Sub-theme 43: Cities as Sites and Drivers of Organizational Action

Christof Brandtner
Stanford University, USA
Renate E. Meyer
WU – Vienna University of Economics and Busines, Austria
Silviya Svejenova
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

If Americans become “piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, [they] shall become as corrupt as Europe,” Thomas Jefferson famously worried. Yet cities hold great promise, as illustrated by Edinburgh’s transformation from “auld reekie” to enlightened New Town. Despite their contradictions, cities have been celebrated for their density of social, economic, cultural, and human capital. As beacons of reason that could thwart nationalistic tendencies threatening an enlightened future, cities are generative sites for interrogating this EGOS Colloquium’s general theme.
Historically and today, cities are important sites of organizing, encompassing political processes and production of goods, services, and policies as well as protest, participation, and partnerships across sectors. Dense inter-personal and inter-organizational interactions as well as stark inequalities characterize urban spaces and neighborhoods. Administrators, organizations, and people of the city are situated in lasting local meaning and power structures. Their emblematic squares, streets and buildings are not only symbols of identities but also stages for democratic deliberation. As virtual sites, cities also offer platforms for the shared economy and online participation.
Cities not only provide citizens and organizations with space and capacity to organize. As meta-organizations and collectives, they can also be considered drivers of organizational action in their own right. They compete and collaborate for causes, talent, and resources with other cities. They partner with and are sued by corporations and states. Occupied by preoccupied citizens, social movements and political organizations, cities and their representatives give political causes space and visibility. Diverse private and public actors engage in economic production, tackle environmental problems such as climate change, or responding to wicked social problems such as the 2015 refugee crisis on behalf of their city.
Cities’ significance and organizing capacity make them particularly attractive research sites, but the challenges they bear for organizational research are considerable. Inquiry into the organizational life of cities requires the collaboration of organizational researchers with scholars from other domains that have examined cities from different perspectives (e.g. urban studies, political science, sociology, economics, and human geography, among others). Such inquiry also calls for novel methodologies that allow expanding the empirical analysis and strengthen the opportunities for theory building through multi-city comparisons, quasi-experimental designs, and big data.
This sub-theme offers a space for such a dialogue on cities as sites and drivers of organizational action. It invites submissions that improve our understanding of cities as organizational actors and organizing contexts for grand challenges and diverse communities of people and organizations. We welcome research that enriches organizational theory (e.g., perspectives on organizational communities, governance, and identity) with established and novel theoretical and methodological approaches to the understanding of cities. The sub-theme offers an opportunity for discussing the following topics and questions:

  • Cities, organizations, and local communities. Through what institutional processes do cities and local communities afford novelty and imprint organizations? How can social infrastructure and the urban commons contribute to better neighborhood relations, resilience, and social capital? How do technological advancements alter forms of interaction and collaboration? What are the opportunities and challenges for local communities? What organizational forms and processes bring healthier communities and neighborhoods to life?

  • City governance and strategies. What affects the strategic capacity of city administrations? How do collaboration and competition between cities shape substantive policy fields such as economic development (e.g. through creative industries or foreign direct investments), immigration, or global environmental sustainability? How do cities stimulate and cope with technological transformations as well as the social ramifications of artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, and increased openness in governance? How do private organizations undermine or contribute to the democratic qualities and economic strategy of cities? How is inter-sectoral collaboration organized and orchestrated, and inhibited?

  • Cities as brands and identities. How do the built environment and digital infrastructure of cities affect their identity, brand, and authenticity? How are city identities constructed through architecture, artifacts, imageries, and verbal discourses? How do city discourses (e.g. about urban sustainability, creativity, livability, and design) change over time, and what are the implications for local communities and city identities? What role do different rankings, ratings, and indices play in shaping cities as brands and identities? How do cities engage with their pasts and heritage to envision different futures?



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  • Borch, C., & Kornberger, M. (2015): Urban Commons: Rethinking the City. London: Routledge.
  • Brandtner, C., Höllerer, M., Meyer, R., & Kornberger, M. (2017): “Enacting Urban Governance Through Strategy: A Comparative Study of City Strategies in Sydney and Vienna.” Urban Studies, 54 (4), 1075–91.
  • Czarniawska, B. (2002): A Tale of Three Cities: Or the Glocalization of City Management. New York: Oxford University Press.
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  • Kornberger, M, Meyer, R.E., Brandtner, C., & Höllerer, M.A. (2017): ”When Bureaucracy Meets the Crowd: Studying ‘Open Government’ in the Vienna City Administration.” Organization Studies, 38 (2), 179–200.
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  • Parkinson, J.R. (2012): Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Christof Brandtner is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University and an affiliate of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, USA, where he is a co-investigator of the Civic Life of Cities. He studies the expansion and consequences of rational principles of organizing in nonprofit and public administration, specifically in the context of organizational accountability, managerialism, and the governance of cities.
Renate E. Meyer is the Chair of Organization Studies at WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria. She is also a Permanent Visiting Professor at the Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and Co- Director of the Research Institute for Urban Management & Governance at WU. Renate focuses on meaning structures and he has recently studied institutions as multimodal accomplishments, novel organizational forms and patterns of management ideas mostly in areas of urban governance challenges. She has been a member, the Chair and the Treasurer of the EGOS Executive Board.
Silviya Svejenova is Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She is Guest Professor at WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria, and Adjunct Professor at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway. Her most recent work delves into city identity, the politics of new executive roles, as well as the material, visual and temporal dimensions of innovation. Silviya has been a member and the Chair of the EGOS Executive Board.