Bringing Work Back in? Methods and Studies for Understanding the Changing Nature of Work Activity and Organizations
Lancaster University (UK)
University of Helsinki (Finland)
Chemnitz University of Technology,
Call for papers
While early developments in organization theory drew from detailed studies of work, in the latter decades of the last century other priorities (e.g. strategy, structures, envi-ronments, as well as a series of abstract theoretical debates) came to dominate the field. The shift in priorities had been enabled by the outstanding success of the founding studies of work. These had questioned prevailing assumptions about work and organizations and, through detailed empirical studies, had provided a series of grounded concepts that acted as a foundation for much of the work which was to follow. However, as Barley and Kunda (2001) pointed out, the nature of work, and consequently the nature of organizations, has been changing in recent years. Concepts of work and organization developed in bureaucratic organizational settings are, arguably, less generally applicable than once they were. Indeed, notwithstanding eye-catching slogans (such as 'the flexible firm' and 'the networked organization') which have dominated journalistic writings on management, many of the ongoing changes in the nature of work have been poorly researched and theorised. The argument is that organizational theory now faces a powerful series of challenges which are not dissimilar to the ones which preoccupied the subject's pioneers. As before, developments in the field are likely to depend on detailed studies of the (changing) nature of work, and on the development of concepts which are grounded in the complexity of contemporary situations. This stream invites discussion of the changing nature of work and the consequences for organizations and organization theory. In particular we seek papers that will fulfil the intention of the conference to show case research that provides 'up-close and in-depth insights' and uncover 'behind-the-scenes stories' of the contemporary shape of work. Accordingly we seek discussions of appropriate methodological approaches, detailed empirical studies of the nature of work activities, and discussions of appropriate approaches to grounded theoretical analysis.
We particularly invite contributions
- that consider grounded theories of researching work and activity such as pragmatism, activity theory, situated practice, praxéology, and socio-technical system approaches, etc.;
- that feature the results of detailed empirical research on work activities;
- that feature studies of intervention, change and development in the organization of work.
Research questions to be considered in the stream include:
- How is the changing nature of work manifest in organizational structures, rules, and procedures?
- How do changes in organizational structures and environments affect the detailed organization of work?
- What are adequate levels of reflection and analysis for work?
- What are adequate methodological approaches when analyzing and developing work?
- How do 'organization' and 'work' fit together?
- What pictures of organizations emerge if analysis begins from the study of work activities?
Barley, S.R. & G. Kunda (2001): Bringing Work Back In. Organization Science, 12: 76-95.
Engeström, Y. (2005): Developmental Work Research: Expanding Activity Theory in Practice. Berlin: Lehmanns Media.
Suchman, L. (2007): Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions. 2nd Expanded Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Starbuck, W. (2006): The Production of Knowledge: The Challenge of Social Science Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
About the convenors
Frank Blackler is Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Director of the Centre for Collaborative Intervention in the Public Sector at Lancaster University Management School. Past research has included studies of job redesign, culture change and organizational learning. More recently he has been involved in studies of changes in the nature of work in the public sector.
Hannele Kerosuo, PhD, is senior researcher in the Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She draws on the cultural-historical activity theory and ethnographic methodology in her framework for studying organizational complexity and transformation.
Klaus-Peter Schulz, PhD, is lecturer and research associate at the Department of Innovation Research and Sustainable Resource Management at Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany. His current research deals with analyses, reflection and description of work practice, individual learning and the influence on change and development in organizations.