Sub-theme 38: Bringing Emotions out of the Shadows of Institutions

W.E. Douglas Creed
University of Rhode Island, USA
Maxim Voronov
Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Canada
Rich DeJordy
D'Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University, USA

Call for Papers

In the last decade, neo-institutional theory has struggled to answer the question of what to do about people (Hallett & Ventresca, 2006) and to fend off criticisms that it has failed to examine how people experience institutions. In recent institutional scholarship, one response has been increased attention to the role of emotions in institutional processes (Creed et al., 2014; Voronov & Vince, 2012). As part of the growing movement to bring emotions and people’s lived experience of institutional arrangements to the fore of institutional analysis, two sub-themes at the 2012 and 2014 EGOS Colloquia focused on the role of emotions in institutional processes and institutional work (EGOS 2012, Helsinki) and on how emotions facilitate institutional control and resistance (EGOS 2014, Rotterdam).

While work on emotions in institutions is still relatively speaking in its infancy, it is already clear that two of its core challenges are theorizing institutional processes across levels of analysis and understanding how emotions play a role in the subjectification and disciplining of institutional inhabitants. In terms of theorizing across levels of analysis, there are several reasons this poses a major challenge: first, it requires bridging disciplinary divides between micro psychological, meso social psychological, and macro sociological perspectives; second, it means attending in ways almost unprecedented in organizational institutionalism to the meso level realm of the interaction order as the location for institutional enactments and the operation of intersubjective disciplinary power (Fine & Hallett, 2014); and third, it calls for focusing theoretically and empirically on the mechanisms that link phenomena across the levels, mechanisms which per force traverse the neglected meso level.

Unfortunately, the welcome increase in attention to the micro foundations of institutions, as an alternative to dominant macro-level focus on field dynamics, has eclipsed to some degree the need to look to the meso to better understand persons' lived experience of institutional arrangements. Yet, it is the meso-level where we are most likely to find the critical linking mechanisms that subjectify people and connect them to the institutions by disciplining and aligning their subjectivities with the demands of institutional orders (Cooper et al., 2008; Creed et al., 2014).

Further explorations of the role of emotions in the meso level social interactions that both underpin institutional processes and link levels of analysis can fundamentally recast a variety of important institutional constructs by engaging the role of emotions both in mechanisms of unobtrusive disciplinary power and in overt acts of juridical power. In sum, we believe that continued research and dialogue on the socio-emotional nature of persons' lived experience of institutions will further dislodge the implicit image of a boundedly rational and strategic human actor at the heart of much of neo-institutional research. The alternative image we seek to explore in this sub-theme is one of people as emotionally and cognitively complex beings, doubly-embedded in systems of social relations and institutionalized systems of meaning, whose enactments of institutional prescriptions and the meanings they attached to them are shaped and disciplined by their emotional and cognitive experiences of institutions as concretized through their lived experience in those systems of social relations.

In line with our call for increased focus on the role of socio-emotional mechanisms at the meso level in the subjectification and disciplining institutional inhabitants, here is a non-exhaustive list of the kind of topics we are interested in exploring in this sub-theme:

  • How might identity and identity construction, key constructs in many institutional studies, be recast in light of a fuller recognition of the role of social interactions and power in the complex processes of subjectification?
  • What are the diverse ways that socio-emotional mechanisms figure in the subjectification of persons capable of participating in different forms of institutional work?
  • What are the key emotional dimensions of persons' institutional biographies and how do they figure differentially in the capacity and impetus for institutional reproduction, critique, or subversion? Is there an emotional structure to institutional subjectivities?
  • How might the understanding of macro level institutional myths (Meyer & Rowan, 1977) be enriched by exploring the ways such myths figure in subjectification and enable people to submit themselves to institutional control?
  • How might we understand the role of institutional logics in prescribing and proscribing certain emotions – valorizing some emotions (whether positive or negative), while stigmatizing others? How are such emotion rules made real in day-to-day interactions? How are such emotion rules implicated in persons' subjectivities?
  • How might various social and moral emotions (e.g., embarrassment, guilt, jealousy, envy, resentment, empathy, pride) trigger different forms of institutional engagement? What are the personal stakes of such forms of institutional engagement?
  • To what extent does effort – a key component of institutional work (Lawrence et al., 2011) – have to be consciously or instrumentally motivated, and what role might emotions and unconscious desires that are part of persons' subjectivities play in enabling or hindering such effort?

These questions are not exhaustive of possible contributions. We welcome empirical and theoretical papers that draw upon organizational institutionalism, critical management studies, and the sociology of emotions, including kindred approaches such as symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, social/cultural/political psychology, cultural and social history, psychoanalytic theory, identity theories, social movement theory, relational sociology, and sensemaking.




  • Cooper, D.J., Ezzamel, M., & Willmott, H. (2008): "Examining 'Institutionalization': A Critical Theoretic Perspective." In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, K. Sahlin & R. Suddaby (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 673–701.
  • Creed, W.E.D., Hudson, B.A., Okhuysen, G.A., & Smith-Crowe, K. (2014): "Swimming in a Sea of Shame: Incorporating Emotion into Explanations of Institutional Reproduction and Change." Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 275–301.
  • Fine, G.A., & Hallett, T. (2014): "Group Cultures and the Everyday Life of Organizations: Interaction Orders and Meso-Analysis." Organization Studies, 35 (12), 1773–1792.
  • Hallett, T., & Ventresca, M.J. (2006): "Social Interactions and Organizational Forms in Gouldner's 'Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy'." Theory and Society, 35 (2), 213–236.
  • Lawrence, T.B., Suddaby, R., & Leca, B. (2011): "Institutional Work: Refocusing Institutional Studies of Organization." Journal of Management Inquiry, 20 (1), 52–58.
  • Meyer, J.W., & Rowan, B. (1977): "Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony." American Journal of Sociology, 83 (2), 340–363.
  • Voronov, M., & Vince, R. (2012): "Integrating Emotions into the Analysis of Institutional Work." The Academy of Management Review, 37 (1), 58–81.


W.E. Douglas Creed Professor of Management at the University of Rhode Island, USA. His research on institutional change processes has looked at social-identity based activism, the dynamics of voice, and the role of social emotions, such as shame, in processes of subjectification and power in institutional settings. His work has appeared in the 'Academy of Management Review', 'Academy of Management Journal', 'Organization Science', 'Journal of Management Inquiry', 'Journal of Applied Behavioral Science', 'Research in the Sociology of Organizations', and the 'Journal of Management Studies'.
Maxim Voronov is at the Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Canada. His research interests include institutional work, emotions and power. His publications have appeared in 'Academy of Management Review', 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Human Relations', and 'Organization', among others.
Rich DeJordy at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, USA. His research focuses on understanding how actors' experiences and expressions of identity interact with the social structures in which they are embedded, particularly social institutions and networks. His work has been published in 'Academy of Management Journal', 'Organization Studies', 'Research in the Sociology of Organizations', 'Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice', and 'Group & Organization Management'.