Sub-theme 60: Organizing Inclusive Spaces: Processual Approaches to Space in Organizations

Kathleen A. Stephenson
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Boukje Cnossen
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Ari Kuismin
Aalto University, Finland

Call for Papers

This sub-theme examines how organizing for an inclusive society is fundamentally a spatial challenge. It surfaces at a moment in which workspaces extend nearly everywhere, yet manage to exclude specific people, practices, and things despite their physical proximity. Technologies and new work arrangements (e.g., telework, flexible work, co-working spaces and multi-locational work) have radically transformed where, how, and with whom/what work is done. Simultaneously, these transformations have given rise to new forms of organizational inclusion and exclusion. For example, members of virtual teams working across the globe can experience a closer ‘proximity’ to their globally dispersed teammates than to the ‘local’ colleagues (Wilson et al., 2008). Furthermore, spatially dispersed and technologically mediated work settings can foster digital inequality, info-exclusion, and a sense of isolation (Dobusch et al., 2019; Sewell & Taskin, 2015). In addition, while co-working hubs, startup accelerators and other new workspaces employ a rhetoric of inclusion of diversity, they are experienced in more complex and ambiguous ways by their users (Katila et al., 2019). Finally, also when workers have the flexibility to work from public places such as cafés, or work while travelling, such open space are not devoid from hierarchies either (Cnossen et al., 2020). These examples highlight the multiplicity and co-existence of spatial inclusion and exclusion in organizations and organizing.
To better understand how and why space matters in organizing, scholars have recently moved away from conceptualizing space as a stable container towards examining the spatial practices that enact it (Beyes & Steyaert, 2012). This ‘process approach’ is built on the premise that space and organizing are mutually constituted through diverse organizational actions and interactions (Ashcraft et al., 2009). With this assumption, researchers have directed attention to exploring how organizing and ‘spacing’ come to take place, change, and endure over time (Mengis et al., 2018). These studies take multiple social and material agencies seriously (Vásquez & Cooren, 2013) by tracing how heterogeneous sociomaterial agencies coexist, affect, and transform with one another. Research has examined, for example, how turning computer screens and arranging chairs are involved in enacting spaces that shape different strategic activities (Jarzabkowski et al., 2015). Other studies have demonstrated how the exclusion of certain people can constitute a space for institutional change (Kellogg, 2009), or workplace resistance (Courpasson et al., 2017). Moreover, research has shown how the expansion work into traditionally non-work spaces shrinks public and civic spaces (Halford, 2008). Therefore, the process studies of organizational space have shown its practiced, emergent and fluid character.
Despite these important developments, at present we still know little about the ways in which the multiple forms of inclusion and exclusion unfold in and through spatial practices in contemporary organizations. In particular, although organization and management studies have increasingly acknowledged the dynamic character of space, they tend to treat it as a substance and consequently overlook the actions and interactions that go into its production. Consequently, this sub-theme is particularly interested in manuscripts that examine how space acts in inclusive and/or exclusive organizing, not as a single agent, but rather as a ‘constellation of things’ (Cnossen & Bencherki, 2019). This means taking seriously different degrees materialities and agencies present in the ways in which space and organizing are entangled. Furthermore, it requires recognizing spatial inclusion and exclusion as ongoing and complex accomplishments rather than stable features of specific workspaces or buildings.
We invite contributions to examine how spatial activities of including, excluding, expanding, shrinking, arranging and disarranging interface with organizational activities. Researchers might what to examine:

  • How employees and teams share information and/or collaborate despite being geographically dispersed

  • How leaders and managers in multi-location organizations lead and manage employees

  • How organizational decision makers arrange themselves and the things around them to create, develop, persuade others about strategic directions

  • How individuals participating in the gig economy arrange their work, feel “a part” of platform-based organizations, and resist algorithmic controls

  • How employees navigate work-life balance when their organization expands into traditionally non-work spaces

  • How and why stakeholders are neglected, silenced, or excluded in strategic decisions

  • How organizations control employees physically dispersed employees

  • How spaces privilege and shape specific genders, bodies, and ethnicities

  • How activists mobilize and include agents to take part in a social movement despite being physically dispersed

  • How technologies, and access to them, shape firms and their participation in different markets

  • How speed, organizing, and space interface through financial transactions

  • How to approach mutual constitution of space and organizing theoretically

  • How to study the situated and sociomaterial character of space and organizing

  • How to study organizational space as a process empirically

  • How organization researchers can conceptualize organizational space as a process

  • Why organizations must exclude, and the dark sides of inclusion


  • Ashcraft, K.L., Kuhn, T.R., & Cooren, F. (2009): “Constitutional amendments: ‘Materializing’ organizational communication.” Academy of Management Annals, 3 (1), 1–64.
  • Beyes, T., & Steyaert, C. (2012): “Spacing organization: Non-representational theory and performing organizational space.” Organization, 19 (1), 45–61.
  • Cnossen, B., & Bencherki, N. (2019): “The role of space in the emergence and endurance of organizing: How independent workers and material assemblages constitute organizations.” Human Relations, 6 (72), 1057–1080.
  • Cnossen, B., de Vaujany, F.-X., & Haefliger, S. (2020): “The Street and Organization Studies.” Organization Studies, first published online on May 7, 2020,
  • Courpasson, D., Dany, F., & Delbridge, R. (2017): “Politics of place: The meaningfulness of resisting places.” Human Relations, 70 (2), 237–259.
  • Dobusch, L., Dobusch, L., & Müller-Seitz, G. (2019): “Closing for the benefit of openness? The case of Wikimedia’s open strategy process.” Organization Studies, 40 (3), 343–370.
  • Halford, S. (2008): “Sociologies of space, work and organisation: From fragments to spatial theory.” Sociology Compass, 2 (3), 925–943.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Burke, G., & Spee, P. (2015): “Constructing spaces for strategic work: A multimodal perspective.” British Journal of Management, 26, S26–S47.
  • Katila, S., Kuismin, A., & Valtonen, A. (2019): “Becoming upbeat: Learning the affecto-rhythmic order of organizational practices.” Human Relations, 73 (9), 1308–1330.
  • Kellogg, K. (2009): “Operating room: Relational spaces and microinstitutional change in surgery.” American Journal of Sociology, 115 (3), 657–711.
  • Mengis, J., Nicolini, D., & Gorli, M. (2018): “The video production of space: How different recording practices matter.” Organizational Research Methods, 21 (2), 288–315.
  • Sewell, G., & Taskin, L. (2015): “Out of sight, out of mind in a new world of work? Autonomy, control, and spatiotemporal scaling in telework.” Organization Studies, 36 (11), 1507–1529.
  • Vásquez, C., & Cooren, F. (2013): “Spacing practices: The communicative configuration of organizing through space-times.” Communication Theory, 23 (1), 25–47.
  • Wilson, J.M., Boyer O’Leary, M., Metiu, A., & Jett, Q.R. (2008): “Perceived proximity in virtual work: Explaining the paradox of far-but-close.” Organization Studies, 29 (7), 979–1002.
Kathleen A. Stephenson is an Assistant Professor in Organization Studies with the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is a trained ethnographer interested in space, change, technology, strategy, and professions, which she studies from process and practice perspectives.
Boukje Cnossen is an Assistant Professor in Cultural Entrepreneurship at the Institute for Management and Organization at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. Research interests: space, ethnography, CCO, process and practice theories, entrepreneurship-as-practice.
Ari Kuismin is a post-doctoral Researcher in Organizational Communication at the Department of Management Studies at Aalto University School of Business, Finland. Research interests: organizational space, process and practice theories, affect theories, entrepreneurship, and ethnographic approaches.