Sub-theme 17: Unexpected Events: Sensemaking, Monitoring, Coping

Daniel Geiger
University of Hamburg, Germany
Kathleen M. Sutcliffe
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Georg Schreyögg
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Call for Papers


This sub-theme seeks to bring together researchers who study unexpected events, emer-gency decision making or hot situations in organizations and interorganizational net-works. The aim is to foster exchange of theoretical ideas and empirical insights that might be conducive to further understand mechanisms of organizing and managing such precarious situations that feature prominently in organizations and networks. Examples of such situations are major disruptions caused by accidents and catastrophic events, unexpected trajectories in patient care in healthcare settings, and more limited interrup-tions such as the outbreak of food epidemics, service interferences or product recalls, or other temporary disruptions. The sub-theme focuses on the dialectics of confusion and recollecting, improvisation and the dynamics of organizational routines, destabilization, disruption of practices and rigidities, etc. Processes of monitoring, foresight, and other avenues of preparing for the unexpected warrant a special focus.

The domain of unexpected events provides a particularly advantageous and rich context for exploring the consequences of organizing and spontaneous response as research cur-rently develops on different levels: individual, organizational, inter-organizational and organizational field, embedded in different institutional environments and numerous strategic contexts.

The sub-theme particularly invites contributions that focus on one or more of the follow-ing issues:

  • The role of initial conditions for coping with unexpected events
  • The role of sensemaking and enactment processes in instantiating and modifying tra-jectories of the unexpected
  • The disruption of organizational practices and the re-establishing of normalcy
  • The role of organizational routines for anticipating and containing the unexpected
  • Sensemaking of unexpected events in everyday organizing; making sensemaking re-flexive
  • Coping processes as systemic efforts that transcend individual routine compliance
  • Forms of organizational responses to unexpected events and their development over time
  • Analysis of coping processes in intra- and inter-organizational networks
  • The interplay among sense making processes between different levels of analysis (individual, group, organizational, network, field, market) and the various mecha-nisms that link these levels.
  • Processes and interventions that are likely to stop effective handling of hot situations
  • Processes of monitoring and foresight: effects and dysfunctions
  • Paradoxes of preparing, anticipating, containing and responding to unexpected events

The sub-theme intends to foster an exchange of theoretical ideas and empirical research findings across various substantive issues including sensemaking, monitoring, anticipat-ing, preventing, and coping. Papers that discuss such substantive issues, and possibly others, empirically or conceptually, comparatively or monographically, with regard to recent or more historical developments, are cordially invited.

The sub-theme wishes to attract both high-quality contributions that are ready to be submitted to a research journal as well as research in progress that explores these chal-lenging issues. It seeks to provide an opportunity for engaging in constructive dialogue and to encourage mutual learning among the participating scholars. Papers will be dis-tributed in advance of the Colloquium. All paper presentations will be commented by a discussant from the group. Session leaders will be asked to provide an open and encour-aging atmosphere for discussion. Special discussants will be asked to summarize the discussions of at the end of each of three days thereby cutting across the various papers presented.


Daniel Geiger is currently Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Formerly, he was Professor for International Management at the University of Kaiserslautern. He received his doctoral degree from Freie Universität Berlin. His research interests focus on organizational mechanisms and practices for coping with hot, unexpected situations, the dynamics of organizational routines and organizational inertia.
Kathleen M. Sutcliffe is currently Professor of Management and Organizations at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, USA. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For the past decade her research has been aimed at understanding how organizations and their members cope with uncertainty and unexpected events, and how complex organizations can be designed to be more reliable and resilient. She is currently investigating these issues in wildland firefighting, healthcare, and other high-hazard industries.
Georg Schreyögg is currently Professor of Management and Organization Studies at the School of Business & Economics of Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Formerly, he was Professor of Organization Studies and Planning at FernUniversität Hagen und Universität Bamberg. He received his doctoral degrees from Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany. His recent research has focused on organizational change, practicing uncer-tainty and organizational capabilities.