Sub-theme 79: Values and Emotions as Animating Forces in Social Symbolic Work

W.E. Douglas Creed
University of Rhode Island, USA
Gry Espedal
VID Specialized University, Norway
Jose Bento da Silva
Warwick Business School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

The centrality of purposefulness across the various types of “work” proliferating in the organizational literature invites special attention to values and emotions work as animating forces behind all manner of purposefulness. In this sub-theme, we seek to extend our understanding of how emotions and values work figure in the nexus of social-symbolic work underpinning the construction of organizational life. The social-symbolic work perspective (SSW) (Lawrence & Phillips, 2019) integrates the burgeoning, but increasingly fragmented research in the organizational literature on “work”, by attending to how diverse forms of work are interconnected within and across three broader classes of SSW: self work, organization work, and institutional work. This suggests that as an integrative framework, the SSW could be particularly useful for engaging with “how organizations, their context, and the selves that inhabit them are purposefully constructed, how this happens, and the contributions of this activity to the ongoing construction of the social world” (Lawrence & Phillips, 2019: 49).
Social-symbolic work (SSW) refers broadly to the actor’s purposeful, reflexive efforts to manipulate aspects of their social contexts, including the social-symbolic objects (SSOs) that animate organizational life. In organizations, examples of SSOs include strategies, governance structures, policies, technologies, beliefs, assumptions, values and members’ emotions, roles, identities, and careers.
The existing research on values and emotions work suggests not only that neither type of work sits solely in one of these three broad categories, but also that they may be distinct as mechanisms that connect and combine self, organization, and institutional work. Thus, they offer the opportunity to address important questions as to how self, organization, and institutional work are empirically connected and how actors combine these types of work in their efforts to construct organizational and social life.
In the existing literature, some scholars have implicitly characterized values as social symbolic objects. For example, the cognitive beliefs associated with institutional work (Kraatz, Flores, & Chandler, 2020; Selznick, 1957/1983), or the emotion-laden conceptions of the desirable which deal intrinsically with issues of cognition and feelings” (Marini, 2000: 2828), are akin to social symbolic objects. Others have highlighted the dynamic and processual nature of values work (Askeland et al., 2020; Gehman, Trevino, & Garud, 2013; Kraatz et al., 2020; Vaccaro & Palazzo, 2015; Wright, Zammuto, & Liesch, 2017), which points towards the procedural and material sides of the work done on social symbolic objects.
At the same time, there has been increasing attention to the role of emotions and emotional work in institutional processes (Creed et al., 2014; Creed, Taylor, & Hudson, 2020; Hochschild, 1979; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). Emotions appear in this sub-theme of literature as integral to social life, as the “glue binding people together” (Zietsma et al., 2019), and as central to the “embodied world of concerns” that animates people’s participation in institutional processes (Creed et al., 2020). But emotions can also necessarily be understood as the product of social construction processes that implicate values, beliefs, norms, and intentions. In this sub-theme, we hope to further the existing literature on values and emotions work by asking how values and emotions work are implicated jointly in the construction of institutional contexts, organizations, and the selves that inhabit them, how they connect these classes of work, and how they figure in the construction of purposefulness.
Without limiting the scope of questions, we hope to see submissions that address such questions as:

  • How do values and emotions play a role in creating the purposefulness common to all types of SSW?

  • How are values and emotions work implicated in each of the broad classes of SSW, self-work, organizational work and institutional work and how do they connect or span those classes?

  • How do actors deploy values and emotions work in strategies that focus on specific classes of SSW, e.g., institutional work?

  • How do actors align or integrate values and emotions work with social symbolic work targeting specific social symbolic objects, e.g., strategies, policies, or norms?

  • How do emotions and values work play a role in sequencing, aligning, and integrating or other strategies for combining self, organization or institutional?

  • When does values work collide with emotional work or the other way around?

  • What are the roles, uses and misuses of values and emotions in SSW involving the valorizing or demonization of contentious SSO?

  • What is the role of the material in values and emotions work?

We invite colleagues to contribute to this endeavour through conceptual papers, empirical studies, and methodological reflections.


  • Askeland, H., Espedal, G., Løvaas, B.J., & Sirris, S. (2020): “Understanding values work in organisations and leadership.” In: H. Askeland, G. Espedal, B.J. Løvaas & S. Sirris (eds.): Understanding Values Work: Institutional Perspectives in Organizations and Leadership. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 1–12.
  • Creed, W.E.D., Hudson, B.A., Okhuysen, G.A., & Smith-Crowe, K. (2014): “Swimming in a sea of shame: Incorporating emotion into explanations of institutional reproduction and change.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 275–301.
  • Creed, W.E.D., Hudson, B.A., Okhuysen, G.A., & Smith-Crowe, K. (2020): “A Place in the World: Vulnerability, Well-Being, and the Ubiquitous Evaluation That Animates Participation in Institutional Processes.” Academy of Management Review, 47 (3),
  • Creed, W.E.D., Taylor, S.S., & Hudson, B.A. (2020): “Institutional aesthetics: Embodied ways of encountering, evaluating, and enacting institutions.” Organization Studies, 41 (3), 415–435.
  • 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.
  • Hochschild, A.R. (1979): “Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure.” American Journal of Sociology, 85 (3), 551–575.
  • Kraatz, M.S., Flores, R., & Chandler, D. (2020): “The Value of Values for Institutional Analysis.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (2), 1–91.
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Phillips, N. (2019): Contructing Organizational Life. How Social-Symbolic Work Shapes Selves, Organizations, and Institutions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Marini, M.M. (2000): “Social values and norms.” In: E.F. Borgatta & R.J.V. Montgomery (eds.): Encyclopedia of Sociology. Volume 1. New York: Macimillian References, 2828–2840.
  • Rafaeli, A., & Sutton, R.I. (1987). “Expression of emotion as part of the work role.” Academy of Management review, 12 (1), 23–37.
  • Selznick, P. (1957/1983). Leadership in Administration. A Sociological Interpretation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Vaccaro, A. & Palazzo, G. (2015). “Values against violence: Institutional change in societies dominated by organized crime.” Academy of Management Journal, 58 (4), 1075–1101.
  • Wright, A.L., Zammuto, R.F., & Liesch, P.W. (2017). “Maintaining the values of a profession: Institutional work and moral emotions in the emergency department.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (1), 200–237.
  • Zietsma, C., Toubiana, M., Voronov, M., & Roberts, A. (2019). Emotions in Organization Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
W.E. Douglas Creed is Professor of Management at University of Rhode Island, USA, and Professorial Fellow, Department of Management and Marketing, The University of Melbourne, Australia. His work focuses on the role of identity and embodiment in inhabited institutional processes and the micro-politics of contested institutional change. In 2020, Douglas received – with co-authors Maureen Scully, Gerardo Okhuysen & Bryant Hudson – the Joanne Martin Trailblazer Award, given by the Academy of Management’s OMT Division, for the research on LGBTQ workplace experience and organizing.
Gry Espedal is an Associate Professor at VID Specialized University, Norway. She has published articles on a national and international level on institutionalizing of values work, the emergence of institutional logics, and the connection between stories, practice, values, and emotions. Gry is the editor and author of several books within fields such as understanding values work, researching values, and value-based leadership.
Jose Bento da Silva is an Assistant Professor at Warwick Business School, UK. His research focuses on how ambiguity, mystery, temporality, the ineffable, and categories deemed ‘irrational’ can foster our understanding of social and institutional order(ing). This theoretical interest has driven Jose’s historical and ethnographic research on large scale religious and social organizations.