Sub-theme 41: Mapping the Configurational Diversity of Organizing Forms and Paths

Bart Cambré
Antwerp Management School & University of Antwerp, Belgium
Joanna T. Campbell
University of Cincinnati, USA
Peer C. Fiss
University of Southern California, USA

Call for Papers

The organizational world is replete with diverse forms of organizing, ranging from bureaucracies, markets, and clans (e.g., Crozier, 1963; Ouchi, 1980) to adhocracies and network, open-source, platform and crowd-sourced organizations (e.g., Daft & Lewin, 1993; Gawer, 2014; Mintzberg & McHugh, 1985; von Krogh & von Hippel, 2006) to ambidextrous, paradoxical and hybrid organizations (e.g., Gibson & Birkinshaw, 2004; Raynard, 2016; Smith & Besharov, 2019). Beyond this diversity, there are various subtypes of organizing within each of these broad categories of organizational forms. Bureaucracies can be coercive or enabling (Adler & Borys, 1996), ambidextrous organizations can separate their activities in space or time or by context (Raisch & Birkinshaw, 2008), and the multiplicity of logics in hybrid organizations can take a variety of forms (Besharov & Smith, 2014). In addition, as routine and performativity theorists remind us (e.g., Feldman & Pentland, 2003; Glaser, 2017), each of these types can take a plethora of instantiations as they are enacted in everyday life, with experimentation, slippage in transmission, and assemblage resulting in further variation being the norm, not the exception.
Mapping this dazzling variety of organizational activities requires approaches that allow for a diversity of forms and paths and provide space for imperfection, deviance, and suboptimality. Even so, our conceptual tools are not always up to this task. Current theorizing in organization studies tends to focus on ideal states and desirable outcomes such as high performance, innovation, or job satisfaction while neglecting imperfections and suboptimal configurations that may nevertheless be important events and states in organizational pathways (e.g., McKinley, 1993; Meyer & Zucker, 1989).
A similar picture emerges regarding empirics, as many of our dominant methods are not geared towards allowing for such diversity. On the one hand, correlational methods and their underlying logic of regression to the mean tend to bias analysis against variety and shift attention away from understanding a diversity of forms. Outliers and deviant cases – while often theoretically and substantively interesting – tend to be suppressed and assigned to the error term, made less influential, or manually deleted from the sample to avoid their influence on the results (Fiss et al., 2020). On the other hand, while traditional case studies allow us to select cases because of specific imperfections, and thus offer means to closely engage with the unusual and exceptional case, such case studies are likewise challenged when the goal is to map diversity across a population of cases.
In the current sub-theme, we account, and provide space, for imperfection and variation in organizational forms and paths by considering alternative ways of mapping the diversity of organizational solutions to the problems we face. Our goal is to not only focus on the high-performance forms of organizing, but to broaden the focus to allow for suboptimal forms of getting by, with blemishes, muddling through, satisficing as well as optimizing, and so forth. We are also interested in suboptimal states in organizational paths as possibly important components and moments in organizational activities.
Our focus is both theoretical and methodological. In theoretical terms, what novel theoretical frameworks and concepts allow us to better understand the diversity of organizing (e.g., Puranam et al., 2014)? Methodologically, what comparative methods allow for an empirical mapping of this diversity that allows for variation and multiple pathways to an outcome (e.g., Misangyi et al., 2017)? How can both theoretical and methodological advances be merged into a coherent perspective on the diversity of organizing?
We invite papers that enhance our theorizing of, and ability to map, the diversity of organizing forms and paths and welcome contributions from multiple theoretical fields of organizational studies. We encourage theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions. We especially welcome papers deploying comparative set-analytic methods such as crisp and fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and related configurational approaches, but also work using other empirical approaches for mapping the diversity of organizational forms, be they qualitative or quantitative.
Possible research questions include (but are not limited to) the following ones:
  • How do our current theories need to be adapted to better incorporate a diversity of organizational paths to a desired outcome?

  • What role do suboptimal states play in organizational paths, and what is the role of imperfections in change patterns of organizational configurations?

  • How might institutional complexity inform our understanding of the diversity of organizational forms?

  • How can landscape metaphors from complexity theory help us better theorize the diversity of organizational forms?

  • What methodological alternatives, especially using set-analytics, allow for a mapping of the organizational world?

  • What is the role of imperfection and suboptimality in driving diverse forms of innovation and the striving to do better?

  • How do we better theorize organizational hybridity and fuzzy organizational boundaries? What makes such organizational forms (in)effective?

  • What are the forces that shape, enable, and constrain diversity in organizational fields and populations?

  • When does diversity of forms and pathways expand or contract?

  • If imperfection and suboptimality appear to be inescapable, how can we leverage them in our understanding of organizing?



  • Adler, P.S., & Borys, B. (1996): “Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 41 (1), 61–89.
  • Besharov, M.L., & Smith, W.K. (2014): “Multiple institutional logics in organizations: Explaining their varied nature and implications.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 364–381.
  • Crozier, M. (1963): The Bureaucratic Phenomenon. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Daft, R.L., & Lewin, A.Y. (1993): “Where are the theories for the ‘new’ organizational forms? An editorial essay.” Organization Science, 4 (4), i–vi.
  • Feldman, M.S., & Pentland, B.T. (2003): “Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 48 (1), 94–118.
  • Fiss, P.C., Park, Y., & El Sawy, O.A. (2020): “IS theory development for learning from exceptional firms.” Working paper, USC Marshall School of Business.
  • Gawer, A. (2014): “Bridging differing perspectives on technological platforms: Toward an integrative framework.” Research Policy, 43 (7), 1239–1249.
  • Gibson, C.B., & Birkinshaw, J. (2004): “The antecedents, consequences, and mediating role of organizational ambidexterity.” Academy of Management Journal, 47 (2), 209–226.
  • Glaser, V.L. (2017): “Design performances: How organizations inscribe artifacts to change routines.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (6), 2126–2154.
  • McKinley, W. (1993): “Organizational decline and adaptation: Theoretical controversies.” Organization Science, 4 (1), 1–9.
  • Meyer, M.W., & Zucker, L.G. (1989): Permanently Failing Organizations. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications.
  • Mintzberg, H., & McHugh, A. (1985): “Strategy formation in an adhocracy.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 30 (2), 160–197.
  • Misangyi, V., Greckhamer, T., Furnari, S., Fiss, P.C., Crilly, D., & Aguilera, R. (2017): “Embracing causal complexity: The emergence of a neo-configurational perspective.” Journal of Management, 43 (1), 255–282.
  • Ouchi, W.G. (1980): “Markets, bureaucracies, and clans.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 25 (1), 129–141.
  • Puranam, P., Alexy, O., & Reitzig, M. (2014): “What's ‘new’ about new forms of organizing? Academy of Management Review, 39 (2), 162–180.
  • Ragin, C.C., & Fiss, P.C. (2017): Intersectional Inequality. Race, Class, Test Scores, & Poverty. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Raisch, S., & Birkinshaw, J. (2008): “Organizational ambidexterity: Antecedents, outcomes, and moderators.” Journal of Management, 34 (3), 375–409.
  • Raynard, M. (2016): “Deconstructing complexity: Configurations of institutional complexity and structural hybridity.” Strategic Organization, 14 (4), 310–335.
  • Smith, W.K., & Besharov, M.L. (2019): “Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 64 (1), 1–44.
  • von Krogh, G., & von Hippel, E. (2006): “The promise of research on open-source software.” Management Science, 52 (7), 975–983.
Bart Cambré is Vice-Dean of Antwerp Management School and Professor of Business Research Methods at Antwerp Management School, the University of Antwerp, and at MCI (Austria). He currently holds the chair on Business Research Methods at Antwerp Management School. Bart’s current research involves organizational networks, and research methods with a focus on the configurational approach and evaluation studies.
Joanna T. Campbell is an Associate Professor of Management at the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati and a Research Affiliate at the University of Notre Dame, USA. Her research interests include top executive characteristics and roles in organizational outcomes, corporate governance, stakeholder strategy, and configurational theorizing and methods of analysis. Joanna has published multiple papers on QCA and related configurational methods.
Peer C. Fiss is the Jill and Frank Fertitta Chair and Professor of Management & Organization and Sociology at the University of Southern California, USA. His research interests include organization theory, framing, and social categorization. Peer has also been working for almost two decades on the use of set-analytic methods in the social sciences, and specifically on the use of fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis (QCA).