Sub-theme 06: [SWG] Routine Dynamics and Grand Challenges

Martha S. Feldman
University of California, Irvine, USA
Claus Rerup
Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany
Kathrin Sele
Aalto University School of Business, Finland

Call for Papers

Over the past 20 years, organizational routines have increasingly been studied as emergent and generative processes (i.e., coming into being only through specific performances). Building on Feldman and Pentland’s (2003) work, scholars have traced the co-constituting parts of routines, namely their performative and ostensive aspects, to understand how routines are reproduced and changed as people enact them. Recent routine dynamic research has showed how people performing routines balance conflicting goals (Salvato & Rerup, 2018) and organize time (Turner & Rindova, 2018), how talk and reflections impact the way routines are performed (Bucher & Langley, 2016; Dittrich et al., 2016), and how routines are important drivers of creativity and innovation (Deken et al., 2016; Sele & Grand, 2016; Sonenshein, 2016). Clearly, routines are no longer seen as “things” or a source of inertia, but as dynamic and consequential in nature (Feldman et al., 2016).
Understanding/conceptualizing routines as practices has not only drawn our attention to the performativity/generativity of seemingly mundane action patterns, but has helped us to see how everyday actions influence large phenomena such as strategies (Kaplan & Orlikowski, 2013), schemata (Rerup & Feldman, 2011), or healthcare provision (Nicolini, 2010). Moreover, the study of practices has increasingly demonstrated that what happens on a daily basis in organizations and society have profound effects on outcomes that are significant in scope (Bourdieu, 1984; Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011; Gherardi, 2006). As March (2008) observed, “history is not produced by the dramatic actions and postures of leaders, but by complex combinations of large numbers of small actions by unimportant people.”
By grand challenges we refer to phenomena (Ferraro et al., 2015; George, Howard-Grenville et al., 2016) that focus collective attention and effort on solving specific problems, including education, health care, housing, fighting specific diseases such as cancer; dealing with climate change and environmental resilience; ensuring the availability of food and water, information distortion; political instability; poverty and inequality; human trafficking; etc. Grand challenges stretch across contextual boundaries (e.g., social, economic, environmental, and technological) and actors (individuals, social movements, NGOs, governments, organizations) and their solutions require orchestrating people, resources and actions into patterns. Building on these ideas, we can see that routine dynamics are relevant both to the production and resolution of grand challenges (Eberhard et al., 2019; Danner-Schröder & Geiger, 2016).
If routine dynamics can help us understand grand challenges, grand challenges may also help us understand routine dynamics. If grand challenges stretch across contextual boundaries and traditional definitions of actors, then studying grand challenges will enable us to explore issues we have identified as central to routine dynamics such as how we coordinate multiple routines and how connections among routines create stability and change (Feldman et al., 2016; Kremser & Schreyögg, 2016). Grand challenges also naturally raise issues about replication as routines are enacted in different places and time (past, present and future as well as time zones in the present) by different people (D’Adderio, 2014; Sele & Grand, 2016).

In line with the growing interest in connecting local and global phenomena, this sub-theme seeks papers that explore the connections between routine dynamics and global phenomena. We encourage empirical papers with a variety of different theoretical lenses and methodological approaches. Here are some example topics that would fit with this sub-theme:

  • Connections of levels and scales. How can we understand the mutual relationship between the micro-level or small-scale patterns of action within routines and the macro-level or large-scale phenomena?

  • Practice configurations. How do practices configure and how are they configured in light of grand challenges? How can we study this mutually configuration and the configurative power/agency?

  • Practical impact. Can a better understanding of routine dynamics help craft policies that steer us towards better societal outcomes? How can we translate what we see to make it accessible to policy makers?

  • Implements or impediments? Are routines simply impediments (sources of inertia)? Or can they be configured and deployed as implements (tools) for change?

  • Tipping points. Are there ways in which routines contribute to or inhibit rapid change?

  • Time scales and temporality. How can we study the effects of routines and practices in phenomena that occur over many years or decades? How are routines entrained with and within global challenges?



  • Bourdieu, P. (1984): Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Bucher, S., & Langley, A. (2016): “The interplay of reflective and experimental spaces in interrupting and reorienting routine dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 594–496.
  • Danner-Schröder, A., & Geiger, D. (2016): “Unravelling the motor of patterning work: Toward an understanding of the microlevel dynamics of standardization and flexibility.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 633–658.
  • D'Adderio, L. (2014): “The replication dilemma unravelled: How organizations enact multiple goals in routine transfer.” Organization Science, 25 (5), 1325–1350.
  • Deken, F., Carlile, P.R., Berends, H., & Lauche, K. (2016): “Generating novelty through interdependent routines: A process model of routine work.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 659–677.
  • Dittrich, K., Guérard, S., & Seidl, D. (2016): “Talking about routines: The role of reflective talk in routine change.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 678–697.
  • Eberhard, J., Frost, A., & Rerup, C. (2019): “The dark side of routine dynamics: Deceit and the work of Romeo pimps.” In: M. Feldman, L. D’Adderio, K. Dittrich & P. Jarzabkowski (eds.): Routine Dynamics in Action: Replication and Transformation. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 61. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 99–121.
  • Feldman, M.S., & Orlikowski, W.J. (2011): “Theorizing practice and practicing theory.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1240–1253.
  • Feldman, M.S., & Pentland, B.T. (2003): “Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 48 (1), 94–118.
  • Feldman, M.S., Pentland, B.T., D’Adderio, L., & Lazaric, N. (2016): “Beyond routines as things: Introduction to the special issue on routine dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 505–513.
  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D, & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • Gherardi, S. (2006): Organizational Knowledge: The Texture of Workplace Learning. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kaplan, S., & Orlikowski, W.J. (2013): “Temporal work in strategy making.” Organization Science, 24 (4), 965–995.
  • Kremser, W., & Schreyögg, G. (2016): “The dynamics of interrelated routines: Introducing the cluster level.” Organization Science, 27(3), 698–721.
  • March, J.G. (2008): Heroes and History: Lessons for Leadership from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, film written and narrated by James March, and produced and directed by Steven Schecter, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.
  • Nicolini, D. (2010): “Medical innovation as a process of translation: A case from the field of telemedicin.” British Journal of Management, 21 (4), 1011–1026.
  • Rerup, C. & Feldman, M.S. (2011): “Routines as a source of change in organizational schemata: The role of trial-and-error learning.” Academy of Management Journal, 54 (3), 577–610.
  • Salvato, C., & Rerup, C. (2018): “Routine regulation: Balancing conflicting goals in organizational routines.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (1), 170–209.
  • Sele, K., & Grand, S. (2016): “Unpacking the dynamics of ecologies of routines: Mediators and their generative effects in routine interactions.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 722–738.
  • Sonenshein, S. (2016): “Routines and creativity: From dualism to duality.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 739–758.
  • Turner, S., & Rindova, V.P. (2018): “Watching the clock: Action timing, patterning, and routine performance.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (4), 1253–1280.
Martha S. Feldman is the Johnson Chair for Civic Governance and Public Management and a Professor of Social Ecology (Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy), and of Business, Political Science and Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA. She is best known for her work founding the field of routine dynamics.
Claus Rerup is a Professor of Management at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany. His work focuses on routine dynamics. He was co-convenor of the Sixth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies that focused on organizational routines (2014), and a co-editor of an edited volume on routine dynamics published by Oxford University Press (2016).
Kathrin Sele is an Academy Research Fellow at Aalto University School of Business, Finland, and a Visiting Scholar at the KIN Center for Digital Innovation at VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In her research, Kathrin is concerned with the role organizational routines play in innovation, strategy making, and industry transformations. Using a practice-theoretical lens, she particularly focuses on the sociomaterial and temporal nature of routines in action.