Sub-theme 52: Reorganizing (against) Race: Histories of Racialization in Organization

Rashné Limki
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Mrinalini Greedharry
Laurentian University, Canada
Pasi Ahonen
University of Essex, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

An essential feature of the Enlightenment project has been the challenge of “defining what it means to be(come) human” (Eze, 1997, p. 130). The question of difference has thus been a persistent provocation within this tradition of thought. Racial difference, in particular, has been foundational to the structuring of relations between subjects and objects of the Enlightenment. Insofar as organizations represent the normalization of the subject bequeathed to us by the European Enlightenment, race remains a disturbing presence within their unfolding. The purpose of this sub-theme, then, is to interrogate how the philosophical and historical lineage of racial difference is still manifest within organizations.
Diverse scholarly traditions have taken race as a persistent and organizing fact of life, including the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, Black feminist theory, postcolonial studies, subaltern studies, critical anthropology, and critical race theory. There is no lack of sociological analysis and cultural theory for us to draw upon; and yet the analysis of race, racism, and racialization in organization studies has not kept pace with these developments. The tardiness and timidity with which management and organization studies have taken on questions of race, racialization and racism has been evident for quite a while (see, Cox & Nkomo, 1990; Nkomo, 1992). Proudford and Nkomo (2006), reflecting on twenty years of scholarship since Cox and Nkomo (1990) first wrote about the silence on race, find that “we are left where we started: we still know that differences exist, but little about the mechanisms that perpetuate and sustain those differences and, consequently, how to eradicate the negative consequences of racial differences in organizations”. Another decade on we are not much farther.
Thankfully, there have been diverse attempts to address questions of difference in organization, management and leadership. There has also been a recent push to challenge the epistemological foundations of the field to recognize, for example, the role and legacy of imperialism and colonialism in current day organizations and how we think about them (Jack, 2015; Jack & Westwood, 2009; Ozkazanc-Pan, 2012; Srinivas, 2013). And, there are studies that take the problem of race head-on (see, Alcadipani et al., 2015; Liu, 2017a, 2017b; Liu & Baker, 2016; Nkomo, 2011; Tadajewski, 2012; Van Laer & Janssens 2011). Nevertheless, even in the sub-fields where discussion of race, racialization and racism ought to be central (Cooke, 2003a, 2003b), we see persistent conceptual drift away from the matter of race itself. We see intersectional analyses become emptied of their analysis of race (cf. Crenshaw, 1991, 1989). We see the tendency of studies of diversity management to elide discussions of power and the concept of diversity itself deployed in ways that commodify difference (Ahonen et al., 2014; Ahonen & Tienari, 2015). Colonialism has become a metaphor for organizational life, rather than an investigation into the racialized conditions of work. Yet, as recent and in some eyes surprising events and political developments around the world have shown, race in its various incarnations is still one of the key organizing principles for action.
In this sub-theme we seek to examine how race troubles contemporary organizational praxis. In so doing, we aim to eschew easy segues into diversity or inclusion discourses. Rather, we ask for an encounter with the historical production of race and racism as it emerges in organizing and organization. Further, we question why conceptual, theoretical, practical and critical engagement with race, and racialization and racial difference remains frustratingly disconnected from organization studies despite sustained scholarly attention to the matter elsewhere. And, perhaps most urgently, we ask for a reckoning with what this disconnect means for those whose organizational lives and work always already evidence the expectedness of racial power.
For this sub-theme we invite papers addressing, but not limited to, such themes as:

  • Conceptualizing race in organization studies

  • The recursion of historical problems of race, racism, or racialization

  • Organizing against race (anti-racist organizations, policies, practices)

  • De-naturalizing and de-ontologizing race

  • Connecting race, postcolonialism, and decoloniality in organization studies

  • Critical race theory in organization studies

  • What could organization theory tell us about race/racism/racialization

  • Race and neoliberal governmentality

  • Reevaluating intersectionality in organization theory and practice

  • Whiteness of and in management practice and/or management knowledges



  • Ahonen, P., & Tienari, J. (2015): “Ethico-politics of diversity and its production.” In: A. Pullen & C. Rhodes (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations. London: Routledge, 271–287.
  • Ahonen, P., Tienari, J., Meriläinen, S., & Pullen, A. (2014): “Hidden contexts and invisible power relations: A Foucauldian reading of diversity management.” Human Relations, 67, 263–286.
  • Alcadipani, R., Westwood, R., & Rosa, A. (2015): “The politics of identity in organizational ethnographic research: Ethnicity and tropicalist intrusions.” Human Relations, 68, 79–106.
  • Cooke, B. (2003a): “A new continuity with colonial administration: participation in development management.” Third World Quarterly, 24, 47–61.
  • Cooke, B. (2003b): “The denial of slavery in management studies.” Journal of Management Studies, 40, 1895–1918.
  • Cox, T., & Nkomo, S. (1990): “Invisible men and women: A status report on race as a variable in organization behavior research.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 11, 419–431.
  • Crenshaw, K.W. (1991): “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1299.
  • Eze, E.C. (1997): “The color of reason: The idea of ‘race’ in Kant’s Antropology.” In: E.C. Eze (ed.): Postcolonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader. Cambridge: Blackwell, 103–131.
  • Jack, G. (2015): “Advancing postcolonial approaches in critial diversity studies.” In: R. Bendl, I. Bleijenbergh, E. Henttonen & A.J. Mills (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Diversity in Organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 153–174.
  • Jack, G., & Westwood, R. (2009): International and Cross-Cultural Management Studies. A Postcolonial Reading. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Liu, H. (2017a): “Beneath the white gaze: Strategic self-orientalism among Chinese Australians.” Human Relations, 70, 781–804.
  • Liu, H. (2017b): “Undoing whiteness: The Dao of anti-racist diversity practice.” Gender, Work & Organization, 24, 457–471.
  • Liu, H., & Baker, C. (2016): “White Knights: Leadership as the heroicisation of whiteness.” Leadership, 12, 420–448.
  • Nkomo, S. (1992): “The emperor has no clothes: Rewriting ‘race’ in organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 17, 487–513.
  • Nkomo, S. (2011): “A postcolonial and anti-colonial reading of ‘African’ leadership and management in organization studies: tensions, contradictions and possibilities.” Organization, 18, 365–386.
  • Ozkazanc-Pan, B. (2012): “Postcolonial feminist research: challenges and complexities.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31, 573–591.
  • Proudford, K., & Nkomo, S. (2006): “Race and Ethnicity in Organizations.” In: A.M. Konrad, P. Prasad & J. Pringle (eds.): Handbook of Workplace Diversity. London: SAGE Publications, 323–344.
  • Srinivas, N. (2013): “Could a Subaltern Manage? Identity Work and Habitus in a Colonial Workplace.” Organization Studies, 34 (11), 1655–1674.
  • Tadajewski, M. (2012): “Character analysis and racism in marketing theory and practice.” Marketing Theory, 12, 485–508.
  • Van Laer, K., & Janssens, M. (2011): “Ethnic minority professionals’ experiences with subtle discrimination in the workplace.” Human Relations, 64, 1203–1227.

Rashné Limki is Lecturer in Work and Organisation Studies at the University of Edinburgh Business School, UK. Her research lies at the intersections of postcolonial studies and political economy. She is the author of ‘On the coloniality of work: Commercial surrogacy in India’ (“Gender, Work and Organization”, 2017) and ‘Notes on the subaltern: Or, how postcolonial critique meets the perpetrator’ (“The Routledge International Handbook of Perpetrator Studies”, forthcoming). Outside the academic context, Rashné works as a facilitator and mediator within frontline communities in London.
Mrinalini Greedharry is Associate Professor of English, Department of English, and Director of the Humanities MA program, Laurentian University, Canada. Her research focuses on the critical and organizational potential of postcolonial theory. She is the author of “Postcolonial Theory and Psychoanalysis” (2008); and ‘Managing Postcolonialism’ with Pasi Ahonen, in “What Postcolonial Theory Doesn’t Say” (2015). Mrinalini is currently working on a project that explores how the practices, organization and theory of studying English literature engender postcolonial subjects.
Pasi Ahonen is Lecturer in Management at Essex Business School, University of Essex, UK. His research focuses on diversity and difference in organizations; temporality, history and memory in organizational settings and organizations in the media and mediation of organizations. His work has been published in management and organization journals, including ‘Human Relations’, ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’, and ‘Organization’, as well as edited collections, most recently in “The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations” (2015) and “Gender, Media, and Organization: Challenging Mis(s)representations of Women Leaders and Managers” (2016). Pasi currently holds a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant for project titled ‘Regorganising race: Racialisation and organization’.