Sub-theme 53: The Translation of Ideas and Practices: Exemplary Studies and Developments

Dimitrios Spyridonidis
Warwick University Business School, United Kingdom
Davide Nicolini
Warwick University Business School, United Kingdom
Jean-Louis Denis
School of Public Health, Université de Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

In recent years, a growing number of scholars in management and other disciplines have embraced the notion that translation, variation and adaptations are intrinsic to the diffusion of organizational practices. This widespread interest stems from the convergence of a number of different research programs. These include, among others, the work by Scandinavian institutionalism on the travel of ideas and the translation of innovation (Czarniawska & Sevón, 2005; Boxenbaum & Battilana, 2005; Morris & Lancaster, 2005; Sahlin & Wedlin, 2008); actor-network theory (Latour, 2005; Czarniawska & Hernes, 2008; Nicolini, 2010); scholarship on the glocalization of organizational forms and practices (Frenkel, 2005; Djelic & Sahlin-Andersson, 2006; Drori et al., 2014); studies of the adaptation of innovation during their diffusion (Ansari et al., 2010; Ansaris et al., 2014).
The idea underlying all these research programs is that the concept of diffusion of ideas and innovations needs to be expanded to include adaptation as a constitutive element. Accordingly, knowledge in the form of ‘new’ ideas, innovations, routine activities, scientific developments and technologies does not typically remain stable when travels in time and space. Problematizing the previously accepted assumption that knowledge and innovations spread like ink in water (Rogers, 1995) these scholars argue that when it ‘diffuses’, ‘flows’ or ‘moves’, knowledge is translated to ‘fit’ to specific context and satisfy multiple interests – which is often what puts knowledge in motion in the first place.
The variety of theoretical bases behind the interests for translation fuels a vibrant community that is diverse and multi-disciplinary (Spyridonidis et al., 2016; Grinsven et al. 2016). At the same time, however the different disciplinary background and theoretical traditions act as barrier and often prevent scholars from engaging with each other. As a consequence, the differences between different perspectives are seldom discussed, criticism is rare and progress suffers (Spyridonidis et al., 2016). One of the reasons being that the actual differences among perspectives only manifest itself in full when they are applied to empirical research. This should not come as a surprise given that there is a subtle irony in the idea of discussing translation in theory only.
The aim of this sub-theme is therefore to bring together scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical traditions who share a broad interest in the advancement of the study of ‘translation’. We want to compare approaches, examine when and how they make a difference in practice, and generate cross fertilization, creative abrasion and debate. In this sub-theme we invite in particular submissions from scholars who study translation empirically (not exclusively) and use the concept as way to approach organizational phenomena. We welcome studies from different disciplinary fields and industries.
Potential questions that could be addressed include:

  • What roles do different types of human actor and non-human actants play in translating ideas, scientific developments, practices and technologies in everyday practice?

  • Do all ideas, practices and innovations travel and are translated in the same way?

  • How can we understand the diversity of use of ideas and, at the same time continuing pressures for sustainability and scale up?

  • How do promising new ideas, practices, scientific developments and technologies gain and lose legitimacy within and beyond organizations?

  • How does creativity and innovation impact the translation process and what are the implications at the organizational and individual levels?

  • How does the institutional order and the distribution of power relations influence, and are influenced by, translational efforts in contemporary organizations? How can we better theorize shifts of power and development of resistance from a translational perspective?

  • How do organizations and professions enable, constrain and otherwise govern translation processes, and with what consequences?

  • How are professions reconstructing their roles through translational efforts, and what are the implications for organizations?

  • Can varying theoretical traditions in translation be combined?

  • Is translation necessarily different each time or are there translation patterns or strategies? Are there industry specific patterns of translation?




  • Ansari, S.S., Reinecke, J., & Spaan, A. (2014): “How are practices made to vary? Managing practice adaptation in a multinational corporation.” Organization Studies, 35 (9), 1313–1341.
  • Ansari, S.M., Fiss, P.C., & Zajac, E.J. (2010): “Made to fit: How practices vary as they diffuse.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (1), 67–92.
  • Boxenbaum, E., & Battilana, J. (2005): “Importation as innovation: Transposing managerial practices across fields.” Strategic Organization, 3 (4), 355–383.
  • Czarniawska-Joerges, B. & Sevón, G. (eds.) (2005): Global Ideas: How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in a Global Economy, Vol. 13. Copenhagen: CBS Press.
  • Czarniawska, B., & Hernes, T. (eds.) (2005): Actor Network Theory and Organizing. Copenhagen: CBS Press.
  • Djelic, M.L., & Sahlin-Andersson, K. (eds.) (2006): Transnational Governance: Institutional Dynamics of Regulation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Drori, G.S., Höllerer, M.A., & Walgenbach, P. (2014): “Unpacking the glocalization of organization: from term, to theory, to analysis.” European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 1 (1), 85–99.
  • Frenkel, M., (2005): “The politics of translation: How state-level political relations affect the cross-national travel of management ideas.” Organization, 12 (2), 275–301.
  • Grinsven, M., Heusinkveld, S., & Cornelissen, J. (2016): “Translating Management Concepts: Towards a Typology of Alternative Approaches.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 18 (3), 271–289.
  • Latour, B. (2005): Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Morris, T., & Lancaster, Z. (2006): “Translating management ideas.” Organization Studies, 27 (2), 207–233.
  • Nicolini, D. (2010): “Medical innovation as a process of translation: a case from the field of telemedicine.” British Journal of Management, 21 (4), 1011–1026.
  • Rogers, E.M. (1995): Diffusion of Innovations. Springer: New York.
  • Sahlin, K., & Wedlin, L. (2008): “Circulating ideas: Imitation, translation and editing.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence & R.E. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, 218–242.
  • Spyridonidis, D., Currie, G., Heusinkveld, S., Strauss, K., & Sturdy, A. (2016): “The Translation of Management Knowledge: Challenges, Contributions and New Directions.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 18 (3), 231–235.


Dimitrios Spyridonidis is an Associate Professor of Leadership at Warwick Business School, UK. His research focuses on leadership, innovation and change and in particular the role of translation during periods of strategic change in complex professionalised settings. His research has been published in leading academic journals including ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Public Administration’ and ‘British Journal of Management’ and is the lead editor of a 2016 Special Issue on Translational Research on the ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’.
Davide Nicolini is Professor of Organization Studies at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK. He co-directs the IKON Research Centre and coordinates the recently established Warwick Business School Practice, Process and Institutions Research Programme. His current research focuses on the development of a practice-based approach to the study of organizational phenomena, and its implications for the understanding of knowing, innovation and learning in organizations.
Jean-Louis Denis is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health, Université de Montré, Canada, al and holds the Canada Research Chair on health system design and adaptation. He is a visiting professor at the Department of Management, King’s College London, UK. His current research looks at health system transformation, medical compensation, professional leadership and clinical governance. He is a member of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada and fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Recent papers have been published in ‘Journal of Health Politics’, ‘Policy and Law’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Implementation Science’, and ‘Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory’.