Sub-theme 47: Rethinking Politics in Organization

Damian O'Doherty
University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Sheena J. Vachhani
University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Christian De Cock
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

Politics remains both understudied and taken-for-granted in Organization Studies, demonstrated by the paucity of texts devoted to understanding dynamic, political processes. Where some understanding and treatment of ‘politics’ does appear in the discipline it is normally confined to politics with a small ‘p’ associated with things like career rivalries, internecine managerial struggle, bureaucratic infighting and the associated competition for resources. This is often considered micro-politics and is deemed to take place within the boundaries set by organization conceived as a delimited entity, an employer organization or corporation. Where something like politics is addressed on a more macro-scale, organization studies scholars tend to think in terms of ‘power’ and power relations, pursued either through the very generalised kind of theorising advanced within critical management studies, or by critical discourse analysis with its deployment of a sociological contextualisation to treat what it sees as wider social patterns of power and inequality. Where politics is engaged in critical contexts it is often explored in its relation with ethics (Parker, 2008), developing what some have called an ‘ethico-politics’ (Pullen & Rhodes, 2015), which has helped broaden the terrain of organization so that a more adequate understanding of politics and organization might develop. Similarly, the rich theorising offered by feminist politics has contributed much to our understanding of issues such as the politics of care (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017), materiality and affectivity (Vachhani, 2015) which is also beginning to extend ‘the political’ for scholars of organization.
In this sub-theme we want to find ways of advancing and deepening our understanding of politics in organization by building on some of this work. We wonder about the reasons for the relative inhibition of organization analysis and its apparent reluctance to address and develop a more rigorous and satisfactory account of politics. Perhaps it is this split between the macro and the micro, or structure and agency, which in part explains the impotence of organization studies to advance anything of disciplinary distinction. The legacy of the modern divisions of academic expertise is another candidate that might explain this underdevelopment. The growth of organization studies within a business school offers another suggestive possibility for this immature state of politics in organization studies. Whatever the reason, organization studies appears to have little to contribute as a discipline to an understanding of politics, even to that politics conceived in the most obvious and perhaps familiar sense – as a system of representative democracy – organization studies has not contributed a great deal. The ‘organization’ of the parliamentary form of liberal politics, for example, remains opaque to our discipline. Similarly, the functioning of the state, even when acknowledged, usually defers to Althusser, Gramsci or Foucault; but this offers little advance on what students of political science, sociology or feminism could offer.
We want to work on this theme during a time of acute crisis for liberal democracy, which has been variously documented and diagnosed in political science. Indeed, the periodic crisis of democracy has been well known, running through Plato to Schmitt. However, we wonder if there is something ‘organizational’ in nature that can help explain the current crisis, perhaps by making links between business (trade, commerce, economy), politics (variously conceived in terms of organization) and the antagonistic system of international relations with its logic of competition and war. Alternatively, if to exist as a citizen in modern states and societies is now primarily one of economic producer and consumer, we might think of the organizing logic of an ‘economic theology’ (Agamben, 2011; Dean, 2019; Schwarzkopf, 2011), and perhaps its capacity to neutralise, re-inscribe, or re-invent what might otherwise be conceived as matters of political concern. Power, politics, mobilisation and resistance should be central to our discipline, but this may require an escape from current intellectual and theoretical divisions (institutional theory, actor-network theory, critical management studies, process studies, population ecology, and related approaches).
Submissions might consider, but are not limited to the following questions and themes:

  • Studies of political parties and processes from an organizational perspective and which link business and management to what is customarily defined in our discipline as political ‘context’.

  • Papers that address politics within business and management and seek to address questions including the political significance of business organizations in wider politics and economy.

  • What resources are there in organization studies to develop an understanding of politics, or what we might call politics-in-organization? What links are there between organization studies and political science, political theory, international political economy, and sociology?

  • How can politics be best studied from an organizational perspective? Are there approaches that might be informed by institutional theory, critical management studies, organizational economics, complexity science, contingency theory - or population ecology, psychoanalytical and psychodynamic organization studies, for example?

  • What role does management or entrepreneurship play in these wider social and political forces? What are the roles of the corporation, the family firm or the military, for example, in these political constellations?

  • How does politics effect the practices of management and organization: leadership, decision-making, accounting and finance, marketing, strategy, innovation, human resource management, etc.?

  • How does technology and new technological development affect political processes in and across organizations? Does new technology consolidate or change existing power relations and politics conceived as the organization of power? These technologies might include various digital media, artificial intelligence, algorithms and data management software.

  • How has the rise of big data and social media begun to change the landscape of politics in ways that require an understanding of emerging and novel forms of organization based on blockchain technologies and bitcoin?

  • How might the historical formation of modern political thought and the constitutional organization of the modern state be best addressed, developed and advanced within organization studies?

  • How do feminist political analyses enrich our understanding of political processes and disruptions?

  • What contribution to politics and organization can be made by studies of new materialism and vitalist theories of materiality and subjectivities?

  • What can be made in organization studies of the continuing interest in biopolitics and how might this help us expand how we understand the operations and fields of play in which contemporary politics operates organizationally?

  • Has social media succeeded in creating new publics, open to new forms of the political dark arts and an ‘algorithmic governmentality’ that speaks of new forms of organization?

  • Finally, is there an emerging ‘market politics’ in which politics is being extended and reinvented through the proxy of economic markets made of up a multitude of actors, devices, things, and practices, all of which we might think consequential for the ways we think the political?



  • Agamben, G. (2011): The Kingdom and the Glory. For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
  • Dean, M. (2019): “What is Economic Theology? A New Governmental-Political Paradigm?” Theory, Culture & Society, 36 (3), 3–26.
  • Parker, M. (2003): “Introduction: Ethics, Politics and Organizing.” Organization, 10 (2), 187–203.
  • Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017): Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. Posthumanities, Vol. 41. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Pullen, A., & Rhodes, C. (eds.) (2015): The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations. London: Routledge.
  • Schwarzkopf, S. (2011): “The Political Theology of Consumer Sovereignty: Towards an Ontology of Consumer Society.” Theory, Culture & Society, 28 (3), 106–129.
  • Vachhani, S. (2015): “Working the grey zones: feminist ethics, organizational politics.” In: A. Pullen & C. Rhodes (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations. London: Routledge, 479–493.
Damian O'Doherty is Professor of Management and Organization in the Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. He is Director of the Manchester Ethnography network and Co-Director of the “BEAM nuclear and social research network” (, a collaboration between natural and social scientists studying nuclear matters, based in the Dalton Institute at the University of Manchester. Damian has a long-standing interest in politics and organization analysis and has published widely on this topic in recent years.
Sheena J. Vachhani is a Reader in Work and Organization Studies at the School of Management and Co-Director of the Centre for Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organisations (ARCIO), University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Her work centers around ethics, politics and difference in work and organization. Sheena has co-edited special issues of ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Leadership’ and is an Associate Editor for ‘Gender, Work and Organization’. She publishes in scholarly journals such as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Work, Employment and Society’, and ‘Organization’.
Christian De Cock is Professor of Organization Studies at the Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. He has a longstanding interest in the interface of the humanities and organization studies and more recently has turned his attention to the development of a political economy of organization.