Sub-theme 06: [SWG] Performing the Future Communicatively: How What Does Not Yet Exist Already Makes a Difference

Laure Cabantous
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Mie Plotnikof
Aarhus University, Denmark
Matthias Wenzel
Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Call for Papers

Many contemporary challenges – e.g., climate change, diversity issues, artificial intelligence, and COVID-19 – push the future right to the center of our attention (e.g., Glaser et al., 2021; Gümüsay & Reinecke, 2022; Nyberg & Wright, 2016; Stjerne et al., 2021). When these complex issues are discussed, the future – as a temporal category of the potential that lies ahead – carries different valences. It raises concerns, even fears, about what may come, as well as hopes and desires, all of which pose different demands on present organizational activity. In this regard, imagining and negotiating futures is central to creating and ‘organizing for the good life’ as a potential that has yet to be realized. But how do actors and organizations come to envision and express such futures? What are the communicative practices and events, tools, and technologies through which actors (attempt to) perform specific futures, through what struggles, and with what consequences? Or more generally, how do anticipated futures “organize” our present, and how do we organize to envision those futures? This sub-theme will revolve around discussing and answering these and related questions.
Organization studies increasingly embrace the future as a temporal category that is intrinsic to organizing in general (Beckert, 2021; Flyverbom & Garsten, 2021; Wenzel et al., 2020). This insight has led scholars to identify practices such as strategizing, project organizing, online working, and entrepreneuring through which futures become a central part of organizing (Augustine et al., 2019; Klingebiel & De Meyer, 2013; Pitsis et al., 2003; Stigliani & Ravasi, 2012; Thompson & Byrne, 2022; Whyte et al., 2022). Such practices often mobilize ‘technologies of rationality’ that have performative effects (Cabantous & Gond, 2011; Cabantous, et al. 2018; McKenzie, Muniesa & Siu, 2007), such as strategic planning (Bencherki et al., 2019; Giraudeau, 2008; Vásquez et al., 2018); decision analysis techniques (Cabantous et al., 2010) and forecasting technologies; and future making and design thinking (Comi & Whyte, 2018). Communication is fundamental to all these practices; it contributes to involving and connecting relevant actors and imaginaries – both in planned and unplanned activities of, e.g., meetings, emailing, taking minutes and corridor talking (Grimes & Vogus, 2021; Plotnikof & Pedersen, 2019; Schoeneborn et al., 2019; Wenzel, 2022).
This broad array of communication, tools, and methods can be understood as attempts at ‘representing’ futures in organizations. We, however, argue that it is worth approaching these from a performative perspective (Garud et al., 2018; Gond et al., 2016). From this perspective, organizational futures are “made” through these attempts (Wenzel et al., 2020; Cooren et al., 2011). That is, futures are not just signs and ideas of needs, challenges, or risks to come, but are performed through multimodal communicative practices – both discursive, material and affective –  by which future problems and solutions are demarcated, defined, talked into existence, and negotiated in the present (Ashcraft & Kuhn, 2017; Dille & Plotnikof, 2020; Wenzel & Koch, 2018). Such communicative practices and events attempt to create, fixate, and enact possible futures. The open-endedness (or fixation) of the future, then, is communicatively performed in an ongoing process, one in which human and non-human actors continually define, redefine and struggle over the yet-to-come.
Participants of this sub-theme are invited to explore how ‘looking (in)to the future’ commits the becoming organization to aspirations and promises, thereby performing certain imaginaries and temporalities in powerful ways by enabling what does not yet exist, to make a difference in the present. This sub-theme, thus, invites submissions that bring a performative and communicative perspective into extant debates in organization studies about futurity, foresight, prospective sensemaking, anticipation, imagined futures, strategizing and time, developing insights into the constitution of these organizational concerns with futures-making.
To facilitate broad discussions across multiple perspectives, we welcome both conceptual and empirical submissions, including a variety of approaches and methods. Some of the questions that the submissions may address include:

  • What are the practices, narratives, tactics, and moves through which certain futures become communicatively performed in processes such as strategizing, entrepreneuring, project organizing, and change?

  • How do imagination, images, and the visual (semiotic) mode, as well as tacit/embodied ways of knowing (Meziani & Cabantous, 2020), and “magical ways of thinking” (Ganzin et al., 2019), participate in prospective communicative practices and events (e.g., wayfinding, foreseeing, future making) by which we make sense of uncertain futures?

  • How does future-making commit actors to courses of action in the present?

  • How do history and the past prompt or haunt (Pors, 2016) imaginations and negotiations of futures in the present?

  • How do technologies, tools, and other materialities shape futures through communication, imagination, and other sayings and doings, some of which can enable us to become aware of the unknown? Do organizational theories participate in this performative process? If so, how?

  • How do new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, algorithms, and big data, reshape, challenge, or question our views and ethics of the future, generating discourses of both hopes and fears?

  • What power effects and outcomes – both constructive and destructive, both beneficial and detrimental – does the communicative performance of futures produce?

  • How do questions about power, inequality, or ethics become performative in the communicative organization of certain futures – desired or undesired?

  • How can we extend our methodological practices for examining the future as a temporal category “that cannot begin” (Luhmann, 1976, p. 130), but is only existing insofar as it is communicatively constituted?

Please take also note of the “SAP Virtual Coffee Circle” on November 22, 2022, 16:00–17:00 CET!
Matthias Wenzel, co-convenor of this sub-theme, will discuss research opportunities at the intersections of temporality, performativity & communication. For more information and registration, please click here.


  • Ashcraft, K.L., & Kuhn, T. (2017): “Agential encounters: Performativity and affect meet communication in the bathroom.” In: B.H.J.M. Brummans (ed.): The Agency of Organizing: Perspectives and Case Studies. New York: Routledge, 170–193.
  • Augustine, G., Soderstrom, S., Milner, D., & Weber, K. (2019): “Constructing a distant future: Imaginaries in geoengineering.” Academy of Management Journal, 62, 1930–1960.
  • Beckert, J. (2021): “The firm as an engine of imagination: Organizational prospection and the making of economic futures.” Organization Theory, 2 (2), 1–21,
  • Bencherki, N., Sergi, V., Cooren, F., & Vásquez, C. (2019): “How strategy comes to matter: Strategizing as the communicative materialization of matters of concern.” Strategic Organization, 19 (4), 608–635.
  • Cabantous, L., & Gond, J.-P. (2011): “Rational decision-making as ‘performative praxis’: Explaining rationality’s éternel retour.” Organization Science, 22, 573–586.
  • Cabantous, L., Gond, J.-P., & Johnson-Cramer, M. (2010): “Decision theory as practice: Crafting rationality in organization.” Organization Studies, 31, 1531–1566.
  • Cabantous, L., Gond, J.-P., & Wright, A. (2018): “The performativity of strategy: Taking stock and moving ahead.” Long Range Planning, 51 (3), 407–416.
  • Cooren, F., Kuhn, T., Cornelissen, J.P., & Clark, T. (2011): “Communication, organizing and organization: An overview and introduction to the Special Issue.” Organization Studies, 32, 1149–1170.
  • Comi, A., & Whyte, J. (2018): “Future making and visual artefacts: An ethnographic study of a design project.” Organization Studies, 39, 1055–1083.
  • Dille, M.H., & Plotnikof, M. (2020): “Retooling methods for approaching discourse-materiality relations: A new materialist framework of multimodal sensitivity.” Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, 15 (4), 485–501.
  • Flyverbom, M., & Garsten, C. (2021): “Anticipation and organization: Seeing, knowing and governing futures.” Organization Theory, 2 (3),
  • Ganzin, M., Islam, G., & Suddaby, R. (2019): “Spirituality and entrepreneurship: The role of magical thinking in future-oriented sensemaking.” Organization Studies, 41, 77–102.
  • Garud, R., Gehman, J., & Tharchen, T. (2018): “Performativity as ongoing journeys: Implications for strategy, entrepreneurship, and innovation.” Long Range Planning, 51 (3), 500–509.
  • Giraudeau, M. (2008): “The drafts of strategy: Opening up plans and their uses.” Long Range Planning, 41, 291–308.
  • Glaser, V., Pollock, N., & D’Adderio, L. (2021): “The biography of an algorithm: Performing algorithmic technologies in organizations.” Organization Theory, 2 (2),
  • Gond, J.-P., Cabantous, L., Harding, N., & Learmonth, M. (2016): “What do we mean by performativity in organizational and management theory? The uses and abuses of performativity.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 18 (4), 440–463.
  • Grimes, M., & Vogus, T.J. (2021): “Inconceivable! Possibilistic thinking and the sociocognitive underpinnings of entrepreneurial responses to grand challenges.” Organization Theory, 2 (2),
  • Gümüsay, A.A., & Reinecke, J. (2022): “Researching for desirable futures: From real utopias to imagining alternatives.” Journal of Management Studies, 59 (1), 236–242.
  • Klingebiel, R., & De Meyer, A. (2013): “Becoming aware of the unknown: Decision making during the implementation of a strategic initiative.” Organization Science, 24, 133–153.
  • Luhmann, N. (1976): “The future cannot begin: Temporal structures in modern society.” Social Research, 43, 130–152.
  • MacKenzie, D., Muniesa, F., & Siu, L. (2007): Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Meziani, N., & Cabantous, L. (2020): “Acting intuition into sense: How film crews make sense with embodied ways of knowing.” Journal of Management Studies, 57, 1384–1419.
  • Nyberg, D., & Wright, C. (2016): “Performative and political: Corporate constructions of climate change risk.” Organization, 23 (5), 617–638.
  • Pitsis, T.S., Clegg, S R., Marosszeky, M., & Rura-Polley, T. (2003): “Constructing the Olympic dream: A future perfect strategy of project management.” Organization Science, 14, 574–590.
  • Plotnikof, M., & Pedersen, A.R. (2019): “Exploring resistance in collaborative forms of governance: Meaning negotiations and counter-narratives in a case from the Danish education sector.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 35 (4).
  • Pors, J.G. (2016): “‘It sends a cold shiver down my spine’: Ghostly interruptions to strategy implementation.” Organization Studies, 37, 1641–1659.
  • Schoeneborn, D., Kuhn, T., & Kärreman, D. (2019): “The communicative constitution of organization, organizing, and organizationality.” Organization Studies, 40, 475–496.
  • Stigliani, I., & Ravasi, D. (2012): “Organizing thoughts and connecting brains: Material practices and the transition from individual to group-level prospective sensemaking.” Academy of Management Journal, 55, 1232–1259.
  • Stjerne, I.S., Wenzel, M., & Svejenova, S. (2021): “Commitment to grand challenges in fluid forms of organizing: The role of narratives’ temporality.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 79, 139–160.
  • Thompson, N.A., & Byrne, O. (2021): “Imagining Futures: Theorizing the Practical Knowledge of Future-making.” Organization Studies, 43 (2), 247–268.
  • Vásquez, C., Bencherki, N., Cooren, F., & Sergi, V. (2018): “From ‘matters of concern’ to ‘matters of authority’: Reflecting on the performativity of strategy in writing a strategic plan.” Long-Range Planning, 51, 417–435.
  • Wenzel, M., & Koch, J. (2018): “Strategy as staged performance: A critical discursive perspective on keynote speeches as a genre of strategic communication.” Strategic Management Journal, 39, 639–663.
  • Wenzel, M., Krämer, H., Koch, J., & Reckwitz, A. (2020): “Future and organization studies: On the rediscovery of a problematic temporal category in organizations.” Organizations Studies, 41, 1441–1455.
  • Wenzel, M. (2022): “Taking the future more seriously: From corporate foresight to ‘future-making’.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 36 (2), 845–850.
  • Whyte, J., Comi, A., & Mosca, L. (2022): “Making futures that matter: Future making, online working and organizing remotely.” Organization Theory, 3 (1),
Laure Cabantous is a Professor at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London, UK, and an Affiliated Professor at HEC Montréal, Canada. She studies decision-making with a practice/performative perspective. Laure is also interested in the role of embodied/distributed cognition in organizations. Her research has been published such journals as the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Managemen’t, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Mie Plotnikof Associate Professor of Public Governance and Organization at the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark. Her research questions issues regarding meaning negotiation, governmentality, dis/organization, and power/resistance dynamics of neoliberal discourses about current and future work life, often in public sector contexts. She has published in journals such as ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘ephemera’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘Qualitative Research in Organization and Management’ (amongst others), as well as in several international edited volumes.
Matthias Wenzel is Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. He examines the process and practice of organizing and strategizing, as well as their societal implications. His research has been published in the Journal of Management Inquiry, Long Range Planning, Organization Studies, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Strategic Management Journal, and Strategic Organization, among others. Furthermore, Matthias currently serves, among others, as co-editor for media innovations of the ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal’, and ‘Global Strategy Journal’.