Science, 8 (1), pp. 53–68.
Burgelman, Robert A. & Andrew S. Grove (2007): 'Let chaos reign, then rein in chaos – repeatedly: managing strategic dynamics for corporate longevity.' Strategic Management Journal, 28 (10), pp. 965–979.
Chia, Robert C.H. & Robin Holt (2009): Strategy without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cooper, Robert (1986): 'Organization/Disorganization.' Social Science Information, 25 (2), pp. 299–335.
Farjoun, Moshe (2010): 'Beyond dualism: Stability and change as a duality.' Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), pp. 202–225.
Feldman, Martha S. (2000): 'Organizational routines as a source of continuous change.' Organization Science, 11 (6), pp. 611–629.
Schultz, Majken & Tor Hernes (2013): 'A temporal perspective on organizational identity.' Organization Science, 24 (1), pp. 1–21.
Suddaby, Roy (2010): 'Challenges for institutional theory.' Journal of Management Inquiry, 19 (1), pp. 14–20.


Henrika Franck is postdoctoral researcher at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. Her research focuses on strategies used by organizations and individuals with a particular emphasis on discourses, identities and ethical subjectivity.
Joep P. Cornelissen is Professor of Corporate Communication at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His current research focuses on processes of framing and narration in strategic change, entrepreneurial and innovation contexts.
Mike Zundel is Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool Management School, UK. He is interested in practice and process perspectives in strategy, learning in organizations and institutional contexts.