Sub-theme 48: Organization Studies and Medical Humanities

Andrea Bernardi
Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom
Barbara Quacquarelli
Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Italy
Federica Angeli
University of York, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Medical humanities (Bleakley, 2019; Cole et al., 2015) is a flourishing academic field where humanities and social sciences try to complement the efforts of scientists and medical doctors. Originated in the USA, medical humanities landed in Europe with a few decades of delay. At that point we observed the emergence and the academic recognition of history of medicine, medical sociology, and medical ethics. The field is intrinsically plural, fluid and hard to pin-down through clear-cut definitions or borders. Multiple approaches can be identified, which intersect with multiple disciplines. One approach, for example, views the arts and humanities as a way to enrich medicine and healthcare delivery without interfering directly. A more radical approach, instead, aims to directly impact the medical sciences by redefining the meaning of being human, life, death, sufferance, illness (Das et al., 2020). In both cases, the field is hugely important because it contributes to the education of healthcare professionals, the study of health-related aspects of our societies, the popularization of medical sciences. Over time, more disciplines have joined the challenge: literature (de Beauvoir, 1985), language, arts, politics (Newsholme & Kingsbury, 1933) and political economy (Doyal, 1979). A further development was the establishment of the notion of health humanities. At this point, it seems no longer enough to complement medicine with one discipline from the humanities. The understanding of complex health problems and the study of how medicine and its technologies affect individuals and societies would require a joint, interdisciplinary effort.
Organization studies has hardly contributed to medical humanities. Yes, colleagues now and then have studied issues and organizations that might fall into a definition of medical humanities but it is hard to see a concerted effort, an explicit engagement or a recognition by other disciplines more established in the field. As a result, organization studies as a discipline is largely absent from the medical humanities be that definitions, specialized libraries, major grant recipients, specialized journals, handbooks, research workshops. This is somewhat surprising, given our tradition of interdisciplinarity, methodological eclecticism and passion for impact.
This sub-theme aims to attract colleagues that have been studying complex organizations, such as hospitals (Cook et al., 1983; Westra et al., 2017), national health services (Westra et al., 2015; Clements et al., 2012; Battilana, 2011; Blumenthal & Hsiao, 2005), pharmaceutical firms (Angeli, 2014) or professionals (managers, doctors, scientists, social workers…) involved in healthcare, medicine and public health (Martin et al., 2021; Goel et al., 2019; Petrakaki et al., 2016; Hoeyer, 2009; Waring & Currie, 2009). There are many possible insights that we would be able to bring into the field. For instance, the perspective of organization studies will enrich the way we look at healthcare and medicine with constructs, variables and categories such as autonomy, centralization, efficiency, power, politics, conflict, subcultures, employment relations, voice, participation, managerialism (Bernardi & Greenwood, 2014; Currie et al., 2012; Hasselbladh & Bejerot, 2007). We are also interested in health and safety at work and the study of the behaviour of those hosted by total institutions such as hospitals, asylums, and quarantine facilities (Goffman, 1961; Holmqvist et al., 2013). Additionally, if we look back at our own disciplinary founding fathers and funding myths in the early 20th century, we would find that the interest in health, hygiene and healthcare has never been alien to organization studies. To this end, management and organizational history can play an important role.
The long-term objective of this sub-theme is to contribute to establishing organization studies as a prominent discipline in the field of medical humanities; hence, we look much further than the ephemeral interest into the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we are aware that Vienna 2022 will be the first opportunity to run a sub-theme designed after the 2020/2021 health crisis and probably the first opportunity to discuss papers on the effect of the pandemic on work, organization and management.


  • Angeli, F. (2014): “With the help of a foreign ally: Biopharmaceutical innovation in India after TRIPS.” Health Policy and Planning, 29 (3), 280–291.
  • Battilana, J. (2011): “The enabling role of social position in diverging from the institutional status quo: evidence from the UK National Health Service.” Organization Science, 22 (4), 817–834.
  • Bleakley, A. (ed.) (2019): Routledge Handbook of the Medical Humanities. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Bernardi, A., & Greenwood, A. (2014): “Old and New Rural Co-Operative Medical Schemes in China: The usefulness of a historical comparative perspective.” Asia Pacific Business Review, 20 (3), 356–378.
  • Blumenthal, D., & Hsiao, W. (2005): “Privatization and Its Discontents, The Evolving Chinese Health Care System.” New England Journal of Medicine, 353 (11), 1165–1170.
  • Clements, B., Coady, D., & Gupta, S. (eds.) (2012): The Economics of Public Health Care Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies. Washington: International Monetary Fund.
  • Cole, T.R., Carlin, N.S., & Carson, R.A. (2015): Medical Humanities: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cook, K., Shortell, S., Conrad, D., & Morrisey, M. (1983): “A theory of organizational response to regulation: the case of hospitals.” Academy of Management Review, 8 (2), 193–205.
  • Currie, G., Dingwall, R., Kitchener, M., & Waring, J. (2012): “Let’s dance: Organization studies, medical sociology and health policy.” Social Science & Medicine, 74 (3), 273–280.
  • Das, M., Angeli, F., & Schayck, O.C.P. (2020): “Understanding self‐construction of health among the slum dwellers of India: a culture‐centred approach.” Sociology of Health and Illness, 42 (5), 1001–1023.
  • de Beauvoir, S. (1985): A Very Easy Death. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Doyal, L. (1979): The Political Economy of Health. London: Pluto Press.
  • Goel, S., Angeli, F., Dhirar, N., Sangwan, G., Thakur, K., & Ruwaard, D. (2019): “Factors affecting medical students’ interests in working in rural areas in North India – A qualitative inquiry.” PLoS One, 14 (1), 1–14.
  • Goffman, E. (1961): Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Doubleday.
  • Hasselbladh, H., & Bejerot, E. (2007): “Webs of knowledge and circuits of communication: Constructing rationalized agency in Swedish health care.” Organization, 14 (2), 175–200.
  • Hoeyer, K. (2009): “Informed consent: The making of a ubiquitous rule in medical practice.” Organization, 16 (2), 267–288.
  • Holmqvist, M., Maravelias, C., & Skålén, P. (2013): “Identity regulation in neo-liberal societies: Constructing the “occupationally disabled” individual.” Organization, 20 (2), 193–211.
  • Martin, G., Bushfield, S., Siebert, S., & Howieson, B. (2021): “Changing Logics in Healthcare and Their Effects on the Identity Motives and Identity Work of Doctors.” Organization Studies, 42 (9), 1477–1499.
  • Newsholme, A., & Kingsbury, J.A. (1933): Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia. New York: Doubleday.
  • Petrakaki, D., Klecun, E., & Cornford, T. (2016): “Changes in healthcare professional work afforded by technology: The introduction of a national electronic patient record in an English hospital.” Organization, 23 (2), 206–226.
  • Waring, J., & Currie, G. (2009): “Managing expert knowledge: Organizational challenges and managerial futures for the UK medical profession.” Organization Studies, 30 (7), 755–778.
  • Westra, D., Angeli, F., Carree, M., & Ruwaard, D. (2017): “Coopetition in health care: A multi-level analysis of its individual and organizational determinants.” Social Science & Medicine, 186, 43–51.
  • Westra, D., Angeli, F., Carree, M., & Ruwaard, D. (2015): “Understanding competition between healthcare providers: Introducing an intermediary inter-organizational perspective.” Health Policy, 121 (2), 149–157.
Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom. His main research contributions relate to the co-operative sector, including Chinese co-operatives. Andrea also works on employment relations and inequality, and he has further interests in the study of time, the past, and history in management and organizational studies.
Barbara Quacquarelli is Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Milano Bicocca and Professor of Public Management at Scuola Nazionale dell’Amministrazione in Rome, Italy, a government institution for the selection and training of top managers of the Italian civil service. Her research focuses on diversity management and innovation, analysis of organizational cultures in change management processes and skills development in public management.
Federica Angeli is Professor of Management at the University of York Management School, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on organizational adaptation and learning to address complex societal issues, with a particular focus on inclusive healthcare delivery, poverty alleviation, and societal resilience.