Sub-theme 44: When Critical Research Goes to Work: Bridging Pragmatist Problem-solving and Continental Critique [merged with sub-theme 54]

Christopher Wickert
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Stephan M. Schaefer
Lund University, Sweden
Frank den Hond
Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland

Call for Papers

Critical research has an important role in highlighting the "shadows of power" in organizations. Curiously, however, there is less interest in developing possibilities for positive transformations. This sub-stream aims to examine how critical research could have a sustainable and emancipatory impact on organizational and managerial practice. We ask: What happens when critical research goes to work and engages with those who do the work? What are the possibilities for positively transforming management and organizations?

For decades, management and organization scholars have studied and applied concepts such as emancipation, (anti-)performativity, gender, sustainability and power to criticize mainstream organization and management scholarship. While diverse in its philosophical foundations, a common denominator of this research has been the disclosure of alienation and exploitation in contemporary businesses. Yet, despite an explicit emancipatory focus, the practical relevance of these disclosures for positive organizational transformations has been marginal.

Recently, several scholars have raised concerns that critical research has failed to have a meaningful impact on organizational change processes or effect what Alvesson and Deetz (2009) call "transformative redefinition" – the construction of alternative organizational realities that are based upon previous insight and critique (Hartmann, 2014; King & Learmonth, 2014; Spicer et al., 2009; Wickert & Schaefer, 2015). Encouraging such transformative redefinition, however, remains underemphasized in critical research because scholars do "not step far beyond mere critique" (Alvesson & Ashcraft, 2009, p. 65) and rather "articulate what they are against than what they are for" (Adler et al., 2007, p. 41). Critical research tends to deconstruct the mainstream but not develop alternative and perhaps more democratic, just, or sustainable modes of organizing.

In this sub-theme, we seek contributions that attempt to bridge the gap between critique of the mainstream and articulating what alterative, more democratic modes of organizing might look like. We want to explore how research could step beyond mere critique towards encouraging transformative redefinitions of organizational realities. While some scholars argue that critical emancipatory research should not position itself too closely to managerial agendas for fear of co-optation, others have been more pragmatic in developing what could be called "engaged critical research".

In the domain of Critical Management Studies (CMS), Spicer et al. (2009) propose various subversive tactics to change management practices through what they call "critical performativity". Wickert and Schaefer (2015) expand this notion and argue that the performative capacity of language and a close engagement with managers could inform empirical critical research and catalyse small-scale change as a basis for larger organizational transformations. King and Learmonth (2014) empirically show that critical perspectives can offer resources through which we might challenge the dominance of managerialist thinking on a practical level. Finally, Hartmann (2014) contends that the existing canon of institutionalized critical perspectives impedes a "critical performative" agenda and argues for a more subversive engagement.

We invite papers that engage closely with the role, function and usefulness of critiques of mainstream management. We encourage submissions that blend disciplines and epistemologies and explore new and unconventional methodologies such as engaged scholarship, participatory action research, or paradoxical inquiry. Submissions may include but are not limited to the following questions:

  • How can we use critique of mainstream management to trigger organizational change?
  • What are the potential limitations and dangers of such a practical engagement?
  • What are possible obstacles to "positive transformative redefinition"?
  • What potential strategies are available to critical researchers when engaging with managers and organizations?
  • What methods are suitable and what are the methodological challenges involved in such engagement?
  • What are the possibilities for translating critical theories into organizational practice?




  • Adler, P., Forbes, L., & Willmott, H. (2007): "Critical Management Studies." Academy of Management Annals, 1 (1), 119–179.
  • Alvesson, M., & Ashcraft, K.L. (2009): "Critical Methodology in Management and Organization Research." In: B. Bryman & D. Buchanan (eds): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Research Methods. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 61–77.
  • Alvesson, M., & Deetz, S. (2000): Doing Critical Management Research. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Clegg, S., Courpasson, D., & Phillips, N. (2006): Power and Organizations. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Hartmann, R.K. (2014): "Subversive Functionalism: For a Less Canonical Critique in Critical Management Studies." Human Relations, 67 (5), 611–632.
  • Spicer, A., Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2009): "Critical Performativity: The Unfinished Business of Critical Management Studies." Human Relations, 62 (4), 537–560.
  • Wickert, C., & Schaefer, S. (2015): "Towards Progressive Performativity in Critical Management Studies." Human Relations, 68 (1), 107–130.


Christopher Wickert is an Assistant Professor of Management and Organisation at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He holds a PhD in Management from University of Lausanne, Switzerland. His research interests include corporate social responsibility (CSR), organization and institutional theory, critical management studies (CMS), and business ethics. He has published several book chapters and articles in journals such as ‘Business & Society’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’ and ‘Organization Studies’.
Stephan M. Schaefer holds a PhD from the School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Sweden, and is currently working there as a post-doctoral researcher. His research interests include creativity, the role of reflexivity in organizing processes, existential phenomenology and Critical Management Studies. His work has been published in 'Human Relations' and edited books.
Frank den Hond is the Ehrnrooth Professor of Management and Organization at Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland, and Editor-in-Chief (together with Robin Holt) of 'Organization Studies'. Having published at the interface of CSR, social movement and institutional theories, he has recently taken an interest in business ethics.