Sub-theme 49: Organizing Organizations: Dynamics and Variation

Göran Ahrne, Stockholm University, Sweden
Nils Brunsson, Uppsala University, Sweden
Dieter Kerwer, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Call for Papers

Organizations cooperate in many ways. Their cooperative efforts may be more or less durable and more or less formalized. Organizations initiate common projects, they form joint ventures, and they create partnerships and alliances. Sometimes they go as far as to assemble in a new formal organization with themselves as members, a meta-organization. The number of meta-organizations is increasing rapidly, not least on the trans- and international levels and in a number of societal sectors such as the economy, sports and international politics. In this track we put particular emphasis on two interrelated aspects: the dynamics of processes of organizing organizations and variation among various forms of organizations of organizations.

Many existing organizations of organizations have started as networks but later developed into organized structures including one or several elements of organization such as membership, rules, monitoring, sanctions and even hierarchy. We are interested in what triggers the development to more organization, in what drivers and obstacles for introducing specific elements exist and in possible patterns in the trajectory of organizing. And why do organizations sometimes avoid too much organization?

We are also interested in processes of "de-organization" by which organizational elements become weaker, and by which meta-organizations and other advanced forms of common organization lose relevance or even dissolve. Contributions in this area could describe more or less successful attempts at organizing as well as the development of specific organizations over time.

All organizations of organizations are facing challenges of coordination that go well beyond the standard form of formal organization. However, given that these organizations come in widely differing shapes and sizes, we also expect significant variation in the coordination problem. For example, we would expect the 'Star Alliance' comprising a limited number of airline companies to have it somewhat easier to coordinate its members than the European Union trying to coordinate its member states. Why? What is the exact nature of the coordination problem in each case? How does the magnitude of the challenge vary across different cases? How can these differences be explained? To what extent do they reflect different phases of development and to what extent do they reflect other differences such as different purposes, different membership or different environments?

Theoretical as well as empirical papers are welcome to this sub-theme. We will explore the possibility of a common publication based on selected papers.


Göran Ahrne is Professor at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Sweden. He has published a number of books in various sociological fields such as social stratification, globalization and social theory. His main research interest today is the connection between social theory and organization theory. He has published several books and articles on this theme such as "Agency and Organization" (1990), "Social Organizations" (1994) and "Meta-organizations" (2008, with N. Brunsson). He is currently working on a book on organizations and relational sociology.
Nils Brunsson holds the Chair in Management at Uppsala University, Sweden. He has published more than twenty books in the field of organization theory, including "Organizing Organizations” (ed. with J.P. Olsen, 1998) and "Meta-organizations" (with G. Ahrne, 2008). He is affiliated to Score (Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research) where he is currently leading a research program on the organization of markets. Since 2009, Nils is an EGOS Honorary Member.
Dieter Kerwer is Professor of International Politics at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. His major research interests are global governance, international political economy and international organizations. Recent publication on international organizations: 'International Organizations as Meta-Organizations: the Case of the European Union.' In: Journal of International Organization Studies, 2013, 4 (2), pp. 40–53.