Sub-theme 07: [SWG] Doing Process Research: Performativity in the Unfolding Actions of Organizing

Barbara Simpson
Strathclyde Business School, United Kingdom
Nancy Harding
University of Bath School of Management, United Kingdom
Viviane Sergi
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Canada

Call for Papers

The notion of performativity encompasses a range of ideas that have evolved out of Austin’s (1962) linguistic pragmatics, which recognised that language does not merely represent, but it also acts to construct realities and meanings. Subsequent theoretical developments have included the discursive subjectification of Butler (1997), the posthumanist agencies of Barad (2003), and most recently the critical orientation of Spicer, Alvesson, and Kärreman (2009). In this sub-theme we are inviting empirical accounts that use any of the various theoretical perspectives on performativity to document organizing and organizational issues. Coming from a process perspective, our interest in performativity is in better understanding unexpected movements in the becoming of our continuously emerging worlds (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002), the surprising ways in which conversation constitutes and is constituted in organizing (Mead, 1934; Putnam & Nicotera, 2009), how what is hardly known may, all unawares, enter into the becoming of organizing (Bollas, 1995), what journeys emerge out of dynamic interplays between the flow of knowing and what is already known (Dewey & Bentley, 1949[1960]), how non-sentient material actors may agentively intervene (Barad, 2007), and indeed anything that the rational, Enlightened actor might disavow as having no part in social process, but which nevertheless hovers close and inserts itself into the intra-actions of performing agents (Barad, 2007). Questions such as these open up more nuanced understandings of organizing processes, but at the same time they raise serious methodological challenges concerning how to conduct and write performative studies in ways that preserve their inherent dynamics.
The main aim of this sub-theme is to open up discussion around these big methodological questions, which seem to invite a radical empiricism (James, 1912 [2006]) that requires a methodological move beyond the instrumentalism of specific tools for specific results, towards what Holzman (2008, p. 9) called a “tools-and-results” orientation, where tools and results are inherently creative dynamics that are mutually constituting. In Vygotsky’s (1978, p. 65) words “method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of the study” so the theories, models or apparatuses we use in performativity research must not be treated as mere passive instruments, but rather as actively engaged in generating new knowledge. How then should we conduct such studies, and how can we convey performative accounts in a convincing manner? We are interested in receiving papers that address these methodological questions, including papers that discuss and apply novel approaches such as travelling concepts that sensitize researchers to the dynamics of their situations (Bal, 2002), mobilities methods that explore how movements playfully and improvisationally constitute social and material realities (Büscher & Urry, 2009), and intra-actions between what Law (2004) called ‘out-therenesses’ and ‘in-herenesses’ in the making of a ‘bundled hinterland’ that is compressed and reduced under the label ‘methodology’.
We particularly welcome papers that address questions about how to write up such studies so that the inherent performativity at their heart is revealed. Performative inquiries require new ways of writing that admit the possibilities of explicating what is almost inexplicable. Such writing would be conscious not only of its part in the on-going flux and flow of becoming, but also of the need to resist containment within the strait-jacketed discipline of academic texts (Phillips et al., 2014). We further encourage the questioning of researchers’ practice in the field when interacting with data and authoring texts. And finally, we wish to consider the performativity of the conventional academic journal article format: for process studies, what does this format allow, what are its constitutive effects, and what does it limit? If we need to go beyond this format, where can we turn for inspiration, and what other forms of writing could/should we explore?
Potential topics for submissions include:

  • New ways of researching performativity in the improvisational emergence of organizing

  • Partial, localized or ephemeral accounts of performativity in organizing

  • Methodological implications of different theoretical perspectives on performativity

  • Methods that can engage with the fine processes of performative actions

  • Travelling concepts, mobilities and intra-actions in performativity research

  • Surprise and playfulness in the temporal experience of performativity

  • Reflexivity and the unexpected in performativity research

  • The un-thought known and its performative eruption into the known

  • New and different ways of presenting empirical material about performative organizing

  • Challenges of writing up processual studies, and the performative effects of the conventional formatting of research

  • Ways of slipping our moorings to Western/Enlightenment thought

  • Ways of writing from/as/about materialities as aspects of the performative;

  • And much more …

This sub-theme proposal should be read alongside the statement of purpose for the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG 10): “Doing Process Research”, which seeks to encourage new empirical contributions that engage with the philosophical underpinnings of process research in organization studies.



  • Austin, J.L. (1962): How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bal, M. (2002): Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Barad, K. (2003): “Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28 (3), 801–831.
  • Barad, K. (2007): Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press.
  • Bollas, C. (1995): Cracking Up. The Work of Unconscious Experience. London: Routledge.
  • Büscher, M., & Urry, J. (2009): “Mobile Methods and the Empirical.” European Journal of Social Theory, 12 (1), 99–116.
  • Butler, J. (1997): Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge.
  • Dewey, J., & Bentley, A.F. (1949 [1960]): Knowing and the Known. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Holzman, L. (2008): Vygotsky at Work and Play. London: Routledge.
  • James, W. (1912 [2006]): Essays in Radical Empiricism. London: Longmans, Green and Company.
  • Law, J. (2004): After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge.
  • Mead, G.H. (1934): Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Phillips, M., Pullen, A., & Rhodes, C. (2014): “Writing organization as gendered practice: Interrupting the libidinal economy.” Organization Studies, 35 (3), 313–333.
  • Putnam, L.L., & Nicotera, A.M. (eds.) (2009): Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. New York: Routledge.
  • Spicer, A., Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2009): “Critical performativity: The unfinished business of critical management studies.” Human Relations, 62 (4), 537–560.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change." Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978): Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Barbara Simpson is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Dynamics in the Department of Strategy & Organization at Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow, UK. Her thinking about process is deeply informed by the American Pragmatists who emphasize the intertwining of agency and temporality in practice. Her published work appears in journals including ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.
Nancy Harding is Professor of Organization Theory at the University of Bath School of Management, UK. Her thinking about process is intertwined with Judith Butler’s interpretation of performativity and, increasingly, materialities’ insertion into process. She has written two sole-authored books and her papers have appeared in the usual journals.
Viviane Sergi is Associate Professor in Management in the Department of Management and Technology as ESG UQAM in Montréal, Canada. Her research interests include process thinking, performativity and the practice of academic writing. Her recent studies have explored how communication is, in various settings, constitutive of organizational phenomena, such as work, strategy and leadership. Her work has been published in journal such as ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Human Relations’, and ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, amongst others.