Sub-theme 35: Fields of Possibilities: Interstitial Spaces, Institutional Infrastructures, and the Social Topology of the Future

Santi Furnari
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Danielle Logue
University of Technology Sydney, Australia
Charlene Zietsma
Pennsylvania State University, USA

Call for Papers

This sub-theme connects developments on institutional fields, infrastructure and interstitial spaces (Zietsma et al., 2017; Hinings et al., 2017; Furnari, 2014; Villani and Phillips, 2021) with emerging research on future-making and imagined futures (Beckert, 2021; Wenzel et al., 2020; Thompson & Byrne, 2022). We believe these two streams can enrich each other in important ways in order to develop a much-needed “social topology of the future” – i.e., an historically – and institutionally-informed understanding of the socio-relational foundations of imagined futures and possibilities. This notion emphasizes the mutually-constitutive relationship between legacy and imagination, past and future, actual and potential: future possibilities are permutations of existing social structures and institutions, so they cannot be understood “abstracting away from concrete social context” (Padgett & McLean, 2006: 1464; Padgett & Powell, 2012). We see at least three promising avenues to start an evolving conversation between these research streams.
First, research on future-making has mostly focused on the organization and practice as main levels of analysis (see Augustine et al. 2019 for an exception), unpacking the discursive (Garud, Schildt, & Lant, 2014; Berends, van Burg & Garud, 2021), material (Lindebaum, Vesa, & den Hond, 2020; Comi & Whyte, 2018) and bodily (Liu & Maitlis, 2014) activities by which imagined futures are created in specific organizations. We call for extensions to the field level, encouraging scholars to study how future making unfolds in institutional fields because imagined futures are not created or enacted by isolated organizations but rather by groups of organizations that mutually influence each other in culturally specific ways (e.g. Hoffman, 1999). The notion of institutional field, with its various associated mechanisms of mutual influence and cultural meaning-making (see Zietsma et al., 2017; Leibel et al. 2018 for reviews), focuses attention on future-making as a collective and culturally-patterned activity, involving multiple institutionalized understandings of reality and their associated meanings. More often than not such collective future making can involve situations where different imagined futures become potentially contested, eliciting collective action and mobilization (e.g., Grodal & O’Mahony, 2017; Augustine et al., 2019; Logue & Grimes, 2022).
Second, research on institutional fields can help illuminate the process by which imagined futures are socially constructed and the role that the underlying social and cultural infrastructures play in such process. For example, Cartel, Boxenbaum and Aggeri (2019) illustrated how an experimental game helped to construct and legitimate carbon market arrangements in the European energy field. Further, Hannigan and colleagues leveraged field analysis to understand where entrepreneurial possibilities can surface in an emerging AI ecosystem (Hannigan et al. 2021). More generally, connecting research on fields and future-making casts the relationship between legacy and imagination as a constitutive tension between institutions and possibility. While institutions have typically been associated with stability, they also have been shown to include the seeds of their own change (e.g., Seo & Creed, 2002). The cultivation of field-level institutional infrastructure may constrain and shape what may be considered possible futures, and in other times, it may provide evidence and proof that other alternative futures are indeed possible (Hinings, Logue, & Zietsma, 2017; Logue & Grimes, 2022). Still, how field actors collectively think about, make sense of, motivate, and enact their future has not been systematically unpacked in organization studies.
Third, the notions of interstitial spaces (Furnari, 2014), experimental spaces (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010), early moments (Hannigan and Casasnovas, 2018), proto-institutions (Lawrence, Phillips and Hardy, 2002), and novel collaborations (e.g., Fan & Zietsma, 2017) open new possibilities to study where imagined futures originate and why some imagined futures become broadly understood and shared while others do not. These notions all point to what is in the “in-between”, what is “not yet” and thus inherently connote potential and possibility. For example, research has shown that multiple “alternative histories” of field evolution are possible in the early moments of a field, unpacking how the initial, interstitial interactions among field members shape which imagined future become eventually realized (e.g., Aversa, Furnari & Jenkins, 2022; Johnson & Powell, 2017). Or consider how the Fridays for Future movement originated in the actions of a few initially isolated activists (e.g., Greta Thunberg), which then started connecting around an “alternative future” that became increasingly shared across different organizations and individuals. More generally, what kinds of future-making processes and outcomes are enabled by different types of interstitial spaces? Can different types of interstitial interactions at the origin of a new field help us differentiating between possible vs. plausible imagined futures (Soda & Furnari, 2012), or affect the ability to build support among field members for future change?
Linking research on institutional fields, infrastructure and interstitial spaces with studies of future making has important consequences for organizations and organizing today, as is demonstrated by calls to reimagine capitalism and organizations (Mair & Rathert, 2021) with more moral markets (Hedberg & Lounsbury, 2020), and to motivate radical organizational and societal change. Such change is required to avoid environmental collapse (Nyberg & Wright, 2022), to reorganize the future of work and organizations post-pandemic, to deal with the societal consequences of new technologies (e.g., facial recognition, decentralised autonomous organizations) and to create governance mechanisms ensuring that businesses support, rather than harm, society (van Rijmenam & Logue, 2021).
To enable this change and further the conversation, in this sub-theme we invite papers that pay attention to the relationship between future making, institutional fields, infrastructure, and interstitial spaces, addressing (but not limited to) questions such as:

  • How do different types of institutional field infrastructures enable balancing between collective imagination and legacy?

  • How does the process of future making unfold in fields vs. in single organizations? What kinds of practices of future-making work well in fields?

  • How are imagined futures cultivated and motivated within a field and by whom? How can legacy commitments be unlocked? What effect does this have on field evolution?

  • What are different ways interstitial spaces act as sources for alternative imagined futures?

  • How do novel collaborations across fields and associated social innovations generate ways to (re)imagine field futures?

  • What role do cultural entrepreneurs play in cultivating imagined futures and motivating the development of more moral or purposeful fields or markets?

  • How are future possibilities and consequences of new technologies imagined and how does this shape field governance?

We advocate methodological and theoretical pluralism in the study of future-making, fields, infrastructure, interstitial spaces, and their connections. Therefore, we welcome papers that use any qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods and encourage methodological experimentation. We also welcome papers from different theoretical perspectives, including (but not limited to) different perspectives within institutional theory and field theory at large.


  • Augustine, G., Soderstrom, S., Milner, D., & Weber, K. (2019): “Constructing a distant future: Imaginaries in geoengineering.” Academy of Management Journal, 62 (6), 1930–1960.
  • Aversa, P., Furnari, S., & Jenkins, M. (2022): “The Primordial Soup: Exploring the Emotional Microfoundations of Cluster Genesis.” Organization Science, 33 (4), 1340–1371.
  • Beckert, J. (2021): “The Firm as an Engine of Imagination: Organizational prospection and the making of economic futures.” Organization Theory, 2 (2), first published online on April 6, 2021,
  • Berends, H., van Burg, E., & Garud, R. (2021): “Pivoting or persevering with venture ideas: Recalibrating temporal commitments.” Journal of Business Venturing, 36 (4),
  • Cartel, M., Boxenbaum, E., & Aggeri, F. (2019): “Just for fun! How experimental spaces stimulate innovation in institutionalized fields.” Organization Studies, 40 (1), 65–92.
  • Comi, A., & Whyte, J. (2018): “Future making and visual artefacts: An ethnographic study of a design project.” Organization Studies, 39, 1055–1083.
  • Fan, G.H., & Zietsma, C. (2017): “Constructing a shared governance logic: The role of emotions in enabling dually embedded agency.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (6), 2321–2351.
  • Furnari, S. (2014): “Interstitial spaces: Microinteraction settings and the genesis of new practices between institutional fields.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (4), 439–462.
  • Garud, R., Schildt, H.A., & Lant, T.K. (2014): “Entrepreneurial storytelling, future expectations, and the paradox of legitimacy.” Organization Science, 25 (5), 1479–1492.
  • Grodal, S., & O’Mahony, S. (2017): “How does a grand challenge become displaced? Explaining the duality of field mobilization.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (5), 1801–1827.
  • Hannigan, T.R., Briggs, A., Valadao, R., Seidel, M.D.L., & Jennings, P.D. (2021): “A new tool for policymakers: Mapping cultural possibilities in an emerging AI entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Research Policy, first published online on July 21, 2021,
  • Hannigan, T.R., & Casasnovas, G. (2021): “New structuralism and field emergence: The co-constitution of meanings and actors in the early moments of social impact investing.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 68, 147–183.
  • Hedberg, L.M., & Lounsbury, M. (2021): “Not just small potatoes: Cultural entrepreneurship in the moralizing of markets.” Organization Science, 32 (2), 433–454.
  • Hinings, C.R., Logue, D., & Zietsma, C. (2017): “Fields, governance and institutional infrastructure.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence, & R. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 163–189.
  • Hoffman, A.J. (1999): “Institutional evolution and change: Environmentalism and the US chemical industry.” Academy of Management Journal, 42 (4), 351–371.
  • Johnson, V., & Powell, W.W. (2017): “Organizational Poisedness and the Transformation of Civic Order in Nineteenth-Century New York City.” In: N.R. Lamoreaux & J.J. Wallis (eds.): Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 179–230.
  • Lawrence, T.B., Hardy, C., & Phillips, N. (2002): “Institutional effects of interorganizational collaboration: The emergence of proto-institutions.” Academy of Management Journal, 45 (1), 281–290.
  • Leibel, E., Hallett, T., & Bechky, B.A. (2018): “Meaning at the source: The dynamics of field formation in institutional research.” Academy of Management Annals, 12 (1), 154–177.
  • Liu, F., & Maitlis, S. (2014): “Emotional dynamics and strategizing processes: A study of strategic conversations in top team meetings.” Journal of Management Studies, 51 (2), 202–234.
  • Lindebaum, D., Vesa, M., & den Hond, F. (2020): “Insights from “the machine stops” to better understand rational assumptions in algorithmic decision making and its implications for organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 45 (1), 247–263.
  • Logue, D., & Grimes, M.G. (2022): “Living Up to the Hype: How New Ventures Manage the Resource and Liability of Future-Oriented Visions within the Nascent Market of Impact Investing.” Academy of Management Journal, 65 (3), 1055–1082.
  • Mair, J., & Rathert, N. (2021): “Alternative organizing with social purpose: Revisiting institutional analysis of market-based activity.” Socio-Economic Review, 19 (2), 817–836.
  • Meyer, A.D., Gaba, V., & Colwell, K.A. (2005): “Organizing far from equilibrium: Nonlinear change in organizational fields.” Organization Science, 16 (5), 456–473.
  • Nyberg, D., & Wright, C. (2022): “Climate-proofing management research.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 36 (2), first published online on June 2, 2022,
  • Oberg, A., Korff, V.P., & Powell, W.W. (2017): “Culture and Connectivity Intertwined: Visualizing Organizational Fields as Relational Structures and Meaning Systems.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 53, 17–47.
  • Padgett, J.F., & McLean, P.D. (2006): “Organizational invention and elite transformation: The birth of partnership systems in Renaissance Florence.” American Journal of Sociology, 111 (5), 1463–1568.
  • Padgett, J.F., & Powell, W.W. (2012): The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Seo, M.G. ,& Creed, W.D. (2002): “Institutional contradictions, praxis, and institutional change: A dialectical perspective.” Academy of Management Review, 27 (2), 222–247.
  • Soda, G., & Furnari, S. (2012): “Exploring the topology of the plausible: Fs/QCA counterfactual analysis and the plausible fit of unobserved organizational configurations.” Strategic Organization, 10 (3), 285–296.
  • Thompson, N.A., & Byrne, O. (2022): “Imagining Futures: Theorizing the Practical Knowledge of Future-making.” Organization Studies, 43 (2), 247–268.
  • van Rijmenam, M., & Logue, D. (2021): “Revising the ‘science of the organisation’: Theorising AI agency and actorhood.” Innovation, 23(1), 127–144.
  • Villani, E., & Phillips, N. (2021): “Formal organizations and interstitial spaces: Catalysts, complexity, and the initiation of cross-field collaboration.” Strategic Organization, 19 (1), 5–36.
  • Wenzel, M., Krämer, H., Koch, J., & Reckwitz, A. (2020): “Future and organization studies: On the rediscovery of a problematic temporal category in organizations.” Organization Studies, 41 (10), 1441–1455.
  • Zietsma, C., & Lawrence, T.B. (2010): “Institutional work in the transformation of an organizational field: The interplay of boundary work and practice work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (2), 189–221.
  • Zietsma, C., Groenewegen P., Logue, D.M., & Hinings C.R. (2017): “Field or fields? Building the scaffolding for cumulation of research on institutional fields”. Academy of Management Annals, 11 (1), 391–450.
Santi Furnari is Professor of Strategy at Bayes Business School, City, University of London, UK. He has published work on the emergence of fields and practices, institutional change, and the use of configurational theories and methods. Santi is a Senior Editor for ‘Organization Studies’ and also serves on the Editorial Boards of the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Theory’, and ‘Strategic Organization’.
Danielle Logue is Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. She has published work on institutional fields, institutional infrastructure, and entrepreneurial processes of social innovation. Danielle is Associate Editor for ‘Information & Organization’, and also serves on the Editorial Boards of ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Strategic Organization’, and ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.
Charlene Zietsma is Professor of Management at the Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University, USA. She has published work on institutional fields, infrastructure, and change processes, social/sustainable entrepreneurship and social emotions. Charlene is a Field Editor for the ‘Journal of Business Venturing’ and is on the Editorial Boards for the ‘Academy of Management Journal’ and the ’Academy of Management Review’.