Sub-theme 52: Storytelling a Sustainable Future

David M. Boje
New Mexico State University, USA
Bobby Banerjee
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Kenneth Mølbjerg Jørgensen
Aalborg University, Denmark

Call for Papers

Why is it that people tell stories about climate change and unsustainable production and consumption practices, but behaviors are not changing? Geiger and Antonacopoulou (2009: 411) theorize, “narratives have the potential to bring about organizational inertia by creating self-reinforcing mechanisms and blind spots”. Corporations claim to be sustainable, but scientists assert that by 2030 life as we know it will dramatically and tragically change for the worse. Geiger and Antonacopoulou demonstrate that the dominant narrative remains vivid despite the existence of deviating (counter-)narratives and factual evidence of impending severe crisis. For example, the dominant (success) narrative that bottled water is healthier, higher quality, and safer than municipal tap water persists despite deviating counternarratives (Frandsen et al., 2016; Boje & Wolff Lundholt, 2018) and scientific evidence that most bottled water is actually tap water, and municipal water services are healthier, safer, and more convenient.
Climate deniers’ grand narrative that ‘its all a hoax has a political gridlock in the US, preventing actions that could keep global temperature from changing by two or more degrees. Organization studies have long been recognized as a way of constructing, constituting and reproducing complex grand narrative plot elements that have an impact on human behavior (Banerjee, 2003; Boje, 1991, 1995; Brown, 2006; Czarniawska, 1997, 2004; Gabriel, 2000; Gabriel et al., 2011; Geiger, 2010; Jørgensen, 2002, 2007; Rhodes & Brown, 2005; Weick, 1995, 2012). While this is important narrative work for organizations, it does not, as yet, address the gap between sustainability rhetoric and concerted action to bring about a different future (Banerjee, 2012a).
The dark side of grand narratives (Geiger, 2008) is how they keep counternarratives at bay, such that people’s production and consumption habits are counter to their own best interest. Scientific facts, by themselves, without a compelling storytelling, do not change human behavior. The science tells us, planetary boundaries for the safe operating space of humanity are being depleted, destroyed, and diverted faster than it is being replenished or renewed (Rockström et al., 2009), yet behaviors are changing too slowly to make a difference. Anthropocene counternarrative is the prediction that climate change, will continue to intensify, and while the rich man’s lifeboats will not be a long-term survival approach, some solution will be found. Malm (2016), for example, challenges the Anthropocene counternarrative optimism, by predicting that people in global catastrophe will continue with a death grip on the capitalism they know, and will not change their production or consumption behaviors, until it’s too late. In other words, the antenarrative prospective sensemaking, the preparing in advance to bring about a future other than business-as-usual and consumerism-as-usual, will not happen without lots of suffering and loss of biodiversity.
This sub-theme addresses the gap between sustainability storytelling and concerted action to implement human behavioral change. There is for example a much overlooked interplay in modern societies between grander narratives of western ways of knowing (WWOK) and indigenous ways of knowing (IWOK) ‘living stories’, which are more embedded in nature’s cycles (Banerjee & Tedmanson, 2004; Banerjee & Linstead, 2010; Cajete, 2015; Hoskins & Jones, 2017; Pepion, 2016; Rosile, 2016; Twotrees & Kolan, 2016). One proposition we want to explore is that IWOK living stories are more contextualized, more about living actions, and a longer time horizon than western narratives. Further, to get at ways narrative and story are pre-constituted we want to include antenarrative processes that has begun to be studied in organization studies (Boje, 2001, 2011: Boje, Haley & Saylors, 2016; Cai Hillon & Boje, 2017; Boje, Svane & Gergerich, 2016; Henderson & Boje, 2016; Vaara & Tiernari, 2011).
The scholarship on western narratives, indigenous living stories, and constitutive ante narrative processes can develop into distinct approaches with regard to the degree with which performed stories are organized by a plot (narrative), or whether they are to be understood as more collective, relational, emergent and situated ‘living stories’ (L. Smith, 2017; G.H. Smith, 2017) or just more western performative stories that are somehow different than western narrative genres (Brown et al., 2009; Jørgensen & Boje, 2010). Western and indigenous living stories presume that the dynamic spaces that are enacted in between people and nature are important.
Furthermore, it has been generally been presumed that non-indigenous stories are the products of language, dialogues and communication (Adorisio, 2014; Beech et al., 2009). Western narratives are seen to play an important role as vehicles of ideology and normative values of adaptation (Banerjee, 2012b; White & Epston, 1990; Wines & Hamilton, 2009). They have also been posited to underpin collective action, interests, identities and memory (Arendt, 1958/1962; Freeman, 2015). More recently, scholars have understood ways stories and narratives can be constraining, underpinning inequalities, and be embedded in structures of cultural authority, thus opening avenues for understanding resistance to political interests and processes (Richardson, 1990; Munro, 1998). Furthermore, scholars have turned to more material conceptions of stories, where stories are seen as related to discourse and language but also artefacts, technologies, architectures and other material spaces as well as broader geographical, rural, urban and organizational spaces that enact stories (Benjamin, 1928/2016, 1936/1968; Barad, 2007; Jørgensen & Largarcha-Martinez, 2014; Orlikowski, 2005).
To summarize, this sub-theme explores the relationship between indigenous living stories and western corporate and societal narratives of sustainability. In particular the focus is on the relationship between community indigenous stories and their implications with regard to enabling answerable ethical responsibility (Bakhtin, 1990, 1993) for a sustainable future. We are interested in how stories connect to temporality, spatiality, materiality and ethics; how stories both connect as well as form the basis of resistance. This includes an interest in how people engage with other people, materiality, nature and themselves, and how people engage in building and sustaining organizations, businesses, communities and eco-systems. Furthermore, we wish to explore how organizations are either re-storied or re-narrated for sustainability or how new stories/narratives are crafted and counter narratives/counter stories materialize in new sustainable ways of organizing.
We are interested in how storytelling can inform how organizations and networks connect with local actors and communities in ways the organization is seen as part of a broader social-economic and community-based network of activities and resources. We are also interested in stories of resistance and how they reveal inequalities, political interests and authorities. In keeping with the EGOS 2020 Colloquium theme, we are interested in how all kinds of storytelling connect with the creation of actual realizable sustainable futures. We invite diverse perspectives and also invite diverse philosophical concepts and methods of inquiry that address how to understand the relations between stories and sustainability.
Papers may address, but are not limited to the following themes:

  • How organizational storytelling connects to sustainability issues

  • Material-performative notions of storytelling and their implications for sustainability

  • How space and stories are related and how they are related to sustainability

  • Temporality and the importance of the past, present and future, for example the role of antenarratives in creating sustainable futures

  • The relationship between organizational stories and the relationship to common affordances in public spaces

  • Stories that challenge and resist particular political interests, that reveal inequalities and power or political dynamics



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David M. Boje is Professor at the Management Department, New Mexico State University, USA. He is an international scholar focused on storytelling as an organizational research method, and he created the field of “antenarrative” research. David has published widely in international scholarly journals; his work has appeared, among others, in ‘Management Science’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Leadership Quarterly’, ‘Organizational Research Methods’, and ‘Journal of International Business Studies’. In 2018, David gave over a dozen invited presentations on storytelling and the global climate crisis, in cities spanning three continents and eight countries.
Bobby Banerjee is Professor of Management and Director of the Executive PhD Program at Cass Business School, City, University of London, United Kingdom. His research interests include sustainability, climate change, corporate social responsibility, critical management studies and Indigenous ecology. Bobby has published widely in international scholarly journals; his work has appeared, among others, in ‘Academy of Management Learning & Education’, ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Business Research’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Journal of Marketing’, ‘Management Learning’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Kenneth Mølbjerg Jørgensen is Professor of Organizational Learning at the Deparment of Business and Management, Aalborg University, Denmark. His research lies within critical management studies, performance-based understandings of organizational practices and philosophy of management. Kenneth has a broad publication profile: he has written monographs, articles in internationally recognized journals, chapters in international books, and has edited and co-edited several international books and journals. He has, and is, convening smaller conferences, seminars and meetings in a critical narrative inquiry network of scholars.