Sub-theme 60: The Politics of Difference: Critical Investigations across Time and Space

Jasmin Mahadevan
Pforzheim University, Germany
Henriett Primecz
Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
Albert Mills
Saint Mary’s University, Canada

Call for Papers

Politics of difference seems to be on the rise in today’s world: ethnic identities are essentialised (e.g. Eriksen, 2011), minority individuals are denied belonging based on presumed cultural ‘otherness’ (e.g. Weichselbaumer, 2016), and a ‘modern West’ is discursively constructed as a homogeneous cultural unit that needs to defend itself against presumably ‘less developed’ cultural ‘others’ (e.g. Rahman, 2017). Often, organizations and societies operate under a ‘crisis frame’ which leads them to position themselves in frameworks of difference.
However, difference is not an objective reality (most people routinely cross multiple spatial, discursive and imaginative borders in their daily organizational lives), but a highly politicized process by which individuals, groups, organizations and societies position themselves against others, and that has to be interrogated as such. To break up dominant demarcation lines and to discover the multi-facetted realities of organizing is all the more relevant in times of perceived crises – geo-political, cultural, humanitarian, identity-related et cetera – and in times of rising xenophobia, anti-intellectualism and authoritarianism in different parts of the world.
This sub-theme contributes to providing organizational answers to present challenges (migration, refugee movements, political destabilization in parts of the world, etc., cumulating in increased inner- and outer-organizational complexity and unpredictability). It is of interest to engaged scholars of organizations and management who wish to deconstruct the dichotomist demarcation lines erected by present politics of difference and to identify unexpected connections.
We invite empirical and conceptual studies that investigate how, why, by whom and what for difference is constructed, affirmed, resisted, politicized and so on, and that suggest alternatives across time (past, present, future) and/or across space (e.g. societies, nations, cultures, organizations, professions, virtual worlds, contexts, etc.). They should employ critical perspectives help us to imagine more diverse, inclusive and balanced organizational futures of how we construct and ‘deal with’ difference. We propose three angles – power-sensitive, intersectional and historically-aware – for doing so.
Generally, contributions should acknowledge the power-implications of politics of difference. For example, on micro-level, it might be that conflict in a global team or in a multinational organization is explained with culture, but is actually rooted in unequal structures. On meso-level certain organizational ideas, e.g. of the ideal employee or of ‘good leadership’, might favour a certain ‘type’ of individual over others who are then constructed as negatively different. Macro-level discursive requirements for belonging, e.g. the implicit assumption of national identity being linked to a certain ethnicity, might frame organizational sense-making (e.g. Eriksen, 2011).
Contributions might also explore intersections, e.g. of diversity markers, of identity and culture, of history and organization et cetera, as related to our aim of challenging the ‘normalities’ of difference. For instance, it might be that an individual is advantaged because of a certain identity marker, but disadvantaged due to another. It might also be that a person’s ethnicity is perceived favourably in one culture or organization, but negatively in another. It might furthermore be that religiousness today is viewed differently than in the past, or that certain symbols such as the Muslim veil have changed meaning across time and contexts (e.g. Golnaraghi & Dye, 2016; Primecz et al., 2016; Weichselbaumer, 2016).
When exploring history, contributions should not report historical developments or cultural/ethnic/organizational/and so on differences as facts, but rather investigate the constructions of difference across time. They should reflect upon history critically, for instance, by means of genealogy (e.g. Prasad, 2009, based on Foucault, 1977), problematization (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2011), or by tracing actor networks over time (Durepos & Mills, 2012).
Contributions might also reflect critically upon major diversity markers (e.g. religion/worldview, race/ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, class). For it could be that these labels do not facilitate inclusion but rather, by putting difference into words, boxes, labels contribute to the prevalent discourses of difference. So, how can we be sure that critical scholarly engagement will change the politics of difference to the better?
In summary, contributions might be related to (but are not limited to) on one or a combination of the following themes:

  • Historical investigations of present constructions of difference; ruptures in the histories of ‘difference’ and alternative histories

  • Identifications across space (e.g. societies, nations, cultures, organizations, professions, virtual worlds, flows of meaning, contexts, etc.) and time, and intersectionality of identity, across time, and within and/or across organizational and/or societal contexts

  • Mechanisms that construct, affirm, resist, change, institutionalize, and so on, difference (e.g. hegemony, privilege, discourse, language, framing, labelling, habitus, practice, bodies, performance, symbolic interactions, actor networks, cultural explanations).

  • Lenses from which to investigate the politics of difference (e.g. discourse analysis, phenomenology, embodiment, performativity, postcolonial and subaltern studies, postmodernism, intersectionality, historiography, standpoint theory, gender studies)

  • Reflexive considerations of a critical scholarly engagement with difference

  • Conceptual contributions to studying the aforementioned phenomena

Please see also the Call for Papers on “The politics of difference: Critical investigations across time and space” for a Special Issue (Vol. 29, Issue 2, 2023) of Culture and Organization:



  • Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011): “Generating research questions through problematization.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 247–271.
  • Barth, F. (1998 [1969]): Ethnic Groups and Boundaries – The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Long Grove: Waveland Press.
  • Durepos, G., & Mills, A.J. (2012): “Actor network theory, ANTi-history, and critical organizational historiography.” Organization, 19 (6), 703–721.
  • Eriksen, T.H. (2010 [1993]): Ethnicity and Nationalism. London: Pluto Press.
  • Golnaraghi, G., & Dye, K. (2016): “Discourses of contradiction: A postcolonial analysis of Muslim women and the veil.” International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 16 (2), 137–152.
  • Prasad, A. (2009): “Contesting hegemony through genealogy: Foucault and cross-cultural management research.” International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 9 (3), 359–369.
  • Primecz, H., Mahadevan, J., & Romani, L. (2016): “Guest editorial: Why is cross-cultural management blind to power relations? Investigating ethnicity, language, gender and religion in power-laden contexts.” International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 16 (2), 127–136.
  • Rahman, M. (2017): “Islamophobia, the impossible Muslim and the reflexive potential of intersectionality.” In: J. Mahadevan & C.-H. Mayer (eds.): Muslim Minorities, Workplace Diversity and Reflexive HRM. London: Taylor & Francis, 35–45.
  • Weichselbaumer, D. (2016): Discrimination against Female MigrantsWearing Headscarves. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10217. Bonn: IZA;
Jasmin Mahadevan is a Professor of International Management and Cross-Cultural Management at Pforzheim University, Germany. An anthropologist by training, her work evolves around shaping a power-sensitive, historically-aware and anthropologically-inspired Cross-Cultural Management. Her research interests include organizational ethnography and culture (e.g. embodiment, reflexivity), paradigms (e.g. interplay), power (e.g. postcolonial theory, orientalism, critical discourse, deconstruction, framing, genealogy), and diversity, ethnicity and identity. Besides publishing in scholarly journals – among others, ‘Qualitative Studies on Organizations and Management’, ‘Culture and Organization’, inaugural issue of ‘Organizational Ethnography’, ‘International Studies of Management & Organizations, ‘Journal of Organizational Change Management’, ‘International Journal of Human Resource Management’, and ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’ –, she has co-edited or edited five journal special issues and several books. Jasmin is on the editorial Board of the ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’.
Henriett Primecz is a Professor at Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. Her main research interest is cross-cultural management, gender and diversity, and paradigm plurality in organization studies. She has published several journal articles and book chapters on the state of the art in cross-cultural management (‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’, ‘International Studies of Management & Organizations’) and on paradigm plurality and paradigm interplay (‘Organization Research Methods’, ‘The Routledge Companion to Cross-Cultural Management’). She is currently co-editing (with Jasmin Mahadevan and Laurence Romani) a book on “Critical Cross-Cultural Management – An Intersectional Approach to Culture” (Routledge). Henriett is Europe Associate Editor of the ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’.
Albert Mills is a Professor of Management at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada, and a 0.2 Professor of Innovation at the University of Eastern Finland. His research interests include gender and organizations, critical historiography, intersectionality and history, existentialism at work; ANTi-History; and Critical Sensemaking. He serves on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals, including as co-editor of ‘Qualitative Research on Organizations and Management’, and has co-edited 18 journal special issues. He is the author and editor of 28 books, including “The Oxford Handbook of Diversity in Organizations” (Oxford University Press, 2015), “The Routledge Companion to Management & Organizational History” (2015), “Insights and Research on the Study of Gender and Intersectionality in International Airline Cultures” (Emerald, 2017), and “Management and Organizational History: A Research Overview” (Routledge, 2019).