Sub-theme 14: [SWG] The Role of Organizing in Extreme Contexts

Mark de Rond
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Markus Hällgren
Umeå University, Sweden
Kathleen M. Sutcliffe
Johns Hopkins University, USA

Call for Papers

The theme of the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG) 14 – and this sub-theme in particular – aspires to bring together scholars who are interested in theorizing about organizing in, and for, extreme contexts. To fully understand the complex phenomena this entails, an interdisciplinary approach is a must. This is reflected in prior research that has engaged organizational theorists, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists and engineers alike with a plethora of situations and settings including, but not limited to, nuclear power plant operations, blue light services, war, terrorism, gun violence, industrial pollution, air crashes, floods, draughts, forest fires, and earthquakes. We hope that the sub-theme will provide a platform to continue these explorations.
In brief, 'extreme contexts' are settings where people face persistent existential threat that may exceed their abilities to manage such (cf. Hannah et al., 2009: 898). Whereas the consequences of such threat often are negative, for example, the loss of human life; the outcome may also be positive, e.g. new knowledge and innovations. The aim of the sub-theme is to open up a dialogue on how to conceptualize extreme contexts for the purpose of integrating and consolidating the fragmented literature (see, for example, Bundy et al., 2017; Hällgren et al., 2018; Williams et al., 2018 for reviews).
That is to say, we wish to initiate a dialogue between theoretical approaches around everyday activities in high risk contexts, resilient ways of organizing, responding to novelty and crisis, where errors potentially have disastrous consequences. Whilst high-reliability research (e.g. Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001) has highlighted organizing principles, such as a preoccupation with failure, as core to managing in extreme contexts, there exists a stubborn need to develop a deeper theory-informed understanding of how such preoccupations are enacted in situations of adverse events and in extreme contexts. Finally, to further advance the theoretical insights there is a need to explore the contributions to management and organization studies in general.
Example topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What happens when the extreme becomes the new normal?

  • What are the roles of rules, guidelines, technologies and routines for organizing in extreme contexts?

  • How do individuals, teams and organizations cope with disruption of organizational practices in extreme contexts?

  • What are the roles and impacts of everyday operations in extreme contexts?

  • How does decision-making within a network of affected actors sustaincollective action during crisis situations?

  • What is the role of the body in sensemaking of crisis situations?

We seek high-quality contributions that move beyond a fascination for the empirical setting per se, and help advance the subfield of extreme context research (ECR) conceptually, theoretically and methodologically and, in doing so, also develop new insights for management and organization studies more generally.


  • Bundy, J., Pfarrer, M.D., Short, C.E., & Coombs, W.T. (2017): “Crises and Crisis Management.” Journal of Management, 43 (6), 1661–1692.
  • Hannah, S.T., Uhl-Bien, M., Avolio, B.J., & Cavarretta, F.L. (2009): “A Framework for Examining Leadership in Extreme Contexts.” The Leadership Quarterly, 20 (6), 897–919.
  • Hällgren, M., Rouleau, L., & de Rond, M. (2018): “A Matter of Life or Death: How Extreme Context Research Matters for Management and Organization Studies.” Academy of Management Annals, 12 (1), 111–153.
  • Weick, K.E., & Sutcliffe, K.M. (2001): Managing the Unexpected. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Williams, T., Gruber, D., Sutcliffe, K., Shepherd, D., & Zhao, E.Y. (2018): “Organizational Response to Adversity: Fusing Crisis Management and Resilience Research Streams.” Academy of Management Annals, 11 (2), 733–769.
Mark de Rond is a Professor of Organizational Ethnography at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. A recurring feature in his work is the experience of being human in challenging environments. He has embedded with Boat Race rowing crews, war surgeons in Helmand, adventurers on the river Amazon, peace activists walking from Berlin to Aleppo and, more recently, paedophile hunters. Mark’s work has been published in such outlets as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’ and, in line with the ethnographic tradition, in book form.
Markus Hällgren is a Professor of Management and Organization at Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå University, Sweden. His main research interest lies within the everyday practice in extreme contexts. He has done research on mountaineering expeditions to Mount Everest and K2, hospital emergency departments, zombies, and the police. Markus leads the research program “Extreme Environments – Everyday Decisions” ( and is co-responsible for the “Organizing Extreme Contexts” network ( His work has been published in outlets such as ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘European Management Journal’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘International Journal of Project Management’.
Kathleen M. Sutcliffe is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, with appointments in the Carey Business School, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety. Her research program has been devoted to investigating how organizations and their members cope with uncertainty, team and organizational learning, and how organizations can be designed to be more reliable and resilient. She is currently investigating organizational safety, high reliability and resilience practices in healthcare and in other high-hazard industries such as oil exploration and production and wildland firefighting. Kathleen has published widely in management and organization theory and healthcare, such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academic Medicine’, and ‘BMJ Quality and Safety’.