Sub-theme 65: Visual Studies and Seeing the Unnoticed in Organization

Tim Butcher
University of Tasmania, Australia
Juliette Koning
Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Maria Laura Toraldo
University of Milan, Italy

Call for Papers

“I believe, if I may old-fashioned, I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty.”
Saul Leiter [in Leach & Erb, 2013]

The everyday complexities of organizing are ‘defined, made sense of, transported and stabilized’ through not just language but also visual and material artifacts (Boxenbaum et al., 2018: 598). With the visual turn in organization studies has come a scholarly sensibility towards the non-discursive things that would otherwise go unnoticed, or at least undocumented in organizational research (Bell & Davison, 2013). Attunement to the visual brings with it affordances to notice those things that otherwise go unsaid. Yet, despite contemporary life and organizing being saturated by visual imagery, discursive approaches maintain a dominance in our field (Meyer at al., 2013; Meier Sørensen, 2013).
Nevertheless, contemporary visual methods are increasingly used in a multitude of ways in organization studies, to peer through the cracks in organizational discourses, illuminate their imperfections, and uncover hidden beauty (and ugliness) within. In our field, contemporary approaches to the visual range through: drawing on art and aesthetics to question organization (Beyes, 2015; Warren 2008); translating elusive organizational knowledges and narratives (Höllerer et al., 2018; Toraldo et al., 2018); empowering meaningful participation for organizational change (McCarthy & Muthuri, 2018); asserting the value of filmmaking (Linstead, 2018; Wood et al., 2018), and beyond. These fresh epistemic, ontological and methodological approaches challenge how we see organization and organizing. The visual turn navigates through myriad other means in the field to circumvent the discursive turn. but the written and spoken word endures as our principal mode of doing, documenting and discoursing organizational research.
This sub-theme therefore aims to bring together visual theorists, methodologists and empiricists to distinctively address the central theme of this conference – to draw out how we see the unnoticed beauty (and ugliness) in organization, and generate a more sustained, unremitting debate that can deepen and broaden understanding of the visual in organization studies. It asks how we can identify productive ways through which visual and discursive research can intersect, towards affording visual methods a more equitable standing in the field (after Bell & Davison, 2013).
The sub-theme will be organized to provide for those who wish to present visual studies or evaluate specific approaches, and for those who wish to conceptually or methodologically discuss seeing the unnoticed. By running these two threads one after the other, the objective will be to carry over questions, critiques and clarifications to co-create a dialogue that can extend beyond the Colloquium. These might include re-examining organizational aesthetics, reconsidering visual interpretation, or repurposing sensory practices from other fields, such as the arts, archaeology, architecture, anthropology, engineering and beyond. The intended outcome will be a shared repertoire to foster greater attunement to ways of seeing organization, and to noticing those things which are not said.
Contributions are invited that either: outline current visual organizational research; or advance conceptual or methodological understanding of why and how to see the unnoticed and unspoken in organization. We also invite you to consider presenting you research visually, for example through visual storytelling, video essay, photographic installation, collage, illustration, simulation, making, or material artefacts. Possible questions that submissions might address include, but are not limited to:

  • In which ways can visual approaches explore beauty, imperfection or ugliness in organizing? What can visual research accomplish that other approaches do not? What novel and unexpected insights can it create, and what new theorizing does it facilitate?

  • What specific concepts, practices and processes are involved in a visual organizational project, including how research participants are engaged (e.g. in co-production) and how to communicate the outcomes of visual organizational research? What are some of the challenges and how can these be overcome?

  • In which ways visual research has the potential to challenge the conventional standards of academic publishing and knowledge dissemination?

  • How do the power and politics of organizational significations represent and misrepresent organizational realities? So, how can visual methods enable us to see through organizational logics and discourses, and which everyday organizational phenomena have so far gone unnoticed and how might they be illuminated?

  • How might visual approaches further shift the gaze in the field to see organizational intersubjectivities in more pluralistic, non-binary, inclusive ways?

  • What aesthetics, embodiments and affects are experienced in (co-)production of visual research, and how can they be consciously articulated? What ethical considerations must we attune to in doing, documenting and disseminating visual research?

  • How can visual approaches decolonize and/or empower disenfranchised groups in organizational research? In which ways can visual approaches be used to shine light on taken-for-granted discourses and expose problematic organizational histories (e.g. colonization, imperialism, oppression, exploitation, fraud, etc.)?

  • In what ways can methodologies draw on visual materials, multimodal texts and other artifacts, and how might such approaches be used to make sense of, or give sense to organizational narratives?

  • How might alternative conceptual lenses inform and refocus our development of visual methods?

Finally, conversational sessions are being planned, in which leading visual theorists in our field discuss the current state-of-the-art in visual studies and the future of the visual in organization studies. Discussants will be announced once confirmed.


  • Bell, E., & Davison, J. (2013): “Visual management studies: Empirical and theoretical approaches.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 15 (2), 167–184.
  • Beyes, T. (2015): “Summoning art to save the city: A note.” Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, 15 (1), 207–220.
  • Boxenbaum, E., Jones, C., Meyer, R.E., & Svejenova, S. (2018): “Towards an articulation of the material and visual turn in organization studies.” Organization Studies, 39 (5–6), 597–616.
  • Höllerer, M.A., Jancsary, D., & Grafström, M. (2018): “‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’: Multimodal Sensemaking of the Global Financial Crisis.” Organization Studies, 39 (5–6), 617–644.
  • Leach, T., & Erb, M. (2013): In no great hurry: 13 lessons in life with Saul Leiter [DVD]. London: Tomas Leach Productions.
  • Linstead, S.A. (2018): “Feeling the reel of the real: Framing the play of critically affective organizational research between art and the everyday.” Organization Studies, 39 (2–3), 319–344.
  • McCarthy, L., & Muthuri, J.N. (2018): “Engaging fringe stakeholders in business and society research: Applying visual participatory research methods.” Business & Society, 57 (1), 131–173.
  • Meier Sørensen, B. (2013): “The method of juxtaposition: Unfolding the visual turn in organization studies.” In: E. Bell, S. Warren, & J.E. Schroeder (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Visual Organization. Oxford: Routledge, 46–63.
  • Meyer, R.E., Höllerer, M.A., Jancsary, D., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2013): “The visual dimension in organizing, organization, and organization research: Core ideas, current developments, and promising avenues.” Academy of Management Annals, 7 (1), 489–555.
  • Toraldo, M.L., Islam, G., & Mangia, G. (2018): “Modes of knowing: Video research and the problem of elusive knowledges.” Organizational Research Methods, 21 (2), 438–465.
  • Warren, S. (2008): “Empirical challenges in organizational aesthetics research: Towards a sensual methodology.” Organization Studies, 29 (4), 559–580.
  • Wood, M., Salovaara, P., & Marti, L. (2018): “Manifesto for filmmaking as organisational research.” Organization, 25 (6), 825–835.
Tim Butcher is Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Tasmania, Australia. He is a visual ethnographer who has researched diverse everyday organizational phenomena from work in aerospace production (EngD, Cranfield University, UK), through entrepreneurialism in coworking, to worklessness in remote Aboriginal communities. Tim currently researches precarious work in the Arts, collaborating with artists, arts organizations and institutions to co-create visual stories that reflect everyday affective experiences of individuation, uncertainty and insecurity. His research is published in a range of academic journals including ‘Management Learning’, ‘Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management’, ‘Australian Aboriginal Studies’, ‘Griffith Review’, and ‘Sport in Society’.
Juliette Koning is Professor of Business in Society at the School of Busines and Economics, Maastricht University, The Netherlands. She has a background in social anthropology from which she investigates the role and meaning of religion, ethnicity, kinship, identity, ethics, relationality, gender, and generations for organizational leadership, business conduct, and entrepreneurship. Juliette is working with the use of participant-created collages. Her research has been published in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Entrepreneurship, Theory & Practice’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, and ‘Management Learning’, among others. She is Associate Editor of ‘Human Relations’.
Maria Laura Toraldo is Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Milan, Italy. Recent research focuses on the use of multimodal research methods and the applications of video-based methodologies in the data gathering and analysis process. She has conducted studies on methodological issues surrounding the process of research, such as knowledge creation and interpretation during the practice of research. Maria Laura has been involved in projects that explore the meaning of contemporary work and the ambivalence surrounding novel forms of work. Her research has been published in a range of academic journals, including ‘Organizational Research Methods’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Culture and Organization’, and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.