Sub-theme 61: The Sociomaterial Organizing of Work and its Consequences for the Constitution of Diversity and Inequalities

Laura Dobusch
Radboud University, The Netherlands
Koen Van Laer
Hasselt University, Belgium
Marieke van den Brink
Radboud University, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

Nearly 30 years ago, Acker (1992) argued that the (re-)production of inequalities on the labour market and in organizations is inherently connected to “the spatial and temporal arrangements of work” (p. 255). This sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work includes the division of tasks, the design of jobs, the distribution of supervisory power and decision-making possibilities as well as the physical design of the workplace. Jointly researching these work arrangements and their consequences for the constitution of diversity and related inequalities becomes an even more pressing issue in view of current sociomaterial and temporal transformations of work characterized by, for example, digitalization and flexibilization (Kalleberg & Vallas, 2017; Herschberg et al., 2018). However, studies that approach both diversity and related inequalities as embedded in, (re-)produced and even co-constituted by the sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work continue to remain scarce (for exceptions, see e.g., Acker, 1992; Ashcraft, 2013; Janssens & Steyaert, 2019; Zanoni & Janssens, 2015).
Previous studies at the intersection of diversity and inequalities – be they about gender, race, ethnicity, dis/ability, age or other relations of difference – often downplay the role of the sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work through their reliance on either social psychological or discursive approaches (Zanoni et al., 2010). Specifically, social psychological approaches tend to explain persisting inequalities primarily by focusing on interpersonal discriminatory behavior, caused by universal cognitive processes resulting in stereotypes and prejudices (Mik-Meyer, 2016; Van Laer & Janssens, 2011). Meanwhile, discursive approaches mainly focus on the way linguistic constructions of social identities in organizations are shaped by macro-discourses, negotiated by individuals through identity work and related to power inequalities between different groups of organizational members (e.g., Dobusch, 2017; Van Laer & Janssens, 2017). However, less attention is paid to how discourses are connected to the sociomaterial and temporal ‘realities’ of work organizing (e.g., Ashcraft, 2013; Zanoni & Janssens, 2015).
Meanwhile, research that investigates the sociomaterial and temporal aspect of work and the way this is connected to relations of power, has to date insufficiently enriched our understanding of organizational inequalities connected to diversity. Such studies focus, for instance, on how temporality and power are involved in the mutually constitutive relation between technology and social processes (Leonardi & Barley, 2010; Orlikowski, 2007). Other research uses the lens of space, thereby exploring the way organizational spaces and physical designs of workplaces shape organizational dynamics and power relations between management and employees (Dale, 2005). Further, studies have explored the way bodies operate in space and time and interact with specific objects and structures as they engage in particular tasks (Delbridge & Sallaz, 2015).
In view of current transformations of work and newly emerging forms of organizing, fueled by the increasing significance of non-human actors and digitalization, it seems imperative to jointly investigate the sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work and its consequences for the constitution of diversity and related inequalities. For instance, we see the rise of ‘networked organizations’, in which organizations rely on combinations of ‘non-standard’ forms of work, such as temporary employment, outsourcing, insourcing or sub-contracting (Acker, 2012; Kalleberg & Vallas, 2017). This is further accelerated by phenomena such as the platform economy, which allows for crowdwork and the organization of work through online platforms, bringing worldwide scattered collaborators together and at the same time potentially reproducing or aggravating diversity-related inequalities (van Doorn, 2017).
Against this background, the aim of this sub-theme is to advance our understanding of the mutual constitution of diversity and related inequalities on the one hand, and the sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work on the other hand. To do so, this stream seeks to encourage a debate between research on inequalities related to diversity and research on the sociomaterial and temporal organizing of work. This will allow us to investigate how gendered, racialized or otherwise asymmetrically categorized identities and group memberships are (re-)produced, shaped and (de-)stabilized by a particular division of labor, modes of task, job and organization design and working time regimes in conjunction with further sociomaterial underpinnings such as spatial design and technological conditions.
Papers may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • How does focusing on temporal and sociomaterial ways of organizing allow us to develop new theories about differences, diversity and related inequalities in organizations?

  • How are different forms of organizing (e.g., bureaucratic, decentralized, networked) connected to the reproduction or change of diversity-related inequality patterns?

  • How do different forms of working time regimes (re-)produce different forms of diversity and inequality regimes?

  • How can we conceptualize and investigate the co-constitution of organizational spaces and diversity and related inequalities?

  • How is the design – of new forms – of jobs connected to the (re-)production of diversity and related inequalities?

  • How does the relationship between current technological, digital and automatized developments and the (re-)production of diversity and related inequalities unfold?

  • How is the temporal and sociomaterial organizing of work connected to global inequalities?

  • What actual or imagined forms of organizing work could result in diversity-affine organizations as such?



  • Acker, J. (1992): “Gendering organizational theory.” In: A.J. Mills & P. Tancred (eds.): Gendering Organizational Analysis. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 248–260.
  • Acker, J. (2012): “Gendered organizations and intersectionality: Problems and possibilities.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31 (3), 214–224.
  • Ashcraft, K.L. (2013): “The Glass Slipper: ‘Incorporating’ Occupational Identity in Management Studies.” Academy of Management Review, 38 (1), 6–31.
  • Dale, K. (2005): “Building a Social Materiality: Spatial and Embodied Politics in Organizational Control.” Organization, 12 (5), 649–678.
  • Delbridge, R., & Sallaz, J. (2015): “Work: Four Worlds and Ways of Seeing.” Organization Studies, 36 (11), 1449–1462.
  • Dobusch, L. (2017): “Gender, Dis-/ability and Diversity Management: Unequal Dynamics of Inclusion?” Gender, Work & Organization, 24 (5), 487–505.
  • Herschberg, C., Benschop, Y., & van den Brink, M. (2018): “The peril of potential: Gender practices in the recruitment and selection of early career researchers.” In: A. Murgia & B. Poggio (eds.): Gender and Precarious Careers: A Comparative Analysis. New York: Routledge, 111–142.
  • Janssens, M., & Steyaert, C. (2019): “A Practice-Based Theory of Diversity: Respecifying (In)Equality in Organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 44 (3), 518–537.
  • Kalleberg, A.L., & Vallas, S.P. (2017): “Probing Precarious Work: Theory, Research, and Politics.” In: A.L. Kalleberg & S.P. Vallas (eds.): Precarious Work. Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 31. Bingley: Emerald Publishing, 1–30.
  • Leonardi, P.M., & Barley, S.R. (2010): “What’s Under Construction Here? Social Action, Materiality, and Power in Constructivist Studies of Technology and Organizing.” Academy of Management Annals, 4 (1), 1–51.
  • Mik-Meyer, N. (2016): “Othering, ableism and disability: A discursive analysis of co-workers’ construction of colleagues with visible impairments.” Human Relations, 69 (6), 1341–1363.
  • Orlikowski, W.J. (2007): “Sociomaterial Practices: Exploring Technology at Work.” Organization Studies, 28 (9), 1435–1448.
  • van Doorn, N. (2017): “Platform labor: on the gendered and racialized exploitation of low-income service work in the ‘on-demand’ economy.” Information, Communication & Society, 20 (6), 898–914.
  • Van Laer, K., & Janssens, M. (2011): “Ethnic minority professionals’ experiences with subtle discrimination in the workplace.” Human Relations, 64 (9), 1203–1227.
  • Van Laer, K. & Janssens, M. (2017): “Agency of ethnic minority employees: Struggles around identity, career and social change.” Organization, 24 (2), 198–217.
  • Zanoni, P., & Janssens, M. (2015): “The Power of Diversity Discourses at Work: On the Interlocking Nature of Diversities and Occupations.” Organization Studies, 36 (11), 1463–1483.
  • Zanoni, P., Janssens, M., Benschop, Y., & Nkomo, S. (2010): “Unpacking diversity, grasping inequality: rethinking difference through critical perspectives.” Organization, 17 (1), 9–29.
Laura Dobusch is an Assistant Professor of Gender & Diversity at Radboud Social Cultural Research, Radboud University, The Netherlands. Her main interests include why and how differences become relevant in organizations, how organizational inclusion and exclusion dynamics unfold and how contemporary forms of organizing are linked to the construction of il-/legitimate subjectivities. Laura’s research has been published in edited volumes as well as journals such as ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal’, ‘Gender, Work & Organization’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Koen Van Laer is an Associate Professor at SEIN – Identity, Diversity & Inequality Research, Hasselt University, Belgium. Drawing on critical perspectives, his works focuses on ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and religion at work, on the way workplace experiences and careers are connected to power inequalities, on the way ‘difference’ is managed and constructed in organizations, and on the way this is connected to material organizational elements. Koen’s work has appeared in edited volumes as well as in international journals such as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’.
Marieke van den Brink is Professor of Gender & Diversity at Radboud Social Cultural Research, Radboud University, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on gender and diversity in organizations, organizational learning and change, power and resistance, and she links these concepts with macro developments such as migration, new public management and austerity. Marieke has published in, among others, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Organization’.