Sub-theme 19: Organizations and Organizing in a Welfare State Context

Susanne Boch Waldorff
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Linda Wedlin
Uppsala University, Sweden
Josef Pallas
Uppsala University, Sweden

Call for Papers

Exploring current and future welfare state challenges is not only of interest to Nordic scholars, but relevant in a broader international perspective where the balancing of liberal and social ideas form contemporary policy debates and reforms. Also the recent ideas on social and public value creation (Benington & Moore, 2011), the expansion of public-private partnerships (Mörth & Sahlin-Andersson, 2006), the whole-of-government and civil society networks (Christensen & Laegreid, 2007), the public sector digitization (Fountain, 2004), etc. add to the relevance of exploring questions on the forming of “good and appropriate organizations” in a welfare state context.
In this sub-theme we wish to revisit the ideas developed as part of the distinctive research tradition labelled “Scandinavian institutionalism” (Byrkjeflot et al., 2013; Czarniawska & Sevón, 2005; Czarniawska & Sevón, 1996). This research tradition is clearly inspired by the early institutional arguments about the spread of rational and formal organizational structures (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). The Nordic scholars, however, started during the 1980s to address institutional dynamics from a different point of view; they were interested in how pressures on organizations – such as public reforms and new management ideas – brought about variation and distinctiveness at the micro-level. This gave rise to a research tradition that displays “a preference for intensive rich, process-oriented, and qualitative approaches to the study of organization” (Boxenbaum & Strandgaard Pedersen, 2009, p. 196). Notions such as the garbage can model (Cohen et al., 1972), translation (Czarniawska & Sevón, 1996), editing (Sahlin-Andersson, 1996), hypocrisy (Brunsson, 2003), recipes (Christensen et al., 2007), and fashion (Abrahamson, 1996) were all central theoretical developments. In terms of methods, qualitative and context sensitive case studies reigned and these addressed often, but not exclusively, public sector organizations.
Recently, we notice an interest in organizational studies to include Scandinavian institutionalism concepts such as such as translation (Wæraas & Agger Nielsen, 2016), and theorizations about the local context’s importance and linkages to a global context (Drori et al., 2013). This makes it timely to discuss how and why the Scandinavian institutionalism approach may still be relevant and what makes this research approach distinct. The sub-theme will be structured into topic oriented paper sessions as well as formed around shared discussions with invited guests representing the early foundations of this research tradition.
In revisiting the Scandinavian institutionalism we encourage empirically and theoretically rich papers that focus on alternative aspects of organizing, and where questions concerning ideas and ideals of the “welfare state” are put at the centre of analysis. Papers may – but are not limited to – address the following topics:

  • Organizations and organizing of “good” under different regimes – the state, the market and civil society
  • The creation, translation and impact of institutions, logics, and models constituting ”good organizations” across societies and contexts, and their local distinction and variation
  • Intra-organizational responses to institutional complexity
  • Decision-making processes, negotiations and politics
  • Social interaction, sense-making, and interpretive processes
  • Micro-foundations of institutions; micro-level agency and practices
  • Materialization of institutions and logics
  • Contributions that largely follow the research agenda of Scandinavian institutionalism, but explicate alternative interpretative frameworks for understanding “good and appropriate” organizing from related epistemic traditions and conceptual developments



  • Abrahamson, E. (1996): “Management Fashion.” The Academy of Management Review, 21 (1), 254–285.
  • Benington, J., & Moore, M.H. (2011): Public Value. Theory and Practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Boxenbaum, E., & Strandgaard Pedersen, J. (2009): “Scandinavian institutionalism – a case of institutional work.” In: T.B. Lawrence, R. Suddaby & B. Leca (eds.): Institutional Work: Actors and Agency in Institutional Studies of Organization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 178–204.
  • Brunsson, N. (2003): “Organized Hypocrisy.” In: B. Czarniawska & G. Sevón (eds.): The Northern Lights: Organization Theory in Scandinavia. Malmö: Liber, 201–222.
  • Byrkjeflot, H., Pedersen, J.S., & Svejenova, S. (2013): “From label to practice: The process of creating new nordic cuisine.” Journal of Culinary Science & Technology, 11 (1), 36–55.
  • Christensen, T., & Laegreid, P. (2007): Transcending in Public Management. The Transformation of Public Sector Reforms. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
  • Christensen, T., Lægreid, P., Roness, P.G., & Røvik, K.A. (2007): Organization Theory and the Public Sector: Instrument, Culture and Myth. London: Routledge.
  • Cohen, M.D., March, J.G., & Olsen, J.P. (1972): “A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 17 (1), 1–25.
  • Czarniawska, B., & Sevón, G. (2005): Global Ideas: How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in the Global Economy. Malmö: Liber.
  • Czarniawska, B., & Sevón, G. (eds.) (1996): Translating Organizational Change. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Drori, G.S., Höllerer, M.A., & Walgenbach, P. (2013): Global Themes and Local Variations in Organizations and Management. Perspectives on Glocalization. New York: Routledge.
  • Fountain, J.E. (2004): Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
  • Meyer, J.W., & Rowan, B. (1977): “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.” American Journal of Sociology, 83 (2), 340–363.
  • Mörth, U., & Sahlin-Andersson, K. (2006): Privatoffentliga partnerskap. Styrning utan hierarkier och tvång. Stockholm: SNS.
  • Sahlin-Andersson, K. (1996): “Imitating by Editing Success: The Construction of Organizational Fields.” In: B. Czarniawska & G. Sevón (eds.): Translating Organizational Change. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 69–92.
  • Wæraas, A., & Agger Nielsen, J. (2016): “Translation Theory ‘Translated’: Three Perspectives on Translation in Organizational Research.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 18 (3), 236–270.
Susanne Boch Waldorff is Associate Professor at Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, where she is also the Director for Center for Health Management. Her research interests include the translation of reform and policy into organizational practices, public sector management, innovation, and professions. Her recent work has been published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘Journal of Change Management’.
Linda Wedlin is Associate Professor of Business Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. Her research interests include transnational governance and regulatory reform, institutional change, and implications of classification and evaluation practices, particularly in the field of higher education and research. Publications include the book “Ranking Business Schools” (2006, Edward Elgar), and the edited volume “Towards European Science” (2015, Edward Elgar, with Maria Nedeva). She has published work on theoretical themes such as translation, organizational templates, and the rhetorical construction of organizational fields, in journals such as ‘Organization Studies’, ‘European Management Review’, ‘Management Learning’, and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.
Josef Pallas is Associate Professor at the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden. His current research focuses on mediatization and governance of public sector organizations and universities. Some of this work was recently published in ‘Public Administration’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Media, Culture and Society’, ‘Corporate Reputation Review’ and ‘European Journal of Communication’. His general texts on mediatization include an edited volume, entitled “Organizations and Media: Organizing in a Mediatized World”, published by Routledge in 2014.