Sub-theme 14: [SWG 14] The Experience of Space and Place in Extreme Contexts

April L. Wright
University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Markus Hällgren
Umeå University, Sweden
Mark de Rond
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

As we draft this Call, no fewer than thirty-two countries are in conflict: there are terrorist insurgencies in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mozambique, Niger, Sudan and Uganda, and civil wars in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali and South Sudan. Then there’s an ongoing war in Ukraine, Covid’s aftermath and societal polarization along identity lines closer to home. It is tempting to think that today’s world is therefore more fragile than at any time previously, even if this is to forget the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Rwanda’s genocide, September 11, Ebola, the emergence of ISIS and Boko Haram, and, further back, the Cuban missile crisis. While we are right to feel at the end of our tethers, the evidence suggests that extremes aren’t done with us quite yet.
This sub-theme, now in its fifth year, is designed to foster research into extreme contexts. After all, it is typically when things break that the implicit, tacit, taken-for-granted on which coherence relies becomes visible. Extreme contexts allow us to study human, systems, process resilience and adaptability (or lack thereof), and particularly where small mistakes can have life changing circumstances. They are great contexts for innovation: blood transfusions, tourniquets, the use of luminescent bacteria to treat antibiotic resistant infections, and use of blood plasma to help coagulation resulted from doctors trying to save what war destroyed. A review of the relevant literature can be found in Hällgren, Rouleau and de Rond (2018).
We invite researchers to turn their attention to spaces and places as important to the experience of extremes. Examples of how spaces matter for organizing in extreme contexts include the spatial proximity of prisoners in cells and of firefighters in fire departments (Geiger, Danner-Schroder, & Kremser, 2021; Toubiana, 2020), the spatial layout of patient beds in hospital emergency departments and medical camps in war (de Rond & Lok, 2016; Wright, Zammuto, & Liesch, 2017), and the spatial shift in territoriality between work and home in a pandemic (Eaton & Hecksher, 2021; Gonsalves, 2020). Examples of how places matter in extreme contexts include the meanings and risks associated with local emergency departments as places of social inclusion (Wright, Meyer, Reay, & Staggs, 2021), the place-based resources and geographic boundaries that affect recovery in local villages disrupted by an earthquake (Farny, Kibler, & Down, 2019), or how ski guides have to consider natural processes vis-à-vis clients’ experience during backcountry skiing (Løland & Hällgren, 2022). Thus, spaces and places are important in extreme contexts because of the way they shape, and are shaped by, lived experiences of organizing. Yet, despite empirical phenomena suggesting that spaces and places play a crucial role in the lived experiences in – and the outcomes of organizing for – extreme contexts, scholars have offered little explicit theorization of space and place (an exception is Wright et al., 2021).
The aim of this sub-theme is to address this gap by giving more explicit consideration to the role of space and place in extreme contexts. Space is defined as “built environments that emerge from organizational activities, objects, arrangements, and social practices” (Stephenson et al., 2020: 797). When people invest abstract space with meaning, space becomes place (Cresswell, 2014). More specifically, and drawing from the literature in humanistic geography (Gieryn, 2000; Tuan, 1977), place is a geographic location that has material form and is invested with meaning. The recent ‘spatial turn’ in management studies (Dale & Burrell, 2008; Shortt, 2015; Stephenson, Kuismin, Putnam, & Sivunen, 2020; Taylor & Spicer, 2007; Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2019) and the emergence of a place-based perspective in organization theory (Lawrence & Dover, 2015; Wright, Irving, Zafar, & Reay, 2022) have cast light on how space and place matter for human experiences within organizations in general. At the moment, the literature on space and place sits mostly apart from the literature on extreme contexts. This sub-theme invites scholars to bring the space and place literature into dialogue with extreme contexts research in ways that deepen and nuance existing explanations of organizing for risk, emergencies and disruptions and which may be generative of new theoretical lines of inquiry.
We conceptualize space and place as social constructions such that “[p]lace is not only a fact to be explained in the broader frame of space, but it is also a reality to be clarified and understood from the perspectives of people who give it meaning” (Tuan, 1977: 397). Thus, we are particularly interested in exploring phenomenology as a means of theorizing space and place in extreme contexts, since phenomenology helps us better understand how others experience their world and choose to act in it. For despite a turn to methodologies that help us get closer to the people we study, it is an open secret that many of our theories remain too distant from human experience (Barley & Kunda, 2001; Bechky, 2011). Notable exceptions from such fields as practice theory (e.g. Carlsen, 2006; Sandberg & Dall'Alba, 2009), institutional theory (e.g. Creed, Hudson, Okhuysen, & Smith-Crowe, 2022), sensemaking (e.g. de Rond, Holeman, & Howard-Grenville, 2019), and change (e.g. Buchanan & Badham, 1999; Samra-Fredericks, 2003) suggest that, alongside methodology, the concept of “lived experience” needs to be developed further if we are to meaningfully contribute to the some of the fiercest challenges facing our world today: religious extremism, ultranationalism, culture wars and white supremacy, extreme changes to climate and geography, and extreme poverty.
Potential questions to be explored within this sub-theme include the following:

  • What aspects of place shape, and are shaped by, extreme events and extreme contexts? How are the geographic location, materiality and/or meanings associated with a particular place shaped and reshaped?

  • Where, when and how are different global and local places being affected by processes unleashed by extreme events?

  • How do aspects of place enable or constrain the processes through which extreme events unfold?

  • How, when and where are place meanings and sense of place created, maintained, changed and/or disrupted through extreme events and in extreme contexts, and by whom? What are the triggers for, and consequences of, different forms of ‘work’ being directed at place?

  • What types of actors in extreme contexts are motivated to invest individual and/or collective effort in work directed at place and why?

  • What is the role of space in different types of organizational and institutional settings associated with extreme contexts? How is space intertwined with place?

  • How does the design of space affect the lived experiences of space for individual, organizational, institutional and community actors in extreme contexts? What are the implications for mitigating and managing risks, preparing for emergencies, and/or responding to and recovering from disruptions?

  • How do spatial concepts (e.g. proximity, territoriality, liminal space, hybrid space, virtual space) and place concepts influence our theorizing of extreme contexts? Which spatial theories, ontologies of place, and insights from other disciplines – such as sociology, humanistic geography, architecture, and urban planning – could open up avenues for better theorizing space and place in extreme contexts?

  • How does trauma inscribe itself on spaces and places in organizational life?

  • What role do space and/or place play in organizational and institutional processes behind resilience, anti-fragility, and adaptation, on the one hand, and apathy and intransience on the other?

  • Where similar organizations and institutions respond differently to exposure to the same extreme event, what helps account for these differences? How do space and/or place allow some organizations, institutions and individuals to be more (or less) effective at sensemaking in extreme contexts?

  • What is the role of nature in extreme contexts?



  • Barley, S.R., & Kunda, G. (2001): “Bringing Work Back In.” Organization Science, 12 (1), 76–95.
  • Bechky, B.A. (2011): “Making Organizational Theory Work: Institutions, Occupations, and Negotiated Orders.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1157–1167.
  • Buchanan, D., & Badham, R. (1999): “Politics and Organizational Change: The Lived Experience.” Organization Studies, 52 (5), 609–629.
  • Carlsen, A. (2006): “Organizational Becoming as Dialogic Imagination of Practice: The Case of the Indomitable Gauls.” Organization Science, 17 (1), 132–149.
  • Creed, W.E.D., Hudson, B.A., Okhuysen, G.A., & Smith-Crowe, K. (2022): “A Place in the World: Vulnerability, Well-Being, and the Ubiquitous Evaluation That Animates Participation in Institutional Processes.” Academy of Management Review, 47 (3), 358–381.
  • Cresswell, T. (2014): Place: An Introduction. Boston, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Dale, K., & Burrell, G. (2008): The Spaces of Organisation and the Organisation of Space: Power, Identity and Materiality at Work. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • de Rond, M., Holeman, I., & Howard-Grenville, J. (2019): “Sensemaking from the Body: An Enactive Ethnography of Rowing the Amazon.” Academy of Management Journal, 62 (6), 1961–1988.
  • de Rond, M., & Lok, J. (2016): “Some Things Can Never Be Unseen: The Role of Context in Psychological Injury at War.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1965–1993.
  • Eaton, A., & Hecksher, C. (2021): “COVID's Impacts on the Field of Labour and Employment Relations.” Journal of Management Studies, 58 (1), 275–279.
  • Farny, S., Kibler, E., & Down, S. (2019): “Collective Emotions in Institutional Creation Work.” Academy of Management Journal, 62 (3), 765–799.
  • Geiger, D., Danner-Schröder, A., & Kremser, W. (2021): “Getting Ahead of Time—Performing Temporal Boundaries to Coordinate Routines under Temporal Uncertainty.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 66 (1), 220–264.
  • Gieryn, T.F. (2000): “A Space for Place in Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 463–496.
  • Gonsalves, L. (2020): “From Face Time to Flex Time: The Role of Physical Space in Worker Temporal Flexibility.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 65 (4), 1058–1091.
  • Hällgren, M., Rouleau, L., & de Rond, M. (2018): “A Matter of Life or Death: How Extreme Context Research Matters for Management and Organization Studies.” Academy of Management Annals, 12 (1), 111–153.
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Dover, G. (2015): “Place and Institutional Work: Creating Housing for the Hard-to-house.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (3), 371–410.
  • Løland, S., & Hällgren, M. (2022): “‘Where to ski?’: an ethnography of how guides make sense while planning.” Leisure Studies,
  • Samra-Fredericks, D. (2003): “Strategizing as Lived Experience and Strategists’ Everyday Efforts to Shape Strategic Direction.” Journal of Management Studies, 40 (1), 141–174.
  • Sandberg, J., & Dall'Alba, G. (2009): “Returning to Practice Anew: A Life-World Perspective.” Organization Studies, 30 (12), 1349–1368.
  • Shortt, H. (2015): “Liminality, space and the importance of ‘transitory dwelling places’ at work.” Human Relations, 68 (4), 633–658.
  • Stephenson, K.A., Kuismin, A., Putnam, L.L., & Sivunen, A. (2020): “Process Studies of Organizational Space.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (2), 797–827.
  • Taylor, S., & Spicer, A. (2007): “Time for Space: A Narrative Review of Research on Organizational Spaces.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 94 (4), 325–346.
  • Toubiana, M. (2020): “Once in Orange Always in Orange? Identity Paralysis and the Enduring Influence of Institutional Logics on Identity.” Academy of Management Journal, 63 (6), 1739–1774.
  • Tuan, Y.-F. (1977): Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Weinfurtner, T., & Seidl, D. (2019): “Towards a spatial perspective: An integrative review of research on organizational space.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 35 (2), 101–109.
  • Wright, A.L., Irving, G., Zafar, A., & Reay, T. (2023): “The Role of Space and Place in Organizational and Institutional Change: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Journal of Management Studies, 60 (4), 991–1026.
  • Wright, A.L., Meyer, A.D., Reay, T., & Staggs, J. (2021): “Maintaining Places of Social Inclusion: Ebola and the Emergency Department.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 66 (1), 42–85.
  • 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.
April L. Wright is Professor of Organization Studies at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Her work explores processes of institutional change, maintenance and disruption in a variety of places and spaces in extreme contexts, with a particular focus on hospital emergency departments.
Markus Hällgren s Professor of Management at Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Umeå University, Sweden. His main research interest lies within the everyday practice of leadership and team dynamics in extreme contexts. He has researched, for example, mountaineering expeditions, zombies, the police, indoor climbing, and ski guides – all instances where space and place matter. Markus leads the research program Extreme Environments – Everyday Decisions ( and is co-responsible for the “Organizing Extreme Contexts” network (
Mark de Rond is Professor of Organizational Ethnography at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. His work examines the experience of being human in (relatively) extreme contexts. His fieldwork has involved extended periods with doctors and nurses at war, Boat Race crews, a ragtag band rowing the Amazon, peace activists, and pedophile hunters. Find him and others at the Bohemian Writers Club (