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The 24th EGOS Colloquium 2008  

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24th EGOS Colloquium

July 10–12, 2008

Vrije University Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Upsetting Organizations

Call for Sub-theme Proposals

In historical consciousness, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) has come to represent both the pride and the shame of the maritime reign of the Netherlands in the 17th century. The VOC is credited as the first multinational corporation in the world, and it was the first company to issue stocks. Sailing the seas from Spitsbergen to Cape Horn and into the Pacific, the VOC set up global trade networks, accumulated exorbitant wealth, and contributed to an era of Dutch economic and cultural prosperity, the remnants of which can still be admired in cities like Amsterdam. The company known as the symbol of the Dutch Golden Age also came to represent the dark sides of Dutch economic expansion. The VOC did not hesitate to use ugly and socially upsetting tactics, such as war, enslavement, torture and mass murder, to accomplish its objectives. The Dutch East India Company therefore symbolizes the potentials of organized human action to initiate activities that are tremendously successful yet, at the same time, utterly upsetting.

Intense media coverage of organizational crises and scandals has brought the darker side of organizations to the forefront of public attention in recent years. Although issues like the greed of top management, aggressive market strategies, worker exploitation, accidents and disasters attract the attention of journalists and activists, the story of the complex and covert workings of underlying social processes in organizations that lead to the organizational deviance remains largely untold. While organizational processes may be upsetting to different stakeholders, including personnel, competitors, customers and the general public, routine working processes may also be upset by restless change managers and new social or economic circumstances, etc. The merging of different companies sailing to the East Indies led to the establishment of the VOC in 1602 as well as to the demise of the company in the 18th century. These mergers caused organizational and social upheaval then, as changes in leadership, cross-border ventures, market, product and labour diversification, political change, liberalization and deregulation, social and ethnic unrest, etc. do now. Reflecting managerial interest in factors promoting social cohesion, commitment and success, organizational theory has paid little attention to organizations causing or facing disorganization, disorder and decay. It is time to revive interest in the ways in which organizational change can upset existing arrangements and create unforeseen and upsetting consequences.

Conversely, one could argue that organizational studies and organization theories themselves can be – and perhaps should be – upsetting to management and organizations. Classic organization studies by Crozier, Blau, Selznick or Gouldner, for instance, helped to unmask organizational rhetoric, reveal actual practices and offer an up-close and in-depth insight that challenged then taken-for-granted views. Research that uncovered behind-the-scenes stories, counterintuitive interpretations and groundbreaking, provocative theories give organization studies a dynamic and slightly unsettling quality by being in counterpoint to the orthodoxy of mainstream thinking. Investigating the implicit or even silent features of organizational life and organized societies is a key task for organizational research in its role of upsetting the easily observed and taken-for-granted aspects of organization.

What can we learn from upsetting organizations and organization theories? Some of them lead to an increase in corporate control, e.g., when consumers and other stakeholders respond to the disclosure of upsetting practices and demand transparency. Others lead to "creative destruction", as new technologies and innovative concepts replace old ways of doing business. Upsetting organizations have changed the agenda of organizational research. The number of studies on corporate governance, social responsibility, the effects of work process improvement on people and environments, and the kinds of transparency resulting from new methods of organizational control has increased in the last decade. To what extent has such work improved our insight into how organizations upset existing social arrangements and people’s working lives? The potential to learn from failures and upsetting events is substantial. The challenge for the field of organization studies in general, and for this conference in particular, is to address theoretical implications of upsetting events and develop insights that upset the field of organization studies anew.

The 24th EGOS Colloquium invites proposals for sub-themes that address the central theme, "Upsetting Organizations", by providing empirical findings, theoretical explanations and critical reflections. Although we primarily encourage proposals referring specifically to the conference theme, proposals on current organizational research topics of general interest will also be considered. Questions related to upsetting organizations include, but are not limited to:

What is the significance of upsetting organizations in different time periods and different institutional and cultural contexts? Which similarities or differences emerge from historical and cross-cultural comparisons?

What was and is considered to be ethical and unethical behaviour in organizations in different times and places? How is this influenced by scandals and public scorn?

What is the role of diversity and heterogeneity in upsetting organizations? How do organizations deal with different types of diversity?

How does technological and organizational innovation figure in as a source and outcome of periods of upheaval and disorder? What is the role of disasters and deviance in innovation processes?

How do power relations and conflict management in organizations evolve in periods of organizational upheaval? How do actors attempt to use and abuse their power; what kind of conflicts and emotional distress arise and how are they dealt with? Which dramas take place and what kind of narratives and discourses of malpractices are produced?

What is the political role of organizations in upsetting their market and institutional context? In which ways do organizational actors engage and disengage in processes of institutionalization and deinstitutionalization during periods of disorder as compared to periods of order?

How do government interventions and legal restrictions effect upheaval in private business organizations?

How do non-governmental interventions, activism, and campaigns impact on private sector activities?

How does organized action and strategizing bring about fundamental organizational change and what are the unintended consequences thereof? What are implications for organizational design?

What is the role of culture, cognition and knowledge in upsetting and stabilizing organizations?

How do organizations and organizational members cope with identities and make sense of their organizational identities after or during upsetting situations?

What impact does the upsetting of organizations have on careers and human relations within organizations and on the loyalty and commitment of organizational members at different levels of the organizational hierarchy?

What is the role of organizational communication and the media in revealing, driving and resolving disorder in and among organizations?

What is the critical role of organizational studies, methodology and epistemology in upsetting organizations and revealing and questioning more hidden features of organizations and organized societies, such as ideology, hegemony, oppression, exclusion, and taboos?

Submissions are expected to include an outline of the proposed theme and the area of interest (maximum of 2 pages) and a short description of the team of convenors, including their academic background and experience.

Convenor teams should consist of two to three scholars; the teams should be international in composition (convenors from at least two countries) and should include one highly reputed scholar and one convenor experienced in organizing EGOS sub-themes.

Deadline for submissions: January 3, 2007.
Submissions of sub-theme proposals should be sent by e-mail to:

Organizing Committee:

Dr. Sierk Ybema, Assistant Professor
Dept. of Culture, Organization and Management

Professor Dr. Tom Elfring
Dept. of Public Administration and Organization Science

Dr. Kees Boersma, Associate Professor
Dept. of Culture, Organization and Management

Dr. Frank den Hond, Associate Professor
Dept. of Public Administration and Organization Science
Professor Dr. Heidi Dahles
Dept. of  Culture, Organization and Management