Sub-theme 52: Organizational Storytelling Activism: Using Praxes of Storytelling to Enable Diversity and Equity

David M. Boje
Aalborg University, Denmark
Rohny Saylors
Washington State University, USA
Ann Starbæk Bager
University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

Call for Papers

Inclusive storytelling is a research praxis. “Sociological praxis seeks to identify dominant narratives and to change them in a practical, useful way” (Rosile et al., 2013: 562). In this mode of inquiry, “the researcher problematizes dominant ideology threads of the storytelling” using Marxist, Critical Theory, & Postructuralism to deconstruct the monologic tendencies in change/development models. The goal of inclusive storytelling is ethno-theoretical, specifically to find the qualitative basis of theoretical knowledge that upholds systems of exclusion and inequity. Given the epistemological and axiological commitments of many organizational scholars, organizational scholars have an opportunity to overcome the elitist ways of being when encountering the lived experiences of those who experience the everyday suffering of exclusion and inequity – inclusive storytelling helps avoid alienating lived experiences by breaking through abstract categories.
With this sub-theme, we want to encourage research that denies the legitimacy of organizational theorizing when it treats inclusivity and equity as abstract sociological categories rather than lived experiences. The aim is to develop the necessary theoretical and empirical groundwork around the lived experiences of those who suffer from being excluded and inequitably treated to enable truly inclusive organizational theorizing. Here we align with discourse scholars that zoom-in-and-out between diverse organizational discursive layers starting from the practice and small discursive level and from there zoom out and put the local research findings into perspective according to broader organizational and societal Discourses (Starbæk Bager, 2016; Starbæk Bager & Mølholm, 2019; Starbæk Bager et al., 2020; Grant & Iedema, 2005; Nicolini, 2009, 2016). We call for work that challenges organizationally crystallized ways of saying and doing things and reveals the socio material and political practices that such activities are embedded in (discourse activism: Starbæk Bager & Mølholm, 2020, Starbæk Bager & McClellan, 2020; reflexivity in action: Cunliffe, 2003; Cunliffe & Coupland, 2011; and Butler’s reflexive undoing). This works together with a reclamation of practices in theorizing on organizational matters (Starbæk Bager, 2016; Nicolini, 2009). Another important element of inclusion is a post-humanist understanding of exclusion and inequity. Taking the planet itself as valuable in and of itself and taking extinction level events as the tragic death of a billion-year evolutionary line, we see that inclusion must include more than human interest. Specifically, recent historical research (Genoe McLaren et al., 2015) has sought a praxis future that moves beyond humanistic history (Boje & Saylors, 2015: 203).
We aim to encourage research on inclusive storytelling that includes researchers themselves as part of the rebellion against powers that are driving global society through poverty, pestilence, and the plundering of our futures. Initially, “storytelling” was used in a narrow way to explore the ways people engage in narrative-telling within organizations (Gabriel, 2000). More recent research has proffered storytelling theory as an embodied, emotional, elaboration of the cognitivist perspective that communication is constitutive of organizations (Starbæk Bager, 2019; Wolff Lundholt & Boje, 2018). Thus, inclusive storytelling can be enabled by studies of inclusivity in sensemaking (Weick, 2012), enchantment (Ganzin et al., 2020), power and subjectivity (Jørgensen, 2017), history-telling (Boje et al., 2016; Suddaby et al., 2019), dialogic practices and discursive openings (Starbæk Bager & McClellan, 2020) and through participatory reflexive and change-oriented work with organizational narrative-small-story dynamics (Starbæk Bager & Lundholdt, 2020). Seen from such perspectives, inclusive storytelling reaches beyond Western narratives and can include colonially excluded voices which proffer indigenous ways of knowing (Banerjee & Linstead, 2004; Banerjee & Tedmanson, 2010; Cajete, 2015; Hoskins & Jones, 2017; Pepion, 2016; Rosile, 2016; Sullivan TwoTrees & Kolan, 2016).
This sub-theme invites approaches that address the ‘smallness’ and the more informal dimensions of organizational storytelling practices such as small stories (Starbæk Bager, 2016; Bamberg, 1997, 2006; Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008; Bamberg & Wipff, 2020), counter-narratives (Starbæk Bager et al., 2020; Bamberg & Andrews, 2004; Boje et al., 2016; Frandsen et al., 2016; Lueg et al., 2020) ante-narratives (Boje, 2011; 2020; Boje et al., 2016; Svane, 2019), dialectical ytorytelling (Boje, 2016a, 2016b), performative storytelling (Arendt, 2013; Butler, 2015; Jørgensen 2017), true storytelling (Larsen et al., 2021), organizational narratives-small-story dynamics (Starbæk Bager & Wolff Lundholdt, 2020) and the like. To date the role of inclusive storytelling and its links to challenges of inclusivity and equity are not well understood, both in theoretical and empirical terms, nor are there any ready-made solutions for facilitating inclusive storytelling that fosters inclusion and equity advancing research. Thus, we call for studies that help break through the “interesting” and “conversation” barriers to work that addresses super wicked problems faced by the impoverished, the marginalized, and those who suffer most both from climate-change and from climate change initiatives.
We invite conceptual and empirical submissions drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives and diverse methodologies. The following topic areas highlight exemplary questions and research themes:

  • Theory development: What theories presently disable inclusion and equity; what stories and underlying assumptions are these researchers enacting? What new stories could explain the same findings, but do so in a way that no longer excuses exclusion or crates inequality? What are the drivers, outcomes and boundary conditions of inclusive storytelling from different ontological, epistemological and sociology-of-science perspectives?

  • Empirical research: How can we help uncover the silencing of inclusive stories in organizations and its impact on inclusivity and equality? What are the conditions that contribute to the half-measures of inclusivity that act to exclude, like the UNs “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”?

  • Including responsibility for colonialization: How can we achieve full indigenous sovereignty and complete recognition of the right to self-determination? How can organizational theory be re-told with inclusive storytelling to lead governments to protect native land, water, food, health care, social issues, housing, etc.?

  • Incorporating recent societal developments: How can militaries across the world be de-funded? What can be done to offset the traditional use of the military to employ “surplus people” and instead include these traumatized state-owned wage-slaves in a post-military society?

  • New forms of telling inclusive stories: Under what conditions can new forms of inclusive storytelling emerge? How can inclusive storytelling contribute to solving sustainable development challenges? How can existing inclusive storytelling practices be improved to better enable actual change?

  • Meta-reflexivity and ethics of storytelling research: How can storytelling scholars work reflexively and ethically with their own underlying assumptions and methods? Which stories or voices do we as storytelling scholars enable and which might we be disabling and excluding? What are the horizons of overcoming exclusion and inequality? How do we give voice to those we seek to emancipate from the neoliberal, capitalistic and growth-oriented ideologies? How do we avoid the pitfall of the emancipatory paradox (Starbæk Bager & Mølholm, 2020; Clegg et al., 2006) – pushing our ideals of emancipation on to research participants to achieve own interests? Which new discursive hegemonies do we risk foster, and how can we deal with such in a reflexive and ethical manner?


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  • Bamberg, M.G., & Andrews, M. (2004): Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Bamberg, M.G., & Georgakopoulou, A. (2008): “Small stories as a new perspective in narrative and identity analysis.” Text & Talk, 28 (3), 377–396.
  • Bamberg, M.G., & Wipff, Z. (2020): “Reconsidering Counter-Narratives.” In: K. Lueg & M. Wolff Lundholt (eds.): “The Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives.” London: Routledge, Part I, chapter 5.
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  • Banerjee, S., & Tedmanson, D. (2010): “Grass burning under our feet: Indigenous enterprise development in a political economy of whiteness.” Management Learning, 41 (2), 147–165.
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  • Boje, D.M. (2016a): “Dialectical storytelling: Transitioning university into respecting hawk rights to reproduce and have their family in a posthumanist world.” Working paper.
  • Boje, D.M. (2016b): “The dialectic storytelling of the standing conference for management and organization inquiry (sc’MOI ) as it dismembers and re-members.” Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, 14 (1), 53.
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  • Boje, D.M., Haley, U.C., & Saylors, R. (2016): “Antenarratives of organizational change: The microstoria of Burger King’s storytelling in space, time and strategic context.” Human Relations, 69 (2), 391–418.
  • Boje, D.M., & Saylors, R. (2015): “Posthumanist entrepreneurial storytelling, global warming, and global capitalism.” In: P. Genoe McLaren, A.J. Mills & T.G. Weatherbee (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Management and Organizational History. London: Routledge, 197–205.
  • Boje, D.M., Svane, M.S., & Gergerich, E. (2016): “Counternarrative and antenarrative inquiry in two cross-cultural contexts.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management, 4 (1), 55–84.
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  • Frandsen, S., Kuhn, T., & Wolff Lundholt, M.W. (eds.) (2016): Counter-Narratives and Organization. London: Routledge.
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  • Ganzin, M., Islam, G., & Suddaby, R. (2020): “Spirituality and entrepreneurship: The role of magical thinking in future-oriented sensemaking”. Organization Studies, 41 (1), 77–102.
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  • Larsen, J., Boje, D.M., & Bruun, L. (2021): True Storytelling. London: Routledge.
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  • Starbæk Bager, A., & McClellan, J. (2020): “Sustainable organizing through dialogic practice: Narrative, discursive openings, and organizational change.” Working paper.
  • Starbæk Bager, A., & Mølholm, M. (2020): “A methodological framework for organizational discourse activism: An ethics of dispositif and dialogue.” Philosophy of Management, 19 (1), 99–126.
  • Starbæk Bager, A., & Wolff Lundholt, M. (2020): “Organizational Storymaking as Narrative-Small-Story Dynamics: A Combination of Organizational Storytelling Theory and Small Story Analysis.” In: K. Lueg & M. Wolff Lundholt (eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives. London: Routledge, Part III, chapter 12.
  • Suddaby, R., Coraiola, D., Harvey, C., & Foster, W. (2019): “History and the micro‐foundations of dynamic capabilities.” Strategic Management Journal, 41 (3), 530–556.
  • Svane, M.S. (2019): “Organizational storytelling of the future: Ante- and anti-narrative in quantum age.” In: D.M. Boje & M. Sanchez (eds.): The Handbook of Management and Organizational Inquiry. Bingley: Emerald, 153–182.
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  • Weick, K.E. (2012): “Organized sensemaking: A commentary on processes of interpretive work.” Human Relations, 65 (1), 141–153.
  • Wolff Lundholt, M., & Boje, D.M. (2018): “Understanding organizational narrative-counter-narratives dynamics: An overview of communication constitutes organization (CCO) and storytelling organization theory (SOT) approaches.” Communication and Language at Work, 5 (1), 18–29.
David M. Boje is a Professor at Aalborg University’s Business College, Denmark. He has published more than 400 peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters, is most well-known for his work in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, and ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’. He is the most well cited scholar in storytelling, is famous for distinguishing between storytelling and narrative, and created the field of antenarrative research in his 2001 narrative methods book.
Rohny Saylors is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Carson College of Business at Washington State University, USA His research is focused on entrepreneurial storytelling processes and methods. Rohny’s passion is the advancement of human creativity, hope, and authentic compassion through, and within, organizational scholarship. He has published in ‘Organizational Research Methods’, ‘Tamara: Journal of Critical Organization Inquiry’, and ‘Human Relations’. He is most well-known for arguing that entrepreneurship is storytelling.
Ann Starbæk Bager is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Denmark. She is Head of the Center for Narratological Studies (CNS) and one of the organizers of an annual International Storytelling Conference. Ann’s research is on organizational narrative studies in a discursive and practice-based perspective. She is part of defining the field of organizational discourse ad storytelling activism. Ann is currently publishing on matters of storytelling, power, multimodality and ethics in relation to organizational/leadership communication. She has recently published, among others, in ‘Communication and Language at Work’, ‘Tamara: Journal of Critical Organization Inquiry’, and ‘Journal of Philosophy of Management’.