Sub-theme 66: Vulnerability and Embodied Experience in Organizations

Suvi Tuulikki Satama
University of Turku, Finland
Brigitte Biehl
SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Jenny Helin
Uppsala University, Sweden

Call for Papers

This sub-theme centres on the interconnections between vulnerability and embodied experience, work and leadership and related theoretical, methodological and empirical questions. It addresses the community of researchers interested in emotions, identity work and new approaches to organizations. We encourage researchers to use embodied, critical and creative methods to study this topic.
Vulnerability is traditionally understood as being entirely negative and related to weakness, dependency and powerlessness. This contrasts with established socio-cultural norms of how leaders, managers and employees are expected to ‘be’ in organizations: perfect, in control, contained, strong, with masculine qualities, always correct and knowledgeable (Hay, 2014; Corlett et al., 2019). Increasingly however, vulnerability is considered not to be such a bad thing. The concept of vulnerability is complex (Virokannas et al., 2020), attaching itself, for example, to the notion of passion, entailing both joyful and painful aspects of meaningful work (Satama, 2016) and to suffering as a shared experience (Stowell & Warren, 2018). Brown (2010) has famously equated vulnerability with honesty, empathy, humility and non-arrogance, suggesting that vulnerability is fundamentally humane. Redefining vulnerability as a strength and walking the line between oversharing and professionality may lead to accepting responsibility, caring for others and new ways of being colleague at work.
The notion of building relationships and establishing trust through vulnerability has also tentatively entered the leadership research agenda (Brescoll, 2016; Hay, 2014; Ladkin & Taylor, 2010) and is part of contemporary identity work that includes incorporating, adapting or refusing to accept established ideas of ‘the manager’ into one’s identity (Corlett et al., 2021). This trend seems to be relevant for many other kinds of work, when the search for unrealistic never-reached perfection, and the accompanying shame (Brown, 2010), breeds fear, stresses individuals, inhibits innovation and makes it hard to connect with colleagues, students and stakeholders.
The relevance is also shown in the contemporary media, where vulnerability is very much on display: in our therapeutic and confessional ‘emotion economy’ (Grindstaff & Murray, 2015), celebrities and influencers (e.g., Oprah, the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears), politicians (e.g., Hillary Clinton), businesspeople (e.g., Melinda Gates, Jeff Bezos), top athletes (e.g., Serena Williams, Tiger Woods) and ordinary people frequently open up about their very personal feelings, their fears and dark moments. Many agents thereby appear to mobilise unfiltered and uncensored vulnerability for a variety of purposes, such as to gain public attention, market their products or achieve business success.
By exploring the multiple ways in which vulnerabilities can be accepted and lived, this sub-theme has a promising take on the overall EGOS Colloquium 2022 theme of “Organizing: The Beauty of Imperfection”. We will discuss the possibilities for empowering impact that vulnerability can bring to our work lives, how this concept helps us to explore organizational phenomena in new ways and how insights can be shared, written and spoken about in a methodological sense. Methodologically, we suggest exploring attempts – not to overcome vulnerability via conducting research – but to write through vulnerability from our scholarly bodies (Helin, 2020; 2019). The promise of this sub-theme is therefore a deepening of our embodied and empathetic engagement with our academic work and with others (Satama et al., 2021). Research in this area can benefit from emphasizing the social, cultural and political aspects of embodiment (Biehl, 2017; Käll, 2016), particularly in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, where we have been pushed to care for each other, sharing and possibly feeling connected through vulnerability in our embodied experience (Howard, 2020).
We invite papers that take up the challenge to explore any of the following topics:

  • How can vulnerabilities be defined in the field of organizational studies and how can these views be applied to understanding organizations more deeply?

  • How are vulnerabilities visible in different (gendered) contexts, such as service work, creative industries and on the management and leadership levels?

  • How is gender related to vulnerability, for example, with regard to gendered emotional displays, social practices and role models?

  • What is the value of vulnerability for leaders in organizations with regard to connecting with others and handling and managing uncertainty and visions in a complex world? How can leaders foster environments in which mistakes and weaknesses are used as a starting point for improvement and innovation, rather than as a focus for punitive measures?

  • Positive sides to vulnerability: How is vulnerability entwined with issues of trust, responsibility for others, accepting our fallibility and meaningfulness at work and in our lives more generally? How do we navigate boundaries and limits to vulnerability at work?

  • Popular culture and vulnerability: What can we learn from the display of vulnerability, often in the form of emotional floodlighting, by celebrities, influencers, reality TV stars, and entrepreneurs in the media, to benefit leadership and organizational research?

  • How does the world of the arts, with its vulnerable characters and actors, singers, writers and dancers (e.g., Wendy Whelan as the ‘restless creature’) help us to find inspiration for new ways of being in organizations?

  • What methods in management learning and education can encourage identity work with regard to vulnerability?

  • In what ways is vulnerability linked to our embodied existence and how can it help us to rethink businesses and organizations?

  • How can vulnerabilities be used as methodological tools or as a source of methodological inspiration? What methods can we use to research vulnerabilities?


  • Biehl, B. (2017): Dance and Organization. Integrating Dance Theory and Methods into the Study of Management. New York: Routledge.
  • Brescoll, V. (2016): “Leading with their hearts? How gender stereotypes of emotion lead to biased evaluations of female leaders.” The Leadership Quarterly, 27 (3), 415–428.
  • Brown, B. (2010): The Power of Vulnerability. Video, accessed from:
  • Corlett, S., Mavin, S., & Beech, N. (2019): “Reconceptualising vulnerability and its value for managerial identity and learning.” Management Learning, 50 (5), 556–575.
  • Corlett, S., Ruane, M., & Mavin, S. (2021): “Learning (not) to be different: The value of vulnerability in trusted and safe identity work spaces.” Management Learning, 52 (4), 424–441.
  • Grindstaff, L., & Murray, S. (2015): “Reality Celebrity: Branded Affect and the Emotion Economy.” Public Culture, 27 (1), 109–135.
  • Hay, A. (2014): “‘I don’t know what I am doing!’: Surfacing struggles of managerial identity work.” Management Learning, 45 (5), 509–524.
  • Helin, J. (2019): “Dream Writing: Writing Through Vulnerability.” Qualitative Inquiry, 25 (2), 95–99.
  • Helin, J. (2020): “Temporality lost: A feminist invitation to vertical writing that shakes the ground.” Organization, first published online on September 25, 2020,
  • Howard, N. (2020): “A World of Care.” In: M. Parker (ed.): Life After Covid19: The Other Side of the Crisis. Bristol: Bristol University Press, 21–30.
  • Käll, L. (ed.) (2016): Bodies, Boundaries and Vulnerabilities. Interrogating Social, Cultural and Political Aspects of Embodiment. Cham: Springer.
  • Ladkin, D., & Taylor, S. (2010): “Leadership as art: Variations on a theme.” Leadership, 6 (3), 235–241.
  • Satama, S. (2016): “‘Feathers on fire’: A study of the interplay between passion and vulnerability in dance.” Organizational Aesthetics, 5 (1), 64–93.
  • Satama, S., Blomberg, A., & Warren, S. (2021): “Exploring the embodied subtleties of collaborative creativity: What organisations can learn from dance.” Management Learning, first published online on February 2, 2021,
  • Stowell, A.F., & Warren, S. (2018): “The Institutionalization of Suffering: Embodied inhabitation and the maintenance of health and safety in e-waste recycling.” Organization Studies, 39 (5–6), 785–809.
  • Virokannas, E., Liuski, S., & Kuronen, M. (2020): “The Contested Concept of Vulnerability – A Literature Review.” European Journal of Social Work, 23 (2), 327–339.
Suvi Tuulikki Satama is a post-doctoral researcher in Management and Organization at the Turku School of Economics, University of Turku, Finland. Currently, her curiosity leads her to studying embodied experiences in contemporary organizations and her passion lies in exploring unusual research topics. Suvi is also interested in applying creative research methods, such as visual methods, to the study of organizational phenomena. Her previous work has appeared, for example, in ‘Human Relations’, ‘Management Learning’, ‘Leadership and Gender’, and’ Work and Organization’.
Brigitte Biehl is a Professor at SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences, School of Popular Arts, Germany. She is Head of Studies for B.A. Creative Industries Management/M.A. International Management ‘Creative Leadership’ and Director of the SRH Institute for Professional Development in the Creative Industries (IWK). Brigitte has published books and articles on art, aesthetics and organizations, arts-based methods, critical positions and gender questions.
Jenny Helin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden. Her current research investigates a poetic understanding of organizational life. Jenny enquires with passion into generative ways of developing collaborative research methods and academic writing practices.