Sub-theme 34: Materiality in Organizing: Space, Technology, Artefacts

Perttu Salovaara
Stern School of Business, New York University, USA
Arja Ropo
University of Tampere, Finland
Lucia Crevani
Mälardalen University, Sweden

Call for Papers

A number of societal and organizational shifts give rise to rethinking how organizations and organizing activities are conceived and studied. New ways of working, embeddedness of technology in daily life and the way current social movements and networked activities emerge unveil how ill-equipped organization theories sometimes are to address what is going on in business and society. In particular it has been argued that cultural and linguistic conceptualizations have been over-represented in the attempts at making sense of organizational phenomena, and as long as material aspects of organizing are excluded from theorizing, our understanding of organizational life remains partial (Ashcraft et al., 2009; Barad, 2003; Beyes & Steyaert, 2012; Carlile et al., 2013; Czarniawska, 2008; Clegg & Kornberger, 2006; Dale, 2005; Orlikowski, 2007). This is quite alarming, considering the impact these theories have on organizing society and work life. Given that the limitations of current theorizing have been recognized, and some avenues for further research proposed, more attention to material and sociomaterial aspects of organizing is needed.
How profoundly our culture and activities are constituted of, embedded in and infused in materiality is shown, among others, in the work of Miller (2008, 2009) and in human geography (Massey, 2005; Lefebvre, 1991; Thrift, 2006; Tuan, 1977). Materiality in organization studies has been accounted for in various contexts: space/spacing and place/placing as designed, practiced, embodied, (re)claimed, enacted, imagined (Beyes & Steyaert, 2012; Dale & Burrell, 2008; Gieryn, 2002; Ropo et al., 2015; Taylor & Spicer, 2007; van Marrewijk & Yanow, 2010); technology (Orlikowski & Scott, 2008), use of smartphones (Symon & Pritchard, 2015) and digital representation (Dourish & Mazmanian, 2014); artefacts such as copy machines and water coolers (Fayard & Weeks, 2007; Humphries & Smith, 2014). Today also leadership (Hawkins, 2015; Oborn et al., 2013; Ropo et al., 2013) and social movements (Eslen-Ziya & Erhart, 2015) have been studied from a sociomaterial perspective, and a recent call for papers of Organization Studies addresses materiality through signs, symbols, and visual images (Boxenbaum et al., 2015).
This sub-theme calls for more research on the following areas:

  • First, more conceptualizations of materiality are needed in order for this stream of research to increase the impact on how organizing processes are understood and practiced – and thus the impact on discussions around “the good organization”. We particularly encourage studies on sociomateriality that link human and the material in organizational context. We invite papers that contribute to developing concepts both from epistemological and ontological perspectives.
  • Second, whilst the field of (socio)material studies in organizations is new, more concrete work on organizational materiality is needed. Theorizing and concepts aside, with this sub-theme we would like to offer a platform for sharing current empirical research on material aspects of organizing, which also includes methodological challenges.
  • Third, and additionally to the above-mentioned positively oriented studies, negative processes of material disruptions are so far scarcely studied in organization theory. Examples of these are how things deteriorate, unwind, fall in decay and break apart (objects, machines); how city centres and remote countryside become deserted and buildings are being demolished; and how traditions, rituals, processes and management systems change or become obsolete (change management). These aspects display organizations as sites of struggle between development and disruption. This is a continuous challenge in being/becoming a good organization.

We welcome contributions that broadly address these themes and perspectives, adopt and develop various methodological approaches. To support a more concrete ‘grasp’ of materiality and/or sociomaterial approach, creative, experiential, collaborative and participative forms of presentations are encouraged.


  • Ashcraft, K.L., Kuhn, T.R., & Cooren, F. (2009): “Constitutional Amendments: ‘Materializing’ Organizational Communication.” Academy of Management Annals, 3, 1–64.
  • Barad, K. (2003): “Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28 (3), 801–31.
  • Beyes, T., & Steyaert, C. (2012): ”Spacing organization: non-representational theory and performing organizational space.” Organization, 19 (1), 45–61.
  • Boxenbaum, E., Jones, C., Meyer, R., & Svejenova, S. (2015): “The Material and Visual Turn in Organization Theory: Objectifying and (Re)acting to Novel Ideas.” Call for Papers, Special Issue of Organization Studies,
  • Carlile, P., Nicolini, D., Langley, A., & Tsoukas, H. (eds.) (2013): How Matter Matters: Objects, Artifacts, and Materiality in Organization Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Clegg, S.R., & Kornberger, M. (2006): Space, Organizations and Management Theory. Copenhagen: Liber & Copenhagen Business School Press.
  • Czarniawska, B. (2008): A Theory of Organizing. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Dale, K. (2005): “Building a social materiality: Spatial and embodied politics in organizational control.” Organization, 12 (5), 649–678.
  • Dale, K., & Burrell, G. (2008): Spaces of Organization and the Organization of Space. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Dourish, P., & Mazmanian, M. (2014): “Media as Material: Information Representations as Material Foundations for Organizationa Practice.” In: P. Carlile, D. Nicolini, A. Langley & H. Tsoukas (eds.): How Matter Matters: Objects, Artifacts, and Materiality in Organization Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 92–118.
  • Eslen-Ziya, H., & Erhart, I. (2015): “Toward postheroic leadership: A case study of Gezi’s collaborating multiple leaders.” Leadership, 11 (4), 471–488.
  • Fayard, A.-L., & Weeks, J. (2007): “Photocopiers and Water-coolers: The Affordances of Informal Interaction.” Organization Studies, 28 (5), 605–634.
  • Gieryn, T.F. (2002): “What buildings do.” Theory and Society, 31, 35–74.
  • Hawkins, B. (2015): “Ship-shape: Materializing leadership in the British Royal Navy.” Human Relations, 68 (6), 951–71.
  • Humphries, C., & Smith, A. (2014): “Talking objects: Towards a post-social research framework for exploring object narratives.” Organization, 21, 477–494.
  • Lefebvre, H. (1991): The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Massey, D. (2005): For Space. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Miller, D. (2008): The Comfort of Things. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Miller, D. (2009): Stuff. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Oborn, E., Barrett, M., & Dawson, S. (2013): “Distributed leadership in policy formulation: A sociomaterial perspective.” Organization Studies, 34 (2), 253–276.
  • Orlikowski, W.J. (2007): “Sociomaterial practices: Exploring technology at work.” Organization Studies, 28 (9), 1435–1448.
  • Orlikowski, W.J., & Scott, S.V. (2008): “Sociomateriality: Challenging the separation of technology, work and organization.” The Academy of Management Annals, 2 (1), 433–474.
  • Ropo, A., Sauer, E., & Salovaara, P. (2013): “Embodiment of leadership through material place.” Leadership, 9 (3), 378–395.
  • Ropo, A., Salovaara, P., Sauer, E., & de Paoli, D (eds.) (2015): Leadership in Spaces and Places. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Symon, G., & Pritchard, K. (2015): “Performing the connected worker as sociomaterial identity.” Organization Studies, 36 (2), 241–263.
  • Taylor, S., & Spicer, A. (2007): ”Time for space: A narrative review of research on organizational spaces.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 9 (4), 325–346.
  • Thrift, N. (2006): “Space.” Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (2–3), 139–146.
  • Tuan, Y.-F. (1977): Space and Place. The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • van Marrewijk, A., & Yanow, D. (eds.) (2010): Organizational Spaces Rematerializing the Workaday World. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Perttu Salovaara is Adjunct Associate Professor at New York University, Stern School of Business, USA, and Senior Researcher at University of Tampere, School of Management, Finland. His current research deals with plural and spatial leadership, and with applying video in academic research. He has recently studied plural leadership and coworking, and apart of written publications has created academic documentary films on “Leadership in Spaces and Places” (2014), “Cowork City” (forthcoming) and “Cities lead” (forthcoming).
Arja Ropo is Professor of Management and Organization at the School of Management, University of Tampere, Finland. Her continuing interest is leadership from an aesthetic and material organization theory perspective. Recently she has studied leadership and organizational workplaces. She advances leadership as a sociomaterial concept, as an embodied relationship between human and the material. Her work has been published in 'The Leadership Quarterly', 'Leadership', 'Scandinavian Journal of Management', 'Journal of Management & Organization' and 'Journal of Corporate Real Estate', among others.
Lucia Crevani is Associate Professor at Mälardalen University in Västerås, Sweden. Her research is focused on the study of leadership, entrepreneurship, project management, gender and ethnicity as sociomaterial processes taking place in and between organizations. Her work has been published in international journals as ‘Leadership’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, ‘Service Business’, ‘Ephemera: theory & politics in organization’ and ‘Project Management Journal’. She is also co-organizer of the After Method workshops, a series of workshops focusing on the methodological challenges of studying a world of change, and co-organizes conference tracks, as for instance ”Emplacing gender relations in organization: the sociomateriality and spatiality of doing gender” at GWO 2016.