PDW 03: Societal Grand Challenges, Communication, and Performativity

Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich
Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany
Amanda Williams
IMD Business School, Switzerland
Milena Leybold
University of Innsbruck, Austria

Call for Applications

Panelists & Facilitators:
Valentina Carbone, ESCP Business School, France
Itziar Castelló, Bayes Business School, United Kingdom
François Cooren, Université de Montréal, Canada
Joel Gehman, George Washington University, USA
Jean-Pascal Gond, Bayes Business School, United Kingdom
Madeleine Rauch, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Juliane Reinecke, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Dennis Schoeneborn, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


This cross-theme PDW – which will be hybrid, both online and in-person/onsite – brings together participants from the Standing Working Groups (SWGs) 06 Communication, Performativity, and Organization and 10 Organizing Desirable Futures with the aim to join forces for understanding how the way we communicate (or stay silent) about societal grand challenges makes a difference in the way how we address or potentially tackle these challenges. More specifically, the purpose of this PDW is to connect scholars interested in topics relating to the (per)formative nature of communication (e.g., Gond et al., 2016; Marti & Gond, 2018; Schoeneborn et al., 2020) and societal grand challenges (e.g., Gümüsay et al., 2022). The workshop also aims to facilitate conversations between more experienced scholars, early-career scholars, and PhD candidates to discuss paper proposals and project ideas.
Societal grand challenges such as those represented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals are “global problems that can be plausibly addressed through coordinated and collaborative effort” (George et al., 2016). Due to their complex, uncertain, and evaluative nature (Ferraro et al., 2014), societal grand challenges are difficult to tackle. Yet, over the past ten years, organization scholars have taken on the challenging task of building theory about mitigating these challenges (Chatterjee et al., 2022) and even addressing how their theories and methods might help to solve societal grand challenges (Cuncliffe and Pavlovich, 2022).
Arguably, research on societal grand challenges has been growing in organization and management studies. Yet, contributions in this field have been mostly conceptual, or mobilized the concept of societal grand challenges as a justification of the empirical context (Howard- Grenville & Spengler, 2022). Accordingly, and in line with Howard-Grenville and Spengler (2022: 289) we see a great scientific interest “to research the social and discursive construction of grand challenges,” to understand how societal grand challenges come (discursively) into being (see e.g., Schwoon et al., 2022) and how the social construction of such challenges advances or blocks action. Consequently, in this PDW, we will explore the role of communication – such as narratives, metaphors, discourses, or frames –, and their performativity on collective organizing progresses on tackling societal grand challenges.
Drawing on communication- and performativity-centered perspectives is empirically and theoretically intriguing in the study of societal grand challenges. Recent research (e.g., Nerlich et al., 2018; Porter et al., 2018; Schoeneborn et al., 2022) has shown and theorized how discursive practices, narratives, frames, or metaphors shape collective (in)action towards societal grand challenges. For example, in the context of environmental sustainability and transitions towards corporate social responsibility, Patala et al. (2019) emphasize the role of green rhetoric to legitimize incumbent’s strategies to invest in non-renewables. Similarly, Schoeneborn et al. (2022) theorize along the example of the Covid-19 pandemic that some metaphors are more ‘vivid’ and ‘actionable’ than others and therefore more likely to foster collective responses towards societal grand challenges. These examples of recent empirical research indicate that communication-centered and performative approaches can inform and potentially explain why or why not society is able to tackle societal grand challenges.
While we acknowledge recent efforts to theorize and advance knowledge about societal grand challenges from communication- and performativity-centered perspectives, we argue that the field of Organization Studies needs a better understanding of how communication and performativity shape organizing in and around societal grand challenges. The aim of this PDW is thus to focus in particular on the potential of bringing together researchers from the field of societal grand challenges research with experts on communication- and performativity- centered perspectives, and discuss how communication and performativity theorizing might motivate or inhibit addressing societal grand challenges. Likewise, taking note of the self- fulfilling nature of theories (e.g., Marti & Gond, 2018), we further aim to steer reflections about the impact of research, particularly performative theorizing, in and for tackling societal grand challenges, amongst participants.


The PDW is three-parted: in the first part, the panelists share some initial ideas on the topic of the PDW and discuss three broader questions:

  • How does communication (e.g., frames, discourses, narratives) contribute to collective efforts of resolving societal grand challenges?

  • Which and how do communication dynamics and phenomena (e.g., fragmentation or polarization of public discourse, fake news, etc.) possibly inhibit collective efforts of addressing societal grand challenges?

  • Which role does (communication) research play in and for tackling societal grand challenges?

The panel discussion is scheduled for 60 minutes and includes, besides the initial statements and discussion among the panelists an interactive part with the audience.

The second and the third part of the PDW are focused on roundtable discussions. The panelists and three additional senior scholars who published in the scholarly field of societal grand challenges and/or communication and performativity, will meet with PhD and early career scholars to provide feedback on the attendee’s work. Depending on the number of submissions, each attendee will get feedback by at least two senior scholars.

The PDW will be closed with a brief wrap-up. – Please note: This PDW will run in hybrid format with both in-person/onsite and online participation possible. We hereby agree upon facilitating paper discussion roundtables virtually, if needed.


We welcome submissions broadly or more narrowly associated with societal grand challenges research. In particular, but not exclusively, we seek out submissions drawing on communication- and performativity-centered theorizing, for example, by addressing the role of framing (Reinecke & Ansari, 2016), metaphors (Schoeneborn et al., 2022) discourses or narratives (Stenje et al., 2022) in the context of these challenges. Likewise, we are interested in contributions focusing on the inhibiting or hindering role of communication in addressing societal grand challenges (e.g., research on fragmentation of public discourse, disinformation, silence, competing narratives).

Submissions should aim to contribute innovative ideas and should address challenging theoretical, and/or empirical, and or methodological boundaries at the interconnection of societal grand challenges and communication and/or performativity research. While we primarily encourage PhD students and early career scholars to submit their work, we also warmly invite more experienced scholars to take the opportunity for scholarly exchange in the context of this PDW.
Please submit – via the EGOS website – by April 30, 2023 a single document of application (.docx or .pdf file) which includes:

  • A short letter of application containing full details of name, affiliation, email, and mode of participations (either online or onsite);

  • An abstract summarizing their current research project or project idea they would like to discuss at the roundtables;

  • A brief motivational statement on why they would like to participate in this PDW, and which facilitator they would like to get feedback from. We aim to match submitters with roundtable facilitators based on their submitted abstract and indicated preferences.


  • Chatterjee, A., Ghosh, A., & Leca, B. (2022): “Double Weaving: A Bottom-Up Process of Connecting Locations and Scales to Mitigate Grand Challenges.” Academy of Management Journal, in press.
  • Cunliffe, A.L., & Pavlovich, K. (2022): “Making Our Work Matter: From Spectator to Engagement through Public Organization and Management Studies.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 36 (3), 879–895.
  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • Gümüsay, A.A., Marti, E., Trittin-Ulbrich, H., & Wickert, C. (2022): “How Organizing Matters for Societal Grand Challenges.” In: Gümüsay, A.A., Marti, E., Trittin-Ulbrich, H., & Wickert, C. (eds.): Organizing for Societal Grand Challenges. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 1–14.
  • 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.
  • Howard-Grenville, J., & Spengler, J. (2022): “Surfing the Grand Challenges Wave in Management Scholarship: How Did We Get Here, Where are We Now, and What’s Next?” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 79, 279–295.
  • Marti, E., & Gond, J.-P. (2018): “When do theories become self-fulfilling? Exploring the boundary conditions of performativity.” Academy of Management Review, 43 (3), 487–508.
  • Nerlich, B., Koteyko, N., & Brown, B. (2010): “Theory and language of climate change communication.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1 (1), 97–110.
  • Patala, S., Korpivaara, I., Jalkala, A., Kuitunen, A., & Soppe, B. (2019): “Legitimacy Under Institutional Change. How incumbents appropriate clean rhetoric for dirty technologies.” Organization Studies, 40 (3), 395–419.
  • Porter, A.J., Kuhn, T.R., & Nerlich, B. (2018): “Organizing Authority in the Climate Change Debate: IPCC Controversies and the Management of Dialectical Tensions.” Organization Studies, 39 (7), 873–898.
  • Reinecke, J., & Ansari, S. (2016): “Taming Wicked Problems: The Role of Framing in the Construction of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (3), 299–329.
  • Schoeneborn, D., Morsing, M., & Crane, A. (2020): “Formative perspectives on the relation between CSR communication and CSR practices: Pathways for walking, talking, and t(w)alking.” Business & Society, 59 (1), 5–33.
  • Schoeneborn, D., Vásquez, C., & Cornelissen, J.P. (2022): “Theorizing the Role of Metaphors in Co-orienting Collective Action Toward Grand Challenges: The Example of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In: Gümüsay, A.A., Marti, E., Trittin-Ulbrich, H., & Wickert, C. (eds.): Organizing for Societal Grand Challenges. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 69–71.
  • Schwoon, B., Schoeneborn, D., & Scherer, A. G. (2022): “Enacting a Grand Challenge for Business and Society: Theorizing Issue Maturation in the Media-Based Public Discourse on COVID-19 in Three National Contexts.” Business & Society, https://doi.org/10.1177/00076503221110486.
  • Stjerne, I. S., Wenzel, M., & Svejenova, S. (2022): “Commitment to grand challenges in fluid forms of organizing: The role of narratives’ temporality.” In: Gümüsay, A.A., Marti, E., Trittin-Ulbrich, H., & Wickert, C. (eds.): Organizing for Societal Grand Challenges. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 139–160.
Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich is a Professor for Business Administration, particularly Business in Society, at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. Her research interests include corporate social responsibility (CSR), the role of communication in the context of CSR, corporate digital responsibility (CDR), new forms of work and organizing, and of change agents for sustainable corporate development. Hannah‘s work has been published in the ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Business & Society’, ‘Organization’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, and ‘Corporate Communications: An International Journal’, among others.
Amanda Williams is a Sustainability Research Fellow at the Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business, IMD Business School, Switzerland. Her research lies at the intersection of sustainability management and social-ecological systems. She studies how organizations understand global sustainability issues and develop corporate sustainability strategies that align with global targets. She approaches her work from a systems theory perspective and works with qualitative research methods. Amanda has published her work in the ‘Academy of Management Discoveries’, ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘Business & Society’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, and ‘Journal of Cleaner Production’.
Milena Leybold is an Organization Studies Research Fellow at the Department for Organization and Learning at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Her research focuses on phenomena of organizational openness, organizational inclusion and exclusion, and the constitutive role of communication for organization and organizational boundaries. In a recent research project, she studies alternative approaches to intellectual property in the pharmaceutical industry with a particular focus on open source vaccines. Milena has published her work in ‘Organization’.