Sub-theme 31: Management, Playful Affordances and Organization Theory [merged with sub-theme 58]

Steffen Roth
La Rochelle Business School, France
Mikko Vesa
Hanken School of Economics, Finland
Harald Warmelink
NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

In his play “Biography: A game”, Swiss dramatist and novelist Max Frisch gives a middle-aged researcher the opportunity to restart his life at any point of his biography and change his decisions and actions. The current digital transformation of management and organization is acting as director of a similar play. Since digitalization does not stop at randomly producing digital copies of analog content, this epochal transformation involves an option to jettison the obsolete among the analog concepts, which again opens a historic windows of opportunity through which we can review and redesign our collective biography as researchers in management and organization. Frisch stage-manages biography as accumulation of mistakes and failures. The game is hence designed to have a bad end: The researcher keenly avoids any larger surprise, and after a small series of halfhearted modifications his situation is even somewhat worse than in his cheerless original biography. The key message received is that a unique opportunity deserves to be met by more than incremental change. The digital transformation of management and organization therefore is a veritable call to large-scale redesigns of both forms and contents of research in management and organization, while the second message sent by Biography is that such games end badly if researchers remain just actors in a play rather than also acting playfully, thus redirecting the game.
The perfect organization is cradled in Weberian ideals of rationality and efficiency. But it is a bleak, featureless, faceless site of work. However, hidden behind this pokerface of rationality and efficiency is an organizational reality both pulsing and playful. Organizations are full of mischievous chances, of vain displays of prowess, of performative spectacles, of frenzied bodily initiations. The everyday life of organizations is filled with schemes, plays, games and stratagems. These result in organizations frequented by surprise, serendipity and shock. Play is amongst mankind’s oldest forms of organizing. But to understand how play, games and organization interact we should examine more in detail what sorts of playful or gamelike affordances we can find in different organizational contexts. Affordances are possibilities for (inter) action present in items, concepts and situations. Many other affordances, however, are hidden, or they can only emerge in certain contexts. In design, primary affordances are intentionally made visible, and design theory’s interpretation of the concept usually counts as affordances only the properties that can be perceived. For example, a spoon presents its ability to convey liquids quite easily, and a good spoon enables that conveyance both efficiently and pleasantly. In this sense, games and playful artifacts are items that have been intentionally designed and constructed to afford play. They contain elements meant to motivate and afford enjoyment; and can also facilitate this as parts of other systems, processes and activities. Gamification, in turn, takes some such affordances and imposes them upon tasks that would not normally be considered playful.
The objective of this sub-theme is to meet scholars who do or intend to conceptualize and develop management and organization theory as game or desire to study the affordances of play in organizational contexts. To this end, conceptual or concept papers as much as alternative formats are invited that potentially go beyond addressing gamification as topic of management and organization theories or tool of management learning, respectively. In this sub-theme, we will be keen to read and listen to ideas how forms of play and game may considerable reshape the forms and functions of theorizing on management and organization, thus creating windows of opportunity for surprising and explorative scholarship.
These ideas may correspond to the subsequent non-exclusive list of tags, topics, and teasers:

  • Gamification: Tools, trends, and test cases for a serious or simply playful gamification of management and organization theory
  • Retooling: Experiences with or anticipations of new tools for theory design (Lego, computer programs, artworks, etc.)
  • Improvisation: Techniques of bricolage and yesanding for going beyond paradigmatic frames
  • Abduction: Explorations in speculative forms of reasoning and theorizing
  • Flirt: Ways to almost thoughtlessly and intuitively discover next steps, missing links, and hidden desires
  • Dance: Theory as only one side of an ever-oscillating distinction that keeps us in e-/motion
  • Sampling: Management and organization theory as techno science or: lessons to be learnt from electronic music DJs and VJs
  • Scratching: New strategies for decomposing theories or building theories from scratch
  • Backmasking: New sounds of old theories played backwards or reloaded
  • Reverse-engineering: Reverse theory engineering as practice for theory learning and new theory design
  • Digital transformation: Sources and codes for the digital transformation of management and organization research
  • Hacking: Creative-destructive (digital) tools for theory re-/design


Steffen Roth is Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the La Rochelle School of Business (France) and Professor of Sociology at the Yerevan State University (Armenia). He was awarded a PhD in management from Chemnitz University of Technology (Germany) and holds another PhD in organizational sociology from University of Geneva (Switzerland). He was Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at Rennes School of Business (France), Visiting Professor at the International University of Rabat (Morocco), the University of Cagliari (Italy), the Copenhagen Business School (Denmark), and the Yerevan State University (Armenia). His research fields include organization theory, functional differentiation, next societies, ideation and crowdsourcing, and culturomics.
Mikko Vesa is an Assistant Professor at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. His research focuses on intersections between games and organizations, strategy as practice, management temporality and qualitative research methods. His research has been published in journals such as ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘Organization Studies’. Mikko has been involved in organizing the EGOS Colloquium 2012 in Helsinki, acted as sub-theme convenor and currently serves on the editorial board of ‘Organization Studies’.
Harald Warmelink is a researcher at the Academy for Digital Entertainment, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands. His research projects and resulting publications are on the intersection of game studies and organization studies. At the moment, he is particularly focused on the development, use and evaluation of gaming simulations and serious games for policy analysis, decision-making, management and organization. He is the author of the book “Online Gaming and Playful Organization” (2014, Routledge) and has published in journals such as ‘British Journal of Educational Technology’, ‘Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds’, and ‘Organization Studies’.