the relevance of organization theory

Another big issue in our discussion about the future of organization theory must be its practical relevance. A few months ago my 10-year old son Elias asked me about my work, and I was pleased to tell him that I study organizations and explained what they are. I was struck by his reaction: “Huh, there is no need to study that.” I thought about his response and told him a couple of days later about a research project that I am working on with Joep Cornelissen and Saku Mantere. We have a paper on the accidental shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in a London tube station a couple of years ago. The Metropolitan Police thought that he was a terrorist and tragically killed this innocent man. We focus on sensemaking and communication and explain the unfortunate outcome by commintted interpretation that was built up by idiomatic expressions that could be interpreted in different ways. I was really happy that Elias was all ears when I told about this research project.

I’m not saying that all organization research needs to focus on issues that are easy to understand and appear relevant for 10-year olds or managers. However,  it is useful and refreshing to think about ways in which organization theorists could make themselves more visible and useful. This may sound naïve, but everyone is now looking at Copenhagen and most of us are hoping that political decision-makers and other stakeholders would get organized to fight global warming. I don’t think that anyone has considered that organization scholars could play the role of experts or be proactively involved in designing structures  and processes that would help out in this joint endeavor. I have also thought about the EU and the various ways in which we as scholars could be involved in studying but also developing this gigantic bureacracy.

Against this background, I’m very glad to see that there are openings to this direction. For example, the new Editorial team of Organization Studies is encouraging people to connect organization theory with broader societal issues and concerns. Also, I have been involved in planning for a Second International Conference for AOM that would focus on developing management and organization research and education in places where help is needed. I hope that I will happen.

Written by vaara

December 12, 2009 at 10:28 am

Posted in uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. It seems even the makers of gangster moves understand the relevance of the organizational perspective. Slate’s Jonah Weiner notes that Matteo Garrone Gomorrah, which he calls “the best mob movie of the decade”, shifts the focus of the genre: “most films about organized crime focus on the criminal, not the organization … Gomorrah [by contrast] doesn’t narrate the journey of one man’s soul. It tells the story of a system that checks souls at the gate.”



    December 12, 2009 at 11:22 pm

  2. Can I get a copy of your article about the accidental shooting? It sounds awesome! Please? :-)


    Gary Fredrick Furash

    December 13, 2009 at 2:12 pm

  3. It’s interesting that you are writing an article about that accident. I wrote a little article on my blog on another tragic case, the Amadou Diallo shooting in US.It was meant to be a practical explanation of sensemaking, since I had written a couple of more “theoretic” stuff on the topic.

    here’s the link if you are interested:




    December 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

  4. It would be interesting to hear the opinion of the authors regarding the recent articles about Larry Zicklin’s views on academic research:


    Nicolay Worren

    April 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm

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