Sub-theme 10: [SWG] Doing Process Research: Approaching Power as Productive and Relational in Organizing

Anniina Rantakari
University of Oulu, Finland
Peter Fleming
University of London, United Kingdom
Anthony Hussenot
Université Côte d’Azur, France

Call for Papers

Power is claimed to be one of the key issues in organization research (Clegg et al., 2006; Fleming & Spicer, 2014). However, conventionally organizational scholars have defined power in dualistic terms as a commodity that may be seized, possessed and manipulated (Mechanic, 1962; Pfeffer & Salanick, 1974). From this perspective, power has then remained to be seen as the preserve of the few, who wield it as a means of political influence, or to gain control of resources, or as something that may be gifted to others, who are duly ‘empowered’. However, to the extent that this ‘power over’ view continues to hold sway, alternative ways of understanding this important organizational construct have been inhibited. This sub-theme focuses on one such alternative, in which power is considered in non-dualistic terms as an endlessly emerging process of becoming (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). We propose that this more dynamic perspective on power offers fresh insight into a post-Enlightenment, post-industrial world.
As our starting point, there are recent streams of research that challenge the notion of power as a ‘thing’ to be possessed (e.g. Bardon & Josserand, 2011; McCabe, 2010; Thomas et al., 2011). Many such studies draw on Foucault, who initially saw power as productive and relational:
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it “excludes”, it “represses”, it “censors”, it “abstracts”, it “masks”, it “conceals”. In fact, power produces; it produces reality’ (Foucault, 1979, p. 194).

Power then, is not given but rather it is always in the process of becoming. It is immanent in organizing, inviting organizational scholars to examine the inherently processual nature of power. Other scholars have drawn inspiration from Mary Parker Follett (1924), who contrasted the dominant ‘power over’ perspective with her own notion of ‘power with’. She insisted that power is a phenomenon that is co-developed among collaborators rather than being some ‘thing’ held by an individual who can then impose her/his will on others.
Central to any processual approach is the understanding of power in terms of relational ontology (Chia & Holt, 2006; Cooper, 2005), which also embraces resistance as an immanent dynamic (Harding et al., 2017) as well as the movements of material (Barad, 2003) and textual agencies (Cooren, 2004). Hence, from a process perspective power is never an established position, but instead, power relations can be seen as an ongoing movement and negotiation between actors (Fleming & Spicer, 2008; Jorgensen & Boje, 2009). These ideas invite us to broaden our analyses of power beyond disciplinary practices and static discursive positions to embrace more relational and processual interpretations.
The empirical investigation of power from a processual perspective is, however, extremely challenging because power often operates in quite subtle and implicit ways (Foucault, 1977; 1978). The main aim of this sub-theme is to explore the interconnectedness between questions of power and process organization research. In alignment with the focus of our sponsoring Standing Working Group, we are interested in receiving papers that discuss and apply empirical expressions of power in order to advance our understanding of process research in organization studies (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). We particularly welcome papers that address how to empirically elaborate the emergence and functioning of power in organizing. Submissions may address issues of power in the ongoing flux and flow of becoming, as well as questions of the resistance and agencies that are immanent in becoming. We further encourage the recognition and acknowledgement of power in researchers’ own practice both in the field, and in writing and knowledge production.
Potential topics for submissions include:

  • New ways to empirically examine and elaborate power in the emergence of organizing

  • Ways of writing from/as/about material aspects of power

  • Power and new work practices (coworking, freelancing, etc.)

  • Power and new organizational forms (democracy-based organization, projects-based organisation, informal organization, etc.)

  • Methods that engage with the processual logics of power

  • The entwinement of power and temporality in organizing

  • Reflexivity and the unexpected in relation to power

  • Processual production of knowledge, textual and posthuman agency

  • New and different ways of presenting empirical material about power in organizing

  • Challenges of writing up processual studies that elaborate on power

  • Different forms of power in processual organization research: biopower, governmentality, subjectivity and resisting

This sub-theme’s Call for Papers 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.


  • Barad, K. (2003): “Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter.” Signs, 28(3), 801–831.
  • Bardon, T., & Josserand, E. (2011): “A Nietzschean reading of Foucauldian thinking: Constructing the project of the self within an ontology of becoming.” Organization, 18 (4), 497–515.
  • Chia, R., & Holt, R. (2006): “Strategy as practical coping: A Heideggerian Perspective.” Organization Studies, 27 (5), 635–655.
  • Cooper, R. (2005): “Peripheral Vision: Relationality.” Organization Studies, 26 (11), 1689–1710.
  • Cooren, F. (2004): “Textual agency: How texts do things in organizational settings.” Organization, 11 (3), 373–393.
  • Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2008): “Beyond Power and Resistance: New Approaches to Organizational Politics.” Management Communication, 21 (3), 301–309.
  • Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2014): “Power in management and organization science.” Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 237–298.
  • Follett, M.P. (1924 [2003]): Creative Experience. Eastford: Martino Fine Books.
  • Foucault, M. (1977): “History of systems of thought.” In: D.F. Bouchard (ed.): Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault. New York: Cornell University Press, 199–202.
  • Foucault, M. (1978): The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction. Harmondsworth: The Penguin.
  • Foucault, M. (1979): Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage.
  • Harding, N., Ford, J., & Lee, H. (2017): “Towards a performative theory of resistance: Senior managers and revolting subject(ivitie)s.” Organization Studies, 38 (9), 1209–1231.
  • Jorgensen, K.M., & Boje, D.M. (2009): “Genealogies of becoming – Antenarrative inquiry in organizations.” Tamara Journal, 8 (1/2), 32.
  • McCabe, D. (2010): “Strategy-as-Power: Ambiguity, Contradiction and the Exercise of Power in a UK Building Society.” Organization, 17 (2), 151–175.
  • Mechanic, D. (1962): “Sources of power of lower participants in complex organizations.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 7 (3), 349–364.
  • Pfeffer, J., & Salanick (1974): “Organizational Decision Making as a Political Process: The Case of a University Budget.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 19 (2), 135–151.
  • Thomas, R., Sargent, L.D., & Hardy, C. (2011): “Managing organizational change: Negotiating meaning and power-resistance relations.” Organization Science, 22 (1), 22–41.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.

Anniina Rantakari is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oulu Business School, Finland. Her key areas of interest are the process and practice perspectives on strategy, narrative research, and the dynamics of power and resistance. Anniina has published chapters in two SAGE Handbooks: ‘Narratives and Processuality’, in “The SAGE Handbook of Process Organization Studies” (2017), and ‘Resistance in Strategy-Making’ in “The SAGE Handbook of Resistance” (2016). She also has a forthcoming chapter on temporality in strategy-making in the Perspectives on Process Organization Studies (Oxford, 2018).
Peter Fleming is Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK. His research focuses on transformations of employment in the age of neoliberal capitalism. Peter’s research has been published in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’ and ‘Organization Studies’. He is the author of numerous books, including “The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself” (Pluto Books, 2015). His latest book “The Death of Homo Economicus” was published by Pluto Books in 2017.
Anthony Hussenot is Professor in Organization Studies at the Université Côte d’Azur, France. Anchored in a process perspective, his research concerns the emergence of organizational phenomena from the study of innovative work and collaboration practices. He has conducted qualitative studies in various fields such as secondary school, private banking, the maker movement and the surfing industry. His work has been published in such journals as ‘Organization Studies’, ‘International Journal of Organizational Analysis’, ‘Journal of Organizational Change Management’, etc. He has recently co-edited a book about recent trends in organization theories (in French).