Sub-plenary 4

What Role for Theory in Organizational Research? Paradigms, Theorizing, and Practical Relevance

Friday, July 3, 2015, 11:00–12:30

Location: {tba}



Mats Alvesson

Professor of Business Administration

Lund University, Sweden


Mats Alvesson is at the University of Lund, Sweden and at University of Queensland, Australia and Cass Business School. Research interests include critical theory, gender, power, management of professional service (knowledge intensive) organizations, leadership, identity, organizational image, organizational culture and symbolism, qualitative methods and philosophy of science. Recent books include “The Triumph of Emptiness” (Oxford University Press 2013), “Qualitative Research and Theory Development” (Sage 2011, with Dan Kärreman), “Constructing Research Questions” (Sage 2013, w J Sandberg), “Interpreting Interviews” (Sage 2011), Metaphors we lead by: Understanding leadership in the real world”, (Routledge 2011, ed with Andre Spicer), “Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies” (Oxford University Press, edited with Todd Bridgman and Hugh Willmott), “Understanding gender and organizations” (Sage, 2009, 2nd ed with Yvonne Billing), “Reflexive methodology” (Sage, 2009, 2nd ed, with Kaj Skoldberg), “Changing organizational culture” (Routledge 2008, with Stefan Sveningsson), “Knowledge work and knowledge-intensive firms” (Oxford University Press, 2004).




Gibson Burrell

Professor of Organization Theory
University of Leicester School of Management, UK

Gibson Burrell is Professor of Organization Theory at the School of Management in the University of Leicester in the UK which is a school of and for critical management studies.

He was a founding Editor of the journal Organization and is sole author of the books "Pandemonium" and "Styles of Organizing" as well as co-authoring "Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis" with Gareth Morgan and "The Spaces of Organization and the Organization of Space" with Karen Dale. His co-authored series of articles with Bob Cooper on Modernism and Postmodernism were once read by a few people. He was elected to the UK's Academy of the Social Sciences in 2005. 



Gareth Morgan

Distinguished Research Professor
The Schulich School of Business
York University, Canada

Gareth Morgan is Distinguished Research Professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, Toronto, and a prominent author and keynoter speaker specializing in the implications of the new science of chaos and complexity for leadership and change. His books include "Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis" (with Gibson Burrell), "Images of Organization", "Beyond Method: Strategies for Social Research", "Riding the Waves of Change", and "Imaginization: New Ways of Thinking, Organizing and Managing". Available in sixteen translations, "Images of Organization" is used as a core text at hundreds of universities worldwide. He has been elected Life Fellow of the International Academy of Management for his international contributions to the science and art of management.



Robin Holt

Professor of Organization and Management
University of Liverpool Management School, UK
& Editor-in-Chief of Organization Studies

Robin Holt has drifted through many institutions of higher education, and works within both the humanities and social science bringing a somewhat eclectic range of influences to bear upon inquiries into strategic and entrepreneurial practice. He is currently Professor at the University of Liverpool Management School and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. With friends he has recently helped compile the "Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies", and is currently writing a book on "Judgment" and another called "The Poverty of Strategy". He is Editor-in-Chief of EGOS' journal Organization Studies.



Mats Alvesson

Despite - or perhaps because of? - a huge increase in research publications, there are few novel ideas and theories in management and organization studies. The theories we develop are regularly seen as narrow, incremental, indeed trivial and of little relevance. Prominent scholars such as Starbuck notes that “years pass with negligible gains in usable knowledge; successive studies of topic appear to explain less and less”, and “too much effort goes into generating meaningless research “findings”, and the flood of meaningless “contributions” probably obscure some discoveries that would really be useful”. Davis observes, “that a half-dozen paradigms maintain hegemony year after year, facing little danger that new evidence will pile up against them, with (neo-institutional theory) as the head of the class.” Alvesson & Sandberg have pointed at the problems of most researchers working (for too long) in boxes. 


The presentation will address the state of the art, but primarily discuss ways forward, including moves from gap-spotting to assumption challenging studies, from methodological rigor to working with mysteries in research, from mass research to emphasizing the unique research contribution that makes a difference, and from a data/theory focus to use broader inspiration and insight based on ’life ethnography’ (using the range of observations and experiences that we have access to).


Gibson Burrell

Gibson will revisit his work with Gareth Morgan on how social and organization theory is shaped by deep paradigmatic  assumptions. Particular attention will be given to the emergence of new research paradigms since 1979 and the updating of ideas presented in their book “Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis”. His presentation will be coordinated with that of Gareth Morgan to present an overview of their work together in reviewing and updating social theory and organization theory in a multi-paradigm world.

Gareth Morgan

Gareth will revisit his work with Gibson Burrell on how social and organization theory is shaped by deep paradigmatic  assumptions, and his ideas on the role of metaphor in shaping detailed theory and research.

Particular attention will be given to the emergence of new research paradigms and their implications for future organizational research in a multi-paradigm world.

His presentation will be coordinated with that of Gibson Burrell to present an overview of their work together in reviewing and updating the ideas presented in their book “Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis”.