Sub-theme 25: Doing Sociology in Organization Studies

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Convenors:
Michael Grothe-Hammer
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway
Kathia Serrano Velarde
Heidelberg University, Germany
Mikaela Sundberg
Stockholm University & SCORE, Sweden

Call for Papers


The past few years have seen a plethora of debates regarding the nature of theorizing in organization research and the position of sociological theory therein (Besio et al., 2020; Clegg et al., 2020). While it has been argued that organizational scholarship draws its intellectual lineage from a diversity of sources, thereby developing rich accounts of the workings of organizations, there is little doubt that the divide between organization scholars and sociologists has widened considerably (Clegg & Cuhna, 2019; Adler et al., 2014; Clegg, 2002; King, 2017). While many paradigms of organization theory – e.g. neo-institutionalism, population ecology and resource dependency – have originated in sociology, sociology is nowadays considered a neighboring discipline of organization studies as opposed to being constitutive of it. The once lively dialogue on the social nature, characteristics, and consequences of organizing and organization seems to have come to a halt (Barley, 2010; Davis, 2015; Hinings & Greenwood, 2002).

“Sociology of organizations”, or as it is more often and perhaps erroneously called “organizational sociology” (as if the sociology was subservient to the organizations analyzed – but we will stick with tradition) has thus entered the classic canon of organization studies – a gentle reminder that organizational scholarship has “history” (Scott, 2020). The label “organizational sociology” however, does not mirror the rich and varied sociological scholarship we witness among today’s organization scholars. For many, if not most, it has become unclear what the sociological is supposed to be or mean in organization studies. Against this backdrop we ask, irrespective of a classic canon: What is “organizational sociology” today?
 
This sub-theme seeks to explore the new boundaries of organizational sociology. It sets out to map a community of scholars that transcends disciplinary limitations by following one simple epistemic logic: society is constituted in, between, across and around organizations (Powell & Brandtner, 2016). We thereby work under the assumption that the dialogue on the social nature of organizing and organization did not simply vanish but instead switched levels to become an integral yet tacit part of the community’s research agenda (Scott, 2004). For while sociological questions and themes are broadly present in the field of organization studies, many organization scholars do not identify as authors of sociological works (Adler et al., 2014). We hope to revitalize the dialogue over future avenues of sociologically minded organization research. We do so by identifying, discussing and challenging the genuinely sociological contribution to and of organization studies.
 
We locate the nature of the sociological contribution in a sociological imagination for which, as Karl Marx wrote in a flamboyant letter to the German philosopher Arnold Ruge, the primary mission is “the ruthless criticism of everything existing”. He further elaborated by writing that “the criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be” (Marx. 1843). A similar logic has subsequently driven much sociological work. The question that this imagination implies for organizational scholarship is to ask what is the role of social critique? In a world in which much of recent scholarship is located in business schools, with an inherent mobilization of bias towards normative issues posed by and for business (Grothe-Hammer & Kohl. 2020), how can that imagination not only be applied but also be able to make a difference, socially, organizationally, sociologically?
 
We therefore invite papers from a range of theoretical and methodological approaches that investigate the sociological dimensions of organization and organization studies. Contributions can be of two sorts: First, we seek papers that unravel and critically discuss the existing (or missing) sociological dimension of contemporary organization research from a theoretical perspective. Second, we welcome empirical contributions that explicate their sociological stance towards organizational scholarship.
 
We explicitly welcome contributions from junior as well as well-established scholars. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • What is the place and role of sociology in organization studies? We explicitly invite papers that critically address the relevance of sociological work, “ruthless criticism” (Marx, 1843), or “sociological imagination” (Mills & Gitlin, 2000) to modern organizational scholarship.

  • What are the various sociological understandings of “society” in a world of organizations, beyond the limited notions prevalent in much contemporary organizational research? We are interested in all kinds of sociological notions of society in relation to organizations ranging from macro-theories to the micro-level (Abrutyn & Turner, 2011; Ahrne, 2015; Friedland, 2014; Luhmann, 1994), from actor networks to communication systems.

  • In a world of digital networks, global connections and extreme concentration of wealth (Oxfam, 2016; Lawson et al., 2019) what does the signifier of “society” represent today and what role do what kinds of organization play in shaping its signification?

 
How do organizations contribute to the production and reproduction of social inequalities? When social scientists do situate inequality in a social space, it is too often myopically focused on national markets and cultural processes, thereby ignoring the workings of organizations and their often-global network implications (Tomaskovic-Devey & Avent-Holt, 2019). Organizations are not only a major arena in which significant social forces and change are played out but are also actively shaping these forces and changes globally and locally. Papers that provide insights into the organizational mechanisms behind social inclusion and exclusion are explicitly welcome.
 


References


  • Abrutyn, S., & Turner, J.H. (2011): “The old institutionalism meets the new institutionalism.” Sociological Perspectives, 54 (3), 283–306.
  • Ahrne, G. (2015): “The partial organization of intimate relations.” Le Libellio d’ AEGIS, 11, 7–19.
  • Adler, P., du Gay, P., Morgan, G., & Reed, M. (2014): “Introduction: Sociology, Social Theory and Organization Studies, Continuing Entanglements.” In P. Adler, P. du Gay, G. Morgan, & M. Reed (eds.): Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1–8.
  • Besio, C., du Gay, P., & Serrano Velarde, K. (2020): “Disappearing organization? Reshaping the sociology of organizations.” Current Sociology, 68 (4), 411–418.
  • Barley, S. (2010): “Building an institutional field to corral a government: A case to set an agenda for organization studies.” Organization Studies, 31 (6), 777–805.
  • Clegg, S.R. (2002): “’Lives in the balance’: A comment on Hinings and Greenwood’s ‘Disconnects and consequences in organization theory?’” Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(3), 428–441.
  • Clegg, S., & Pina e Cunha, M. (2019): Management, Organizations and Contemporary Social Theory. London: Routledge.
  • Clegg, S.R., Pina e Cunha, M., & Berti, M. (2020): “Research movements and theorizing dynamics in management and organization studies.” Academy of Management Review, Advance online publication: https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2018.0466.
  • Davis, G.F. (2015): “Celebrating organization theory: The after‐party.” Journal of Management Studies, 52 (2), 309–319.
  • Friedland, R. (2014): “Divine institution: Max Weber’s value spheres and institutional theory.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 41, 217–258.
  • Grothe-Hammer, M., & Kohl, S. (2020): “The decline of organizational sociology? An empirical analysis of research trends in leading journals across half a century.” Current Sociology, 68 (4), 419–442.
  • Hinings, C., & Greenwood, R. (2002): “Disconnects and consequences in organization theory?” Administrative Science Quarterly, 47 (3), 411–421.
  • King, B. (2017): “The relevance of organizational sociology.” Contemporary Sociology, 46 (2), 131–137.
  • Lawson, M., Chan, M.-K., Rhodes, F., Butt, A.P., Marriott, A., Ehmke, E., Jacobs, D., & Seghers, J., Atienza, J., & Gowland, R. (2019): Public Good or Private Wealth? Oxfam Briefing Paper, https://www.oxfam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bp-public-good-or-private-wealth-210119-summ-en_WEB.pdf.
  • Luhmann, N. (1994): “’What is the Case?’ and ‘What Lies behind It?’ The Two Sociologies and the Theory of Society.” Sociological Theory, 12 (2), 126–139.
  • Marx, K. (1843/1978): “For a ruthless criticism of everything existing.” In: R. Tucker (ed.): The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 12–15.
  • Mills, C.W., & Gitlin, T. (2000): The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Oxfam (2016, January 17): An Economy for the 1%. Oxfam, https://www.oxfam.ca/publication/an-economy-for-the-1/.
  • Powell, W., & Brandtner, C. (2016): “Organizations as Sites and Drivers of Social Action.” In: S. Abrutyn (ed.): Handbook of Contemporary Sociological Theory. Berlin: Springer, 269–291.
  • Scott, W.R. (2004): “Reflections on a half-century of organizational sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 1–21.
  • Scott, A. (2020): “Prodigal offspring: Organizational sociology and organization studies.” Current Sociology, 68 (4), 443–458.
  • Tomaskovic-Devey, D., & Avent-Holt, D. (2019): Relational Inequalities. An Organizational Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Michael Grothe-Hammer is Associate Professor of Sociology (Organization and Technology) at the Department of Sociology and Political Science of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. His field is organizational sociology with a focus on the perspectives of partial organization, the communicative constitution of organization, and sociological systems theory. He is especially interested in new forms of organization and their relation to society. Michael’s work has appeared in various outlets such as ‘Current Sociology’, ‘European Societies’, ‘Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory’, and ‘Organizational Research Methods’.
Kathia Serrano Velarde is a Professor of Sociology at the Max-Weber-Institute of Sociology at Heidelberg University, Germany. She is an expert on new modes of organizing and financing research, academic careers and organizational learning. Kathia is especially interested in the changing nature of discursive practices, epistemic communities and (academic) identities. Her research has been published in ‘Current Sociology’, ‘Minerva’, ‘Voluntas’, and ‘Critical Policy Studies’.
Mikaela Sundberg is Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Sweden, and Director of Research at SCORE. She is an expert on voluntary total institutions and partial organization and has also published widely within the fields of sociology of science and science and technology studies, in particular with regard to questions related to the organization and practices of numerical simulations in the physics-based sciences. Mikaela’ work has appeared in journals such as ‘Sociology’, ‘Current Sociology’, ‘Acta Sociologica’, ‘European Journal of Sociology’, and ‘Social Studies of Science’.
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