PDW 09: Strategy-as-Practice Community Day: Different Approaches of Researching SAP and Large Social Phenomena

Katharina Dittrich
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Shenghui Ma
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Violetta Splitter
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Tania Weinfurtner
University of Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Applications

Please note: Contrary to the other PDWs, the Strategy-as-Practice (SAP) Community Day will take place all day on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, i.e. 09:30–13:00 and 14:00–17:00!

This year’s SAP Community Day PDW has collaborated with an emerging initiative on “Researching Large Social Phenomena”. Hence, this PDW consists of two parts for which you can register separately or in combination. The morning session (09:30–13:00) focuses on different theoretical perspectives in Strategy-as-Practice research. The afternoon session (14:00–17:00) brings together different EGOS communities to discuss how to study large social phenomena, an interest shared by SAP and many other scholars at EGOS.

PART I: Different Theoretical Perspectives in Strategy-as-Practice Research

This session is aimed at discussing the main theoretical perspectives in SAP research, some related to social theories (i.e., Bourdieu, Giddens, and Foucault) and some related to organizational theories (i.e., narratives, sensemaking, institutional theory). We invited international experts as panelists, each of whom will introduce a perspective and discuss its advantages and limitations in examining SAP phenomena:

  • Julia Balogun (Sensemaking)

  • Andrew Brown (Narratives)

  • Marie-Leandre Gomez (Bourdieu)

  • Paula Jarzabkowski (Giddens/Schatzki)

  • David Knights (Foucault)

  • Roy Suddaby (Institutional Theory)

Chaired by David Seidl, the panel will subsequently draw comparisons among different perspectives in terms of how to treat a set of key theoretical issues.
After a coffee break, a roundtable session will be conducted to discuss the application of each theoretical perspective in empirical research. Participants will join the different roundtables according to their interests. In order to discuss the challenges of applying the theoretical perspective and the tactic of dealing with them, each panelist will go through a published paper that draws on the respective perspective with the participants. Participants can also discuss with the panelist specific problems in conducting empirical research.

PART II: Connections in Action – How different EGOS Communities Study Large Social Phenomena

One of the challenges that process, practice and organizational routine studies share with other micro-sociological approaches (Collins, 1981) is how to deal with large social phenomena (Nicolini, forthcoming), such as the nature and functioning of financial markets, globalized terrorism, the rise and fall of large institutional arrangements, the global travel of ideas and ideologies, inequality, the failures of bureaucracy and the future of work, climate change, sustainability and the future of the planet. These phenomena constitute the ‘big issues’ or ‘grand challenges’ (Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015; George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, forthcoming) of our time as they are particularly consequential for human activity and yet difficult to grasp and tackle.
While work in this direction is beginning to emerge (see, for example, work on financial markets by Jarzabkowski et al., 2015; on climate change: Howard-Grenville et al., 2014; Wittneben et al., 2012; on globalization: Drori et al. 2014; on big data: George et al., 2014; on institutional arrangements: Gehman et al., 2016), current theoretical and methodological approaches appear to be generally ill-equipped to grasp social phenomena that are increasingly “complex, dynamic, distributed, mobile, transient, and unprecedented” (Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011: 1240; see also Ferraro et al., 2015). As a consequence, studies primarily concerned with understanding local situated action have been accused of ‘micro-isolationism’ (Seidl & Whittington, 2014), cutting off situated actions from the larger phenomena that make them possible. In contrast, studies describing large phenomena by focusing on macro-level dynamics and processes are accused of lacking practice relevance as practitioners struggle to grasp the relevance of these abstract ideas to their local practices and everyday work. Thus, scholarly attempts of grasping large social phenomena through their local enactments are also closely related to what can be done about them.
This session is a follow-up from the “Connections in Action” Workshop at Warwick University in December 2016. The aim is to bring representatives from different EGOS communities together and to gain more in-depth insights in how the respective communities explore large phenomena. The workshop will facilitate cross-community conversations on key questions, such as: How can we study large social phenomena through their local enactments? How can we theorize them? And what can organization studies bring to grand challenges?

After an introduction by Katharina Dittrich and Davide Nicolini, a panel discussion will start with each expert providing a 5–6 minute overview of how the respective community/sub-theme approaches the study of large social phenomena:

  • Richard Whittington as representative for the SAP community (sub-theme 50)

  • Luciana D’Adderio as representative for the Routines Community (SWG 06)

  • Dennis Schoeneborn as representative for the CCO Community (SWG 05)

  • Anthony Hussenot as representative for the Process Community (SWG 10)

  • Joel Gehman as a representative for sustainability and grand challenges (sub-theme 26 and SWG 2018–2021 on Institutions, Innovation and Impact)

  • Martin Kornberger (sub-theme 63 focusing on “thinking infrastructures”)

  • Klaus Weber as representative for social movement research (sub-theme 32)

After a coffee breack, each of the experts from the different EGOS communities will facilitate a roundtable and provide more in-depth insights into how the respective community/perspective explores large social phenomena. We will have two rounds of roundtables, 30 minutes each, to allow each participant a chance to attend two roundtables.



Please register for this PDW – via the EGOS website – by uploading a single document that includes the following information:

(1) Name, affiliation and area of research

(2) Which part(s) of the PDW do you want to attend?

For PART I, please select one roundtable:

  • Julia Balogun (Sensemaking)

  • Andrew Brown (Narratives)

  • Marie-Leandre Gomez (Bourdieu)

  • Paula Jarzabkowski (Giddens/Schatzki)

  • David Knights (Foucault)

  • Roy Suddaby (Institutional Theory)

For PART II, please select two roundtables:

  • Richard Whittington (SAP Community, sub-theme 50)

  • Luciana D’Adderio (Routines Community, SWG 06)

  • Dennis Schoeneborn (CCO Community, SWG 05)

  • Anthony Hussenot (Process Community, SWG 10)

  • Joel Gehman (Sustainability, sub-theme 26)

  • Martin Kornberger (Infrastructures, sub-theme 63)

  • Klaus Weber (Social Movement, sub-theme 32)




  • Drori, G.S., Höllerer, M.A., & Walgenbach, P. (2014): Global Themes and Local Variations in Organization and Management: Perspectives on Glocalization. New York: Routledge.

  • Feldman, M.S., & Orlikowski, W.J. (2011): “Practicing Theory and Theorizing Practice.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1240–1253.

  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.

  • Gehman, J., Lounsbury, M., & Greenwood, R. (2016): “How Institutions Matter: From the Micro Foundations of Institutional Impacts to the Macro Consequences of Institutional Arrangements.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 48A, 1–34.

  • George, G., Haas, M.R., & Pentland, A. (2014: “Big Data and Management.” Academy of Management Journal, 57 (2), 321–326.

  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J.A., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (forthcoming): “Introduction to the Special Research Forum: Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research.” Academy of Management Journal.

  • Howard-Grenville, J., Buckle, S.J., Hoskins, B.J., & George, G. (2014): “Climate Change and Management.” Academy of Management Journal, 57 (3), 615–623.

  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., & Spee, P. (2015): Making a Market for Acts of God. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Nicolini, D. (forthcoming): Is Small the Only Beautiful? Making Sense of ‘Large Phenomena’ from a Practice-Based Perspective.

  • Seidl, D., & Whittington, R. (2014): “Enlarging the Strategy-as-Practice Research Agenda: Towards Taller and Flatter Ontologies.” Organization Studies, 35 (10), 1407–1421.

  • Wittneben, B.B.F., Okereke, C., Banerjee, S.B., & Levy, D.L. (2012): “Climate Change and the Emergence of New Organizational Landscapes.” Organization Studies, 33 (11): 1431–1450.


Katharina Dittrich is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Her research interests include organizational routines and strategic planning, with a particular emphasis on practice-theoretical approaches and qualitative research methods. She currently serves as the Membership Chair for the SAP Interest Group at the Academy of Management. Her work has been published in ‘Organization Science’ and the “Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice”.
Shenghui Ma is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and Visiting Researcher at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK. His research focuses on CEO succession, top management team dynamics, strategic change and sensemaking. He is currently a representative­at­large for the Strategy Practice IG at the Strategic Management Society. His work has been published in ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’ and ‘Strategic Management Journal’.
Violetta Splitter is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Her research interests include Strategy as Practice, Open Strategy and practical relevance. She recently conducted an ethnography of participation in strategy making. Her work has been published in ‘Organization’ and the ‘Journal of Applied Behavioural Science’. She also contributed to the “Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice”.
Tania Weinfurtner is a Research Associate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. She was a visiting scholar at the Centre for Management and Organisation Studies, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on organizational spaces and Strategy as Practice, in particular how strategic issues emerge and develop through people’s front-stage and back-stage interactions. She has been conducting a one-year ethnography of strategy work in a large firm.