Sub-theme 64: Is Something New Growing in the Shadow of Formal Organizations?

Paolo Landri
National Research Council (CNR-IRPPS), Italy
Karen Jensen
University of Oslo, Norway
Roberto Serpieri
University Federico II, Naples, Italy

Call for Papers

The concept of 'shadow organizing' is proposed as a theoretical tool for discussing the multi-layering that is taking place in current society: new arrangements and new forms of organizing that live side-by-side with more established formal organizations. The concept is metaphorical, and through various analogies of protection, grey zones, secrecy, Jungian shadow, or other images, it allows for investigating the dynamics of organizing that emerge in the shadow.

In fact, the rise of the global economy means a radical change in work and organizational forms. These conditions mark an important shift in organizational logic, raising the question of how activities can be co-ordinated across space and time and whether co-ordination should be understood as the effect of an intentional activity or as an emergent phenomenon. The idea that 'something' is growing in the shadow sheds light on unconventional ways of organizing that may emerge either in complicity with formal organizations or in opposition to their pervasive power.

We invite papers that illustrate and discuss organizational interactions that are not bound by specific forms of organizational control and co-ordination, but instead stretch into a globalized space. These may be conceptualized as an emergence of global micro-structures (Knorr-Cetina, 2005; Knorr-Cetina & Bruegger, 2002) that deal with complexity. The idea of global micro-structures refers to forms of connectivity that instantiate self-organizing principles and patterns. Its basic intuition is that genuinely global forms (i.e., fields of practice that link up and stretch across multiple organizational forms) need not imply further expansion of social institutional complexity.


While the roots of the concept of global micro-structures are found in organizations such as financial markets or terrorist groups, we suspect that these organizational forms are more widespread than previously documented. For example, in the realm of the professions and their organizations, informal arrangements live side by side with formal institutions and give rise to new organizational forms. In exploring the connectivity between formal organizations and other forms of organizing, we invite discussion about if and how organizations favor or obstruct organizing. To explore the dynamics of organizing that emerge in these spaces and intersections, the concept of shadow organizing may prove useful.

Some questions that might help inform potential contributions include but are not limited to:

  • What is growing in the shadow of formal organizations and how is it regarded/disregarded by them?
  • What kind of exchanges and power relations keep organizing tight or loose?
  • Are formal organizations an obstacle to organizing or are r they an incentive?
  • What is the contribution that the concept of shadow organizing offers to organizational theory?
  • How to develop a methodology for studying the grey zone between what is a formal organization and what is an informal way of organizing?
  • Does shadow organizing hide itself also within formal organizations and more institutionalized ways of organizing?
  • What characterizes the dynamics of shadow organizing in different contexts?




  • Knorr-Cetina, K. (2005): "Complex global microstructures: The new terrorist societies." Theory, Culture & Society, 2 (5), 213–234.
  • Knorr-Cetina, K., & Bruegger, U. (2002): "Global microstructures: The virtual societies of financial markets." American Journal of Sociology, 107 (4), 902–50.


Paolo Landri is a Senior Researcher of the Institute of Research on Population and Social Policies at National Research Council in Italy (CNR-IRPPS). His main research interests concern educational organizations, professional learning and educational policies.
Karen Jensen is Professor of Education at the University of Oslo, Norway. Areas of interest include studies of the professions, epistemic communities and, more generally, the ways in which the organization of knowledge impacts learning and identity formation. She is currently a member of the research team for the Norwegian project "Horizontal Governance and Learning Dynamics in Higher Education", where she among other activities has conducted a study on shadow organizing in legal education.
Roberto Serpieri is Professor of Sociology of Organization for the undergraduate course in Sociology and Professor of Education Policy for the MA degree in Social and Local Policies at the Department of Social Sciences, University Federico II, Naples, Italy. His area of studies and research covers issues as governance, leadership and evaluation, social inclusion and inter-cultural integration, organizational knowledge and technological innovation in educational and social policies.