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The 24th EGOS Colloquium 2008  

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Postdoctoral pre-colloquium workshop

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Roland Calori Prize

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Standing Working Group 6 (Sub-theme 06):

Practice-Based Studies of Knowledge and Innovation in Workplaces –
Practices that Upset and Upsetting Practices



Silvia Gherardi
University of Trento (Italy)

Anni Borzeix
Centre de Recherche en Gestion de l'Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS (France)

Lars Fuglsang
Roskilde University (Denmark)

Call for papers

A major assumption in most research running under the etiquette 'practice based studies' is that practices contribute 'positively' to some sort of productive end or order, that they generate some kind of social or organizational accomplishment. Actually what can be, what is and what should be accomplished in workplaces remains an old and nevertheless open question, as everyone knows. Practices can upset just as they can be efficient stabilizing devices. Practices as relatively stable forms of doing what has to be done seek to acquire the stability, repetition and conservation of the practical knowledge necessary for their reproduction. But it is not always desirable for practices to be repeated and stabilized. Routines can be paralyzing. They are not always the best ways to do things, they are not always ethically transparent, and they are not always functional to the organization's reproduction. Work groups sometimes adopt practices that are detrimental to certain individuals and which discriminate (deliberately or otherwise) against some and favour others. Organizations sometimes operate on the margins of legality and morality and tolerate morally dubious behaviour by their members. Communities of practice sometimes reproduce (intentionally or otherwise) practices at odds with what the organization has prescribed and which may harm the organization itself. Practices can be transgressive and subversive as well as progressive and submissive.

Given that practices are socially sustained, it is important to investigate the social, moral and aesthetic criteria that determine how this is done, and how these criteria are negotiated, subverted or supported in practice. Invited in particular are papers which focus on the dark side of practices, and the reasons for the opacity which impedes the researcher from accessing the 'dirty work' that goes on but is not admitted to. Contributors are therefore invited to explore from an ethical and aesthetic point of view the shadowy area comprising habitual ways of doing things which cannot/must not be mentioned. Required as a consequence is investigation of how and when it is possible to subvert morally dubious practices, and what happens when dissent is expressed.

The main themes addressed will therefore be negotiation of practice-legitimating criteria and legitimation as a process situated in practice. They may be explored in relation to:

  • Shadow practices, bad practices, dirty work, 'do not ask, do not tell' principle
  • Good reasons for bad practices: can opacity be functional?
  • Compliance, resistance and observance of rules as a practical problem
  • The culture and the morality of practices
  • The organizational construction of situated morals
  • Transgression and resistance of practices in practice
  • Methodological issues in doing research on morality in practice.

We welcome engagements with concepts and issues that address the issue of how and why practices continue to be practised even when they upset some moral (cultural or aesthetic) order and what happen to dissidents.

About the convenors

Silvia Gherardi is full professor of sociology of organization at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Trento, Italy, where she coordinates the Research Unit on Communication, Organizational Learning, and Aesthetics ( Areas of interest include the exploration of different 'soft' aspects of knowing in organizations, with particular emphasis on cognitive, emotional, symbolic, and linguistic aspects of organizational learning. She has recently published Organizational Knowledge: The Texture of Workplace Learning (Blackwell, 2006)on the practices of safety in the construction industry.

Anni Borzeix is 'directrice de recherche' in sociology at the Centre de Recherche en Gestion de l'Ecole Polytechnique (CNRS). Her research on work and words in the service sector belongs to the field known as 'work-place studies' in anglo-saxon terms; it seeks to combine different academic sources and methodologies: French sociology of work, socio-linguistics and ethnography of communication, cognitive sociology and management sciences. She has recently edited Language et Travail, Communication, Cognition, Action (CNRS Editions, 2001).

Lars Fuglsang is associate professor in social sciences at the Departmment of Communication, Business and Information Technologies at Roskilde University in Denmark. His main research interest is how organizational frameworks are created to deal with the impact of innovation, technology and other forms of change on business and society. He has written books and papers in the field of science and technology studies, innovation studies, service development, and technology and regional integration. His current research is focusing on a practice-based understanding of technology, innovation, and change with a particular view to change processes in public interest services and 'innovation with care'.