Sub-theme 57: Object-oriented Ontologies and Organizations Studies ---> Merged with sub-theme 01


Call for Papers

Surprise is causation that we did not expect or anticipate and/or could not control. In a world ever more ordered by the diktats of an increasingly imperial risk management (Martin 2007; 2015), we seem less and less able to value the unexpected. A classic example from the organization studies canon that has recently become enjoined in controversy turns around how one should best make sense of the Mann Gulch disaster that formed a key exemplar for Weick of the powers of sensemaking and the costs of its breakdown (Weick, 1993, 1996; Basbøll, 2010; Holt & Cornelissen, 2014). For recent forays back into the sources from which Weick draws reveal the potential to situate the source of the disaster not so much in any failure of ‘leadership’ on the part of the “smokejumpers’ in the face of surprising turns in the fire’s development but rather in a ‘conflagration of forces” (Maclean, 1992, cited in Basbøll, 2010), that was “neither material nor social but, simply, infernal” (Basbøll, 2010, p. 89).
Recently object-oriented-ontology (O-O-O) has proposed that objects change, assert attraction on one another, generate time and space around themselves, but never cease to exist. Graham Harman’s example is putting a match to cotton (2005). There is cotton and there is a match, then there is smoldering and smoke, and thereafter there is ash; at all moments there are objects. Objects change and retreat, are transformed and reappear as something else. There is never NO object and there is never an object that is totally given to an observer. For social constructivism, the object is in the eye of the perceiver and ‘surprise’ is a subjective quality. For O-O-O the object is only partially visible or present and always ‘strange’, uncertain and somewhat indeterminate. Weick tries to control or even banish ‘surprise’; O-O-O asserts that objects are always and can only be ‘surprising’.
Graham Harman and his co-conspirators work within a field that has come to be known as ‘speculative realism’ which has garnered increasing attention in recent years, although, as of yet, there has been little direct incursion into the administrative and organizational sciences. We hope to begin to rectify this situation with this sub-theme. Speculative realism offers potential to encounter surprise anew through a different conceptualisation of the ‘objects’ that make up our world. In Harman’s particular version of speculative realism – ‘object oriented ontology’ –, objects are always pregnant with potential to surprise for they are essentially ‘cryptic’ in their being, with much of their reality in retreat from any attempt to fully comprehend them. Objects, in this view, are made of parts and can themselves be parts of other objects. Yet despite being made up of other objects, despite unleashing surprising effects on other objects, an object has a realness that exceeds any under- or over-pinnings. The habits of thought that Harman breaks with either undermine or overmine the object qua object when they respectively seek to reduce the object to its components or see it merely as a part and nothing more than a part, of some greater whole.
The agency of objects has been typified and described by Harman as entailing multiple processes. New objects are combines of the “notes” (Harman, 2005, p. 211) or “sensual qualities” (Harman, 2011, p. 128) of their progenitors, formed when one object “allures” (Harman, 2005, p. 211) another into interaction. Interaction, which includes the intervention of the perceived ‘sensual objects’ between the limitless ‘real objects’ that are their cousins. We can only know the events of ‘vicarious causation’ (Harman, 2007) through which objects interact; the real objects themselves are too much in retreat to interact directly.
What happens if we take objects seriously, and not just as the products of enactments, in cases like Mann Gulch? What surprising landscapes and eventful circumstances would we discover? What existing organization studies concepts might be set afire?
Papers of interest to the sub-theme could consider addressing the following themes (although we in no sense see this as an exclusive or exhaustive list of the possibilities):

  • What are the implications for risk management of taking objects seriously (in the Harmanian sense)? How, for example, are the objects of (high) finance and more pedestrian concerns such as human shelter, related?

  • If organizations (seen as objects) mutate and change, but never end, should they be seen as without telos but only as processes?

  • How do accounts and accountability (really) relate to the objects that they claim to survey? What can we say of the objects of strategy, policy, plans and operations if all objects are partially seen and incompletely perceived?

  • If all perception is tentative and limited is surprise still surprising? Does event differ from surprise?

  • W(h)ither ethics in an object oriented world whose ‘flat ontology’ significantly problematizes an easy attribution of agency? How do we orient to ethics when we struggle with constant surprise?



  • Basbøll, T. (2010): “Multiple failures of scholarship: Karl Weick and the Mann Gulch disaster.” In: P. Armstrong & G. Lightfoot (eds.): The Leading Journal in the Field: Destabilising Authority in the Social Sciences of Management. London: Mayfly, 85–102.
  • Harman, G. (2005): Guerilla Metaphysics. Chicago: Open Court Books.
  • Harman, G. (2007): “On Vicarious Causation.” In: R. Mackay (ed.): Collapse II: Speculative Realism. Falmouth: Urbanomic, 187–221.
  • Harman, G. (2011): The Quadruple Object. Winchester: Zero Books.
  • Holt, R., & Cornelissen, J. (2014): “Sensemaking revisited.” Management Learning, 45 (5), 525–539.
  • Maclean, N. (1992): Young Men and Fires. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Martin, R. (2007): An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management. London: Duke University Press.
  • Martin, R. (2015): Knowledge LTD. Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Weick, K. (1993): “The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 38 (4), 628–652.
  • Weick, K. (1996): “Drop your tools: an allegory for organization studies.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 41 (2), 301–313.