Sub-theme 63: Organizing Intermediated Work: Conflicts, Cultures, and Regulatory Challenges

Andreas Pekarek
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Rick Delbridge
Cardiff University, United Kingdom
Markus Helfen
University of Innsbruck, Austria

Call for Papers

Today, the relationship between organizations and their workforce is often marked by a high degree of fragmentation into "various worlds of work" (Delbridge & Sallaz, 2015). Buzzwords such as the ‘digital economy’, the ‘gig economy’ or the ‘platform economy’ indicate that organizations are redrawing their boundaries to engage in value capture through brokerage within and across networks (e.g. Grimshaw & Rubery, 2005). One result is that work becomes intermediated through agencies of all sorts, giving rise to a range of (inter)-organizational forms and practices for organizing work across shifting and fuzzy boundaries (e.g. Bonet et al., 2013; Felstiner, 2011; Spinuzzi, 2012): online platforms, temporary work agencies, labour subcontractors, multi-employer sites, subcontractor-vendor-customer triads, crowdworking, and new sites of production such as co-working spaces. These developments are commonly explained by an implicit technological determinism whereby new internet technology allow organizations to become more fluid and network-like. In the process, regular jobs are replaced by more precarious, casual and insecure forms of labour, and value creation activities are shifted to the consumer (or displaced entirely through automation). Although technological considerations are important, we invite contributions that focus on the human side of organizing intermediated work in and beyond organizations.
By focusing on the emerging worlds of intermediated work, the sub-theme aims to continue the interdisciplinary exchange between the fields of organization studies and industrial relations (IR). Recently, organization studies have reengaged with the centrality of jobs (e.g. Cohen, 2016) to account for the fact that the bulk of organizational activity is undertaken by people that depend on their labour power for subsistence. This renewed focus on jobs also suggests the importance of IR for theorizing organizations. IR emphasizes the ever-present potential for conflict at work by examining questions of individual and collective representation of workers and employers at the workplace and beyond, providing for a locally-negotiated, context-dependent, power-sensitive and relational interpretation of organizing work. At the same time, intermediated work alters the organization-work nexus in fundamental ways, thereby challenging traditional accounts of the relationships between capital and labour in IR.
By exploring common theoretical ground as well as divergent insights, we invite contributions that reveal how intermediary forms of organizing can be theorized for understanding the contemporary world(s) of work:
(1) Conflicts in and about intermediated work. As organizations delegate their responsibility for workers to others by sub-contracting and other forms of hiring through internet platforms and other intermediaries, important questions arise over where authority (and its flipside, responsibility) is located in intermediated work, how such work changes stakeholders’ interests (Helfen, 2015), how sourcing and use of intermediated work redefines value appropriation, and how its associated benefits and costs are distributed (Meuris & Leana, 2015). – Specific questions include:

  • How is intermediated work relating to more traditional form of work, how is its deployment justified, and by whom?

  • To what extent are already existing societal inequalities intensified or ameliorated in and through various forms of intermediated work?

  • How is it resisted individually and transformed collectively?

  • And are historical forms of labour exploitation such as spot contracts, gang master systems and inside contracting (e.g. Kieser, 1994) simply making an electronic reappearance?

  • How does management reflexively enact intermediated work arrangements, and what are the implications for organizations as hybrid employers?

(2) Cultures of intermediated work. Intermediated work also raises questions of culture, ethics and solidarity at work. New tensions and contradictions for identity and group formation in the relationship between organizations and individuals are likely to arise in and through intermediated forms of value creation and fluid organizational forms. At the intersection of organizations and work, these tensions involve issues of boundary work, categorization and valorizing work (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010; Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013). Furthermore, the redefinition of the division of labour between consumers and front-line workers also raises questions about whose interests are being served (Gabriel et al., 2015). – Specific questions include:

  • How are various categories of intermediated work – from low paying jobs to professional and self-employed labour – socially constructed?

  • How are the new ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in labour markets and organizations defined?

  • How do workers and employers construct their interests and identities?

  • To what extent are the distinctions between consumers and producers blurred?

  • Why do people go on toiling even if their conditions deteriorate in the fissured and fragmented workplaces of ever-more complex domestic and global supply chains and production networks?

(3) Regulating intermediated work. Intermediated work poses regulatory challenges, because the traditional institutions of work are bound to the bilateral employment relationship. Unions face the dual challenge of effectively representing both a (shrinking) core workforce as well as a growing number of organizationally detached workers. State regulators face the challenge of avoidance tactics by companies that deploy various forms of intermediated work to circumvent the safeguards of labour law (Alexander, 2016; Weil, 2011; Anner et al., 2013). Also, these developments suggest new social cleavages beyond the traditional capital-labour divide (e.g. Tapia et al., 2015; Gahan & Pekarek, 2013; Spicer & Böhm, 2007). – Specific questions include:

  • What are the capacities of intermediated workers to form their own unions (e.g. Uber drivers)?

  • How can unions and other meta-organizations reorganize to account for intermediated work?

  • Are other organizational forms like civil society organizations, consumer groups, professional associations, and internet tools assuming greater importance in representing workers?

  • Or do direct forms of worker participation, community self-help, diversity management and consumer activism offer effective substitutes for traditional forms of collective action?

  • What might be effective new legal and regulatory instruments?

Based on the above, we invite short papers that aim to deepen our understanding of the organization-work nexus in intermediated work. We are interested in both empirical and conceptual papers addressing various levels of analysis. We are curious about contributions from areas such as comparative institutional analysis, social movement theory and meta-organizations, organizational institutionalism, CSR, Marxist organization studies, the sociology of the professions, micropolitics in transnational corporations, labour law and diversity management.



  • Alexander, C.S. (2016): “Legal avoidance and the restructuring of work.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 47, 311–331.
  • Anner, M., Bair, J., & Blasi, J. (2013): “Toward joint liability in global supply chains: Addressing the root causes of labor violations in international subcontracting networks.” Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal, 35 (1), 1–43.
  • Bonet, R., Cappelli, P., & Hamori, M. (2013): “Labor market intermediaries and the new paradigm for human resources.” Academy of Management Annals, 7 (1), 341–392.
  • Cohen, L.E. (2016): “Jobs as Gordian knots: A new perspective linking individuals, task, organizations and institutions.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 47, 25–59.
  • Delbridge, R., & Sallaz, J.J. (2015): “Work: Four worlds and ways of seeing.” Organizations Studies, 36, 1449–1462.
  • Felstiner, A. (2011): “Working the crowd. Employment and Labor Law in the crowd sourcing industry.” Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law, 32 (1), 143–203.
  • Gabriel, Y., Korczynski, M., & Rieder, K. (2015): “Organizations and their consumers: Bridging work and consumption.” Organization, 22 (5), 629–643.
  • Gahan, P., & Pekarek, A. (2013): “Social Movement Theory, Collective Action Frames and Union Theory: A Critique and Extension.” British Journal of Industrial Relations, 51, 754–776.
  • Grimshaw, D., & Rubery, J. (2005): “Inter-capital relations and the network organisation: redefining the work and employment nexus.” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 29, 1027–1051.
  • Gray, B., & Kish-Gephart, J.J. (2013): “Encountering social class differences at work: How "class work" perpetuates inequality.” Academy of Management Review, 38, 670–699.
  • Helfen, M. (2015): “Institutionalizing precariousness? The politics of boundary work in legalizing agency work in Germany, 1949–2004.” Organization Studies, 36 (10), 1387–1422.
  • Kieser, A. (1994): “Why organization theory needs historical analysis – And how this should be performed.” Organization Science, 5, 608–620.
  • Meuris, J., & Leana, C.R. (2015): “The high cost of low wages: Economic scarcity effects in organizations.” Research in Organizational Behaviour, 35, 143–158.
  • Spicer, A., & Böhm, S. (2007): “Moving management: Theorizing struggles against the hegemony of management.” Organization Studies, 28, 1667–1698.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2012): “Working alone together: Coworking as emergent collaborative activity.” Journal of Business and technical communication, 26 (4), 399–441.
  • Tapia, M., Ibsen, C.L., & Kochan, T.A. (2015): “Mapping the frontier of theory in industrial relations. The contested role of worker representation.” Socio-Economic Review, 13, 157–184.
  • Weil, D. (2011): “Enforcing labor standards in fissured workplaces: The US experience.” Economic and Labour Relations Review, 22 (2), 33–54.
  • Zietsma, C., & Lawrence, T.B. (2010): “Institutional work in the transformation of an organizational field: The interplay of boundary work and practice work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 55, 189–221.


Andreas Pekarek is a Lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Andreas has published in such journals as ‘The British Journal of Industrial Relations’, ‘Industrial Relations Journal’, ‘European Journal of Industrial Relations’, and ‘Industrial and Labor Relations Review’. His research focuses on unions and worker representation, collective bargaining, professional work, and interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to work and industrial relations.
Rick Delbridge is Cardiff University’s Dean of Research, Innovation & Enterprise and Professor of Organizational Analysis at Cardiff Business School, UK. He has published widely in leading international journals across the range of employment relations, management and organization studies. His current research interests include work, workplace relations and the management of innovation. He is currently leading Cardiff University’s plans to create a social science research park (SPARK). Rick was co-organizer of the Marxist Organization Studies sub-theme at several previous EGOS Colloquia and guest-edited a special-themed section on this topic for ‘Organization Studies’ in 2015.
Markus Helfen is Professor of Human Resource Management at the Department of Organisation and Learning, University of Innsbruck, Austria. Markus has recently published in leading management and industrial relations journals like ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘The British Journal of Industrial Relations’, and the ‘International Journal of Human Resource Management’. His research focuses on management, industrial and employment relations, advances in institutional theory and collective action in inter-firm networks.