Sub-theme 30: The Re-emergence of the Configurational Perspective in Organization Studies

Bart Cambré
Antwerp Management School, Belgium
Peer C. Fiss
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
Axel Marx
University of Leuven, Belgium

Call for Papers

Recent years have seen a revival in studying complex organizational phenomena such as power, performance and quality based on adopting a configurational approach. Much of this re-emergence of a configurational perspective has been driven by the developments of novel thinking and tools for disentangling the complex causal relationships present in configurations, and especially the emergence of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) (Ragin, 1987; 2000, 2008).

The goal of this sub-theme is to provide a venue for rethinking our understanding of the field of organization studies in such a configurational and multidimensional manner and to offer a different way to comprehend the rich complexity of relationships that characterize organizational life. Our starting point is a perspective that emphasizes conjunctural causation (combination of conditions generates an outcome), multi-finality (same factor can generate different outcomes), equifinality (different factors can generate the same outcome) and asymmetric causality (presence and absence of outcome have different explanations). We would like to begin a conversation to explore the new ideas, methods, and actions that are required if we commit to a truly configurational perspective to organizational phenomena. How can the re-emerging configurational perspective overcome habituated methodologies that tend to discourage us from examining phenomena and problems to which our familiar toolkits cannot be as easily applied (Meyer et al., 2005)?

To accomplish this, we invite papers that aim to contribute to a configurational understanding of organizational phenomena and theory. We welcome contributions from multiple theoretical traditions and look for ways that seek to enhance and invigorate the configurational perspective. We particularly welcome studies that incorporate insights from related disciplines and encourage theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions that strive to enhance our ability to capture the dynamic nature of configurations. We are open to a range of methodological approaches but especially welcome papers deploying set-theoretic methods such as crisp and fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) or related techniques. Methodological papers which engage with these methods and critically analyze their applications and assumptions are also welcomed.

Our sub-theme particularly invites contributions that focus on one or more of the following questions:

  • Uncovering Patterns. What unconventional, hidden, and novel insights does the re-emerging configurational perspective contribute to organization studies?
  • Challenging Orthodoxy. How does the configurational perspective challenge conventional thinking, and especially what Abbott (1988) calls “general linear reality” and what Ragin (2008) refers to as correlational “net-effects thinking”?
  • Intersectionality of Power. If the experience of power and oppression is highly intersectional, as critical feminist scholars emphasize (e.g. Crenshaw, 1991), then how can a configurational perspective help us better account for the ways in which power operates in organizational settings?
  • Theorizing Complexity. What new theoretical concepts and language do we need to help us describe and comprehend the complex nature of organizational configurations? What neighboring disciplines and theories can enrich this understanding?
  • Methodological Innovation. What new methodological tools do we need to match the complexity of the configurational perspective (Fiss, 2007; Fiss et al., 2013)? How well is QCA suited to accommodate a configurational perspective? How can we make the methodological toolkit more robust and complementary?
  • Understanding Categorization. What is the configurational nature of social categories and how do constellations of categories and processes of categorization work (Durand & Paolella, 2013)? Can we configurationally understand how categories enable and marginalize actors in and around organizations (Durand & Paolella, 2013)?
  • Multiple Conjunctural Causation. How does the notion of multiple conjunctural causation contribute to theory integration and theory development?
  • Network Dynamics. How can the configurational perspective account for the dynamics of networks (Raab et al., 2013)?




  • Abbott, A. (1988): The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Crenshaw, K. (1991): "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color." Stanford Law Review, 43 (6), 1241–1299.
  • Durand, R., & Paolella, L. (2013): "Category Stretching: Reorienting Research on Categories in Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Organization Theory." Journal of Management Studies, 50 (6), 1100–1123.
  • Fiss, P.C. (2007): "Towards a set-theoretic approach for studying organizational configurations." Academy of Management Review, 32 (4), 1180–1198.
  • Fiss, P.C., Cambré, B., & Marx, A. (2013): Configurational Theory and Methods in Organizational Research. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 38. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
  • Meyer, A.D., Gaba, V., & Colwell, K.A. (2005): "Organizing Far from Equilibrium: Nonlinear Change in Organizational Fields." Organization Science, 16 (5), 456–473.
  • Raab, J., Lemaire, R., & Provan, K. (2013): "The Configurational Approach in Organizational Network Research." In: P.C. Fiss, B. Cambré & A. Marx (eds.): Configurational Theory and Methods in Organizational Research. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 38. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, pp. 225–254.
  • Ragin, C. (1987): The Comparative Method. Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Ragin, C. (2000): Fuzzy-Set Social Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Ragin, C. (2008): Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Bart Cambré is Director of Research and Professor of Business Research Methods at Antwerp Management School, Belgium. Bridging academic insights and practical management needs are his main focus. At the EGOS Colloquiua 2012 in Helsinki and 2014 in Rotterdam, Bart Cambré, Peer C. Fiss and Axel Marx were convenors of a sub-theme on "Configurational Thinking in Organization Studies".
Peer C. Fiss is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California, USA. He is broadly interested in how meaning structures shape organizational actions and has studied this in the context of how practices diffuse, how they change, and how accounts framing and justifying practices are constructed. He also works on configurational theory using set-theoretic methods such as fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA).
Axel Marx is Deputy Director of the Leuven Center for Global Governance Studies, a University of Leuven "Centre of Excellence", Belgium. His main research interests are non-state market regulation, global governance and research methods with a specific focus on 'Qualitative Comparative Analysis'.