Sub-theme 30: Inequality, Institutions and Organizations

Kamal A. Munir
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
John M. Amis
University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom
Johanna Mair
Hertie School of Governance, Germany

Call for Papers

Our intent in this sub-theme is to build on a stream of work focused on the relationships between inequality, institutions and organizations. In so doing, we connect directly with the timely Colloquium theme that calls for reflection on ‘The Good Organization: Aspirations, Interventions, Struggles’. Although the relevance of organizational research to societal problems has spawned debate for at least a decade, and has generated a proliferation of polemics and prescriptions (e.g., Dover & Lawrence, 2010; George et al., 2012; von Glinow, 2005), there has been insufficient serious, sustained theoretical and empirical engagement among organization scholars on questions that primarily relate to socially desirable values and configurations. One way to evaluate ‘good’ or ‘bad’ organizations is by looking at how they and the institutional orders that legitimate them contribute to or mitigate inequality. As such, the potential for management scholars to inform understanding of the mechanisms that exacerbate or reduce inequality is significant; similarly, the study of inequality poses fundamental questions for management theory (Mair et al., 2016).
The issue of inequality is a profound one for contemporary societies, both developed and developing and it involves more than just inequalities of wealth. Equally important, though often related are inequality of access to health care, education, housing, food, economic resources, power structures, and areas of recreation; degradation of living conditions, the environment, social structures, and relationships; and direct or indirect exploitation of groups on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, disability, or sexuality. All of these are driven in part by the distribution of wealth, but they also each have their own specific dynamics and challenges. Consequently, rather than solely rely on numerical measures, we also need to consider qualitative understandings of (in)justice and perceived fairness.
The sources of such inequalities are more deeply rooted, and that we know relatively little about them or the organizations and institutions that originate and perpetuate them (see Amis et al., 2017 for a review). For example, the “working poor,” while “seemingly indispensable to the value creation model for firms in developed economies” (Leana et al., 2012, p. 901) are simultaneously constrained by these same systems with little chance of advancing beyond their current circumstances (see also Mair et al., 2012). Virtual workers have reported feeling less respected and more disconnected to the organizations that employ them than more traditional workers (Bartel et al., 2012). Further, despite decades of awareness, women remain discriminated against in many organizations, leading to a perpetuation of unequal pay and severe under-representation in senior management positions (Belliveau, 2012; Ryan & Haslam, 2007). Racial disparities (Carton & Rosette, 2011; Cortina, 2008), sexual harassment (Berdahl, 2007; Raver & Gelfand, 2005), discrimination against stigmatized and marginalized individuals and groups (Martí & Fernández, 2013; Soule, 2012) and even exploitation that leads to “body breakdowns” (Michel, 2011) have also been reported as outcomes of pernicious organization-related and often institutionalized actions. Finally, the degradation caused to the natural environment as an outcome of political action, power dynamics, and investment decisions is also under-explored (Banerjee, 2012). As Adler (2012, p. 246) has recently stated, as well as being an enabling tool for required cooperative functioning, bureaucracies also remain a “coercive weapon for exploitation.”
Despite the tremendous growth in research over the past decades, the intersection of social inequality, organizations and institutions remains significantly under-examined. As such, we feel that scholars interested in institutions and organizations, from those who study the behavior of individuals to those who are interested in how societies are shaped and governed – and all levels in between – can and should contribute to our understanding of inequality. We are most interested in work that goes beyond static, macro comparisons to studies that unveil the dynamic processes, practices, innovations and changes that will in turn enable a richer understanding of the relationships between inequality, institutions and organizations.

Thus, we invite papers that explore a range of themes, including, but not limited to:

  • Institutional and organizational foundations of inequality
  • The impact of specific routines, structures and practices on social inequality
  • The effects of technology on the persistence and creation of inequality
  • The role of elites in creating and/or reproducing self-serving structures of inequality
  • The institutional work of specific individual organizational actors to increase or decrease social inequality
  • The use and exposure of devices that disguise inequality
  • The legitimization of domains of activity that lead to greater or lesser inequality
  • The roles of power and political structures in the creation and maintenance of structures of inequality
  • Strategies that disrupt institutionalized structures of inequality
  • The implications of inequality for theories of organization studies

We are building on previous events that we had organized and that focused on similar topics. These include sub-themes at EGOS Colloquia 2012 and 2015 and a Conference in Vancouver in 2013. We also have a Special Issue of Organization Studies on this topic.


  • Adler, P.S. (2012): “The sociological ambivalence of bureaucracy: From Weber via Gouldner to Marx.” Organization Science, 23, 244–266.
  • Amis, J.M., Munir, K.A., & Mair, J. (2017): “Institutions and Economic Inequality.” In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T. Lawrence & R. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Banerjee, S.B. (2012): “A Climate for change? Critical reflections on the Durban United Nations Climate Change Conference.” Organization Studies, 33, 1761–1786.
  • Bartel, C.A., Wrzesniewski, A., & Wiesenfeld, B.A. (2012): “Knowing where you stand: Physical isolation, perceived respect, and organizational identification among virtual employees.” Organization Science, 23, 743–757.
  • Belliveau, M.A. (2012): “Engendering inequity? How social accounts create vs. merely explain unfavorable pay outcomes for women.” Organization Science, 23, 1154–1174.
  • Berdahl, J.L. (2007): “Harassment based on sex: Protecting social status in the context of gender hierarchy.” Academy of Management Review, 32, 641–658.
  • Carton, A.M., & Rosette, A.S. (2011): “Explaining bias against black leaders: Integrating theory on information processing and goal-based stereotyping.” Academy of Management Journal, 54, 1141–1158.
  • Cortina, L.M. (2008): “Unseen injustice: Incivility as modern discrimination in organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 33, 55–75.
  • Dover, G., & Lawrence, T.B. (2010): “A gap year for institutional theory: Integrating the study of institutional work and participatory action research.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 19, 305–316.
  • George, G., McGahan, A.M., & Prabhu, J. (2012): “Innovation for inclusive growth: Towards a theoretical framework and a research agenda.” Journal of Management Studies, 49, 661-683.
  • Leana, C.R., Mittal, V., & Stiehl, E. (2012): “Organizational behavior and the working poor.” Organization Science, 23, 888–906.
  • Mair, J., Martí, I., & Ventresca, M.J. (2012): “Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh: How intermediaries work institutional voids.” Academy of Management Journal, 55, 819–850.
  • Mair, J., Wolf, M., & Seelos, C. (2016): “Scaffolding: A Process of Transforming Patterns of Inequality in Small-scale Societies.” Academy of Management Journal, December.
  • Martí, I., & Fernández, P. (2013): The Institutional work of oppression and resistance: Learning from the Holocaust.” Organization Studies, 34, 1195–1223.
  • Michel, A. (2011): “Transcending socialization: A nine-year ethnography of the body’s role in organizational control and knowledge workers’ transformation.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 56, 325–368.
  • Raver, J.L., & Gelfand, M.J. (2005): “Beyond the individual victim: Linking sexual harassment, team processes, and team performance.” Academy of Management Journal, 48, 387–400.
  • Ryan, M.K., & Haslam, S.A. (2007): “The glass cliff: Exploring the dynamics surrounding the appointment of women to precarious leadership positions.” Academy of Management Review, 32, 549–572.
  • Soule, S.A. (2012): “Targeting Organizations: Private and Contentious Politics.” Research in the Sociology of Organization, 34, 261–285.
  • von Glinow, M.A. (2005): “Let us speak for those who cannot.” Academy of Management Journal, 48, 983–985.


Kamal A. Munir teaches Strategy and Policy at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK, and is currently serving as Dean, Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. He has published several articles in leading organizational journals, and has been invited to present his work in numerous academic and policy forums around the world.
John M. Amis is Professor of Strategic Management and Organization at the University of Edinburgh Business School, UK. His research is focused on issues of organizational and institutional change, and inequality. It has been published in leading organization theory and management journals. He sits on a number of editorial boards, including ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, and ‘Journal of Change Management’.
Johanna Mair is Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance, Germany. She is also the Hewlett Foundation Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Academic Editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Today, alongside her academic responsibilities, she serves on the Global Agenda Council on Social Innovation of the World Economic Forum and carries out advisory and board work for multinational companies, the United Nations, governments, foundations and social venture funds.