Sub-theme 51: [hybrid] Organizing for Interdisciplinarity to Tackle Grand Challenges

Joel Bothello
Concordia University, Canada
Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter O
King's College London, United Kingdom
Stefanie Habersang
Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Call for Papers

Hybrid sub-theme!
For further information on hybrid sub-themes, please click here.

With the establishment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have witnessed coordinated efforts towards addressing pressing problems such as climate change, pollution, consumerism, inequality or modern slavery (United Nations 2015). These are ‘grand challenges’ – i.e. interrelated problems transcending social, economic and spatial boundaries – that, by nature, cannot be solved by a single actor or organization (George et al., 2016; Ferraro et al., 2015). By necessity, these efforts require sustained collaborative efforts spanning organizational and sectoral boundaries.
Yet addressing these issues also requires bridging disciplinary boundaries, as most of the complex problems that we face today require dialogue between and integration of diverse understandings (Eisenhardt et al., 2016; George et al., 2016). In management and organization studies, this has unfortunately been sorely lacking. As Whiteman et al. (2013) lament, an accumulation of knowledge on sustainability in the field of management has not led to an adequate impact on climate change, mainly because our domain of scholarship remains both focused on theory and isolated from other sciences. Business schools face significant critique in how closed off they are (Currie et al., 2016).
For our field to be more impactful, we must revise our research (Delmestri et al., 2021) in particular our approach to grand challenges: there are certainly many structural hurdles to this approach but also several opportunities to foster meaningful change. Specifically, we call for interdisciplinary research that draws on unconventional theories, methods and contexts. Calls for interdisciplinary research that cuts across epistemological boundaries to tackle grand challenges have become louder and more urgent (Roy et al., 2020; George et al., 2016); against this backdrop, this sub-theme aims to focus on the issue of interdisciplinarity to address grand challenges. Specifically, we seek to:

  • Critically evaluate the epistemology (i.e., the type of knowledge that a discipline values) and axiology (i.e., the ethical underpinnings for our research) that support management and organization research on grand challenges (Delmestri et al., 2021). Epistemology and axiology are especially important when integrating different perspectives across epistemic communities that are not aligned with each other’s vocabularies and values and require a deeper transcendence beyond specific disciplines (Cetina, 2009).

  • Draw in researchers, theories and methods from adjacent disciplines (sociology, economics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, engineering, etc.). We seek to foster interdisciplinary research that leads to integrative solutions and substantive policy change, while avoiding the type of narrow interdisciplinarity that solely provides conceptual enrichment to our own field.

  • Understand how we can overcome the pitfalls of conducting interdisciplinary research, i.e., the steep learning curve (Raasch et al., 2013) difficulties in managing coordination and translation within and across disciplines (Abbott, 2001; Kaplan, Milde & Cowan, 2017), dealing with academic evaluation systems that often have a narrow range of measuring success (e.g., number of primary research publications in peer-reviewed journals) as well as dealing with the ‘paradox of interdisciplinarity’, that is, interdisciplinary research is encouraged at policy level but poorly rewarded in the funding process (Bromham et al., 2016).

  • Assess the role of business schools and management departments in embedding interdisciplinary research. Research indicates that management schools have implemented and trialed various top-down approaches with varying degrees of success (Starik et al., 2010) but grass-roots initiatives may be more suitable in moving forward this research agenda (e.g., Glozer et al., 2018).

In line with this year’s theme of “the beauty of imperfection”, we recognize that interdisciplinary collaborations are messy and uncertain but often lead to serendipitous outcomes. Through unconventional thinking and unfamiliar research practices, they stimulate learning and innovation (Raasch et al., 2013), as Kaplan et al. (2017) demonstrate in the field of nanotechnology. Specifically, we invite papers that draw on empirical, theoretical and/or methodological interdisciplinarity to tackle grand challenges. We are also interested in papers from an organizational design tradition if they address interdisciplinarity. In addition, although not an exhaustive list, we would like to invite papers and essays that address some of the following questions:

  • What is the role of management and organization studies in interdisciplinary research to tackle sustainability and grand challenges?

  • What are the most suitable methods and theories for studying how organizations and actors collaborate to develop interdisciplinarity solutions to sustainability and grand challenges?

  • What are the epistemic challenges of conducting interdisciplinary research?

  • How do management and organization scholars deal with perceptions in their field about incommensurability of theoretical and methodological practices between disciplines?

  • What kind of knowledge can/should be produced in interdisciplinary teams? How does the scientific research process look like, in particular, with respect to how interdisciplinary research collaborations are organized and negotiated?

  • How are business and management schools fostering interdisciplinary research?

  • What are common theoretical, methodological and ethical pitfalls of interdisciplinary research?

  • What does it mean to pursue an interdisciplinary research? How do interdisciplinary research teams deal with academic incentive systems which value intradisciplinary output metrics?

  • Which values do we espouse beyond academic rigor, creativity and excellence and which axiology do we nurture in order for interdisciplinary research to advance in our field?

We believe that this sub-theme is one that is predestined for thinking beyond established boundaries, therefore we strongly encourage submissions from a variety of disciplines.


  • Abbott, A.D. (2001): Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bromham, L., Dinnage, R., & Hua, X. (2016): “Interdisciplinary research has consistently lower funding success.” Nature, 534 (7609), 684–687.
  • Cetina, K.K. (2009): Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Currie, G., Davies, J. and Ferlie, E. (2016): “A call for university-based business schools to ‘lower their walls’: Collaborating with other academic departments in pursuit of social value.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 15 (4), 742–755.
  • Delmestri, G., Etchanchu, H., Bothello, J., Habersang, S., Gutierrez Huerter O, G., & Schüßler, E. (2021): “OS4Future: An academic advocacy movement for our future.” In: M. Starikand & P. Kanashiro (eds.): Walking the Sustainability Talk: Faculty Personal Sustainability and Communication. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing [forthcoming].
  • Eisenhardt, K.M., Graebner, M.E., Sonenshein, S. (2016): “Grand Challenges and Inductive Methods: Rigor without Rigor Mortis.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (4), 1113–1123.
  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi A,. & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • Glozer, S., Gutierrez-Huerter O, G., & Zeyen, A. (2018): Interdisciplinary Imagination: Building Sustainability Bridges through Communication. International Academy for Business and Society (IABS) Working Paper.
  • Kaplan, S., Milde, J., & Cowan, R.S. (2017): “Symbiont practices in boundary spanning: Bridging the cognitive and political divides in interdisciplinary research.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (4), 1387–1414.
  • Raasch, C., Lee, V., Spaeth, S., & Herstatt, C. (2013): “The rise and fall of interdisciplinary research: The case of open-source innovation.” Research Policy, 42 (5), 1138–1151.
  • Roy, S.G., de Souza, S.P., McGreavy, B., Druschke, C.G., Hart, D D., & Gardner, K. (2020): “Evaluating core competencies and learning outcomes for training the next generation of sustainability researchers.” Sustainability Science, 15 (2), 619–631.
  • Starik, M., Rands, G., Marcus, A.A., & Clark, T.S. (2010): “From the Guest Editors: In Search of Sustainability in Management Education.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9 (3), 377–383.
  • Whiteman, G., Walker, B., & Perego, P. (2013): “Planetary boundaries: Ecological foundations for corporate sustainability.” Journal of Management Studies, 50 (2), 307–336.
Joel Bothello is an Associate Professor in the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Canada, and the holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Resilience & Institutions. He conducts research on resilience and entrepreneurship in contexts of poverty. Joel’s work has been published in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Harvard Business Review’, ‘Academy of Management Learning & Education’, ‘Regulation & Governance’, and ‘Theory and Society’.
Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter O is an Assistant Professor in International Management at King’s Business School, King’s College London, UK. Her work is at the intersection of international business, CSR and comparative institutional analysis. Recently, she has been part of an interdisciplinary research project studying the responses of the UK construction industry to the issue of modern slavery. Gabriela’s work has been published in the ‘Journal of International Business Studies’ and ‘Research in Global Strategic Management’.
Stefanie Habersang is a Lecturer at the Institute of Management & Organization at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. Her work focuses on organizational change, new forms of organizing and sustainability. Stefanie is also part of an interdisciplinary research team studying social gender roles in entrepreneurship; furthermore, she works with other disciplines to transfer ideas about qualitative meta-studies to the organization and management field. Stefanie’s work has been published in the ‘Journal of Management Studies’.