Sub-theme 73: Studying Change in, through and around Organizations with a Practice Sensitivity

Ignas Bruder
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Davide Nicolini
Warwick Business School, United Kingdom
Elizabeth Shove
Lancaster University, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Practice theorists have provided numerous insights about change and how it occurs within, through and around organizations (Gehman et al., 2013; Nicolini, 2012; Schatzki, 2006; Shove et al., 2012). This is despite criticisms that practice theory is better equipped to explain reproduction than change (e.g., Schäfer, 2013). The basic idea that organizational phenomena result from, and transpire through, a nexus of practices (Hui et al., 2017) provides new and largely unexplored ways to explore the dynamic tension between legacy and organizational rigidity on the one side, and transformation and change on the other (Schatzki, 2019). The sub-theme will continue in this tradition and explore the methodological and conceptual implications of studying organizational change and persistence in these terms.
The theme can be explored from different angles and with reference to diverse and less than conventional empirical sites and topics. For example, the relationship between Covid, social practice and organization would be one (Seidl & Whittington, 2020); organizational responses to climate change or sustainability might be another (Daskalaki et al., 2019; Shove & Walker, 2010). Studies of persistence and change that focus on normativity (Bruder, 2021; Gehman, 2020) are encouraged along with those that examine more traditional sites including organizations (Nicolini & Korica, 2021), communities (Heckscher & Adler, 2006; Wenger, 1998), institutions (Smets et al., 2012) and networks (Sydow & Windeler, 1998). We explicitly welcome scholars who approach the study of social practices from different traditions, from routine studies to Activity Theory, Bourdieu’s praxeology, ethnomethodology and beyond.
We also encourage submissions based on empirical research and field work. Possible questions may include, but are not limited to:

  • How do organizational and societal rigidities (e.g. in relation to sustainability transitions that are not happening) and legacies (which is more of a positive case of stability) result from nexuses of practice?

  • How do organizations and relations between them stabilize past practices and/or create conditions for challenging and overcoming ‘legacy’ arrangements?

  • How do new practices and connections between them take hold? For example, how do new practices recruit practitioners and colonize existing organizations?

  • Are local changes in practices “scaled up“ within and across organizations, and if so, how?

  • How are relations between distant organizations configured ‘in practice’ and how do these interactions change, en-masse?

  • What kinds of conflicts or dilemmas do disruptive and emerging practices raise – not just for people, but also for other practices?

  • How do organizations cope with unintended changes (e.g. in practices carried in from the outside)?

  • What role does the normativity inherent in practices play in reproducing/overcoming societal rigidity?

  • How do organizations aiming at positive social change (e.g., social enterprises) try to change nexuses of practices?



  • Bruder, I. (2021): “Reflections on Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Organizing. An Ethically Focused Practice-Based Perspective.” Zeitschrift Für Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensethik, 22 (1), 111–122.
  • Daskalaki, M., Fotaki, M., & Sotiropoulou, I. (2019): “Performing Values Practices and Grassroots Organizing: The Case of Solidarity Economy Initiatives in Greece.” Organization Studies, 40 (11), 1741–1765.
  • Gehman, J. (2020): “Searching for Values in Practice-Driven Institutionalism: Practice Theory, Institutional Logics, and Values Work.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 70, 109–129.
  • Gehman, J., Trevino, L.K., & Garud, R. (2013): “Values Work: A Process Study of the Emergence and Performance of Organizational Values Practices.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 84–112.
  • Heckscher, C., & Adler, P.S. (2006): “Towards collaborative community.” In C. Heckscher & P.S. Adler (eds.): The Firm As a Collaborative Community: Reconstructing Trust in the Knowledge Economy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 11–105.
  • Hui, A., Schatzki, T., & Shove, E. (eds.) (2017): The Nexus of Practices: Connections, Constellations and Practitioners. New York: Routledge.
  • Nicolini, D. (2012): Practice Theory, Work, & Organization: An Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Nicolini, D., & Korica, M. (2021): “Attentional Engagement as Practice: A Study of the Attentional Infrastructure of Healthcare Chief Executive Officers.” Organization Science, 32 (5), 1273–1299.
  • Schäfer, H. (2013): Die Instabilität der Praxis: Reproduktion und Transformation des Sozialen in der Praxistheorie. Weilerswist-Metternich: Velbrück Wissenschaft.
  • Schatzki, T.R. (2006): “On Organizations as they Happen.” Organization Studies, 27 (12), 1863–1873.
  • Schatzki, T.R. (2019): Social Change in a Material World. London: Routledge.
  • Seidl, D., & Whittington, R. (2020): “How Crisis Reveals the Structures of Practices.” Journal of Management Studies, 58 (1), 240–244.
  • Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012): The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How It Changes. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Shove, E., & Walker, G. (2010): “Governing transitions in the sustainability of everyday life.” Research Policy, 39 (4), 471–476.
  • Smets, M., Morris, T., & Greenwood, R. (2012): “From Practice to Field: A Multilevel Model of Practice-Driven Institutional Change.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (4), 877–904.
  • Sydow, J., & Windeler, A. (1998): “Organizing and evaluating interfirm networks: A structurationist perspective on network processes and effectiveness.” Organization Science, 9 (3), 265–284.
  • Wenger, E. (1998): Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ignas Bruder is a post-doctoral Researcher/Lecturer in the Department of management at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. In his research, Ignas uses theories of practice to study the implicit normativity within organizations as well as drift processes in organizations. His theoretical interest lies in bridging theories of practice and critical ethics scholarship, while his research phenomena of interest currently are organizational sustainability and social entrepreneurship.
Davide Nicolini is Professor of Organization Studies at Warwick Business School, UK, where he co-directs the IKON Research Centre and convenes the Practice, Process and Institution Research Programme. His current research focuses on the development of the practice-based approach and the refinement and promotion of processual, relational, and materialist research methods. Davide has used these approaches to study healthcare organizations, managerial work, construction sites, factories, public organizations, cybersecurity, pharmacies & scientific labs. His latest interest revolves around attention as practice.
Elizabeth Shove is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, UK. She has led research that frames questions of energy demand and of public health in practice theoretical terms. Current projects have to do with questions of institutional and organizational flexibility, and with demonstrating the importance of practice theory for studying and conceptualising ‘large’ social phenomena. Elizabeth is currently writing about how practices connect and about processes of interweaving, cross-referencing, accumulating, hybridising and merging.