Sub-theme 03: [SWG] Routines, Stability and Change in Organizations and Beyond

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Katharina Dittrich
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Martha S. Feldman
University of California at Irvine, USA
Brian T. Pentland
Michigan State University, USA

Call for Papers

In this sub-theme, we invite scholars to consider the implications of routine dynamics for stability and change in institutions, culture, networks, organizational fields and other large scale assemblages. A focus on routines has allowed us to follow other practice-oriented scholars in reexamining the micro-macro connection in two ways. One way is to move the focus to routines (or practices) as the unit of analysis rather than framing questions in terms of the relationship between individuals and society. The other way is to focus simply on the multiplicity of connections among heterogeneous actors and envision a flat ontology in which there is no foundational unit. From both of these perspectives, individual level phenomena such as agency, motivation and habits as well as societal phenomena such as inequality and longevity need to be explained by organizational scholars rather than being used as an explanation. For this sub-theme, we are open to these ways of reframing the micro-macro issue and we look outward, understanding routines as embedded in large scale assemblages in a variety of different ways. We expect that scholars who participate in this sub-theme will benefit from this diversity.
This sub-theme aims to generate a conversation about the relationality of stability and change with routines at the center. Relationality has been an increasingly important perspective in research on routines (Feldman, 2016; Feldman et al, 2016) and routines (and other practices) are central to understanding how stability and change relate to and define one another. As Bourdieu (1990, p. 99) argues, “The simple possibility that things might proceed otherwise …” changes the whole experience and logic of practice. In the gap between high probability and absolute certainty, we find the possibility for change, and we also find surprises. Because routines sit on this conceptual boundary, they are a source of great potential but are also easily misunderstood. Inertia can promote change (Yi et al., 2016), and stability requires flexibility (Berente et al., 2016). If we don’t assume the stability of routines (i.e., mistake the effect for the cause), but rather seek to explain how routines produce stability, we can also start to uncover how stability and change relate and define one another. As Latour notes: “Social scientists have mistaken the effect for the cause, the passive for the active, what is glued for the glue” (1986, p. 276).
By grounding the discussion in the dynamics of particular routines and practices, we hope to develop new perspectives on questions of stability and change in organizations, cultures, institutions, networks, fields and other large scale assemblages. Towards that end, we encourage submissions that draw from current scholarly debates including – but not limited to – Organizational Theory, Practice Theory, Strategy as Practice, Process Theory and Institutional Theory. We invite theoretical and theoretically-informed empirical papers, as well as methodological contributions. We are particularly interested in papers based on case studies or empirically grounded theorizing, although we also welcome more conceptual-philosophical treatments.
Some possible perspectives and topics might include:

  • Surprising routines. Surprise is a major theme of the EGOS Colloquium 2018, and surprise relates to routine dynamics in many ways. We often think of routines as suppressing surprise and novelty, but we might also ask: Can routines generate surprise? Can surprises generate routines?

  • Relationality and multiplicity. In addition to the deep relationship between stability and change, many other kinds of relations exist with routines and networks of routines. How do these affect stability and change in organizational and related social structures?

  • Networks, ecologies and clusters of routines. Research on routine dynamics has moved beyond individual routines to consider networks, ecologies and clusters of interdependent routines (Sele & Grand, 2016; Deken et al., 2016; Spee et al., 2016; Kremser & Schreyögg, 2016). How do these affect stability and change in organizations and beyond?

  • Role of narrative, talk and reflective action. Stability and change can both be regarded as accomplishments, partly achieved through the stories told about particular phenomena (Pentland & Feldman, 2007) and through collective reflection in talk (Dittrichs et al., 2016) and in distinct spaces (Bucher & Langley, 2016). How do narratives, talk and reflective action link routines across time and space? How does this influence the constitution of larger social assemblages?

  • Temporal and processual perspectives. Stability and change are inherently temporal, processual phenomena (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002; Farjoun, 2010, Kaplan & Orlikowski, 2013), but conventional approaches appear ill-equipped to capture the ephemeral and transient aspects of organizational life. What are useful concepts and methods of inquiry that allow us to capture the temporal and processual nature of routines and larger structures?



  • Bertels, S., Howard-Grenville, J., & Pek, S. (2016): “Cultural Molding, Shielding, and Shoring at Oilco: The Role of Culture in the Integration of Routines.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 573–593.
  • Berente, N., Lyytinen, K., Yoo, Y., & King, J.L. (2016): “Routines as Shock Absorbers During Organisational Transformation: Integration, Control, and NASA’s Enterprise Information System.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 551–572.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1990): The Logic of Practice. Standford: Stanford University Press.
  • Bucher, S., & Langley, A. (2016): “The Interplay of Reflective and Experimental Spaces in Interrupting and Reorienting Routine Dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 594–613.
  • Deken, F., Carlile, P.R., Berends, H., & Lauche, K. (2016): “Generating novelty through interdependent routines: A process model of routine work.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 659–677.
  • Dittrich, K., Guérard, S., & Seidl, D. (2016): “Talking about routines: The role of reflective talk in routine change." Organization Science, 27 (3), 678–697.
  • Farjoun, M. (2010): “Beyond dualism: Stability and change as a duality.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), 202–225.
  • Feldman, M.S. (2016): “Routines as process: Past, present, and future.” In: J. Howard-Grenville, C. Rerup, A. Langly & H. Tsoukas (eds.): Organizational Routines: How They Are Created, Maintained, and Changed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 23–46.
  • Feldman, M.S, Pentland, B.T., D’Adderio, L., & Lazaric, N. (2016): “Beyond Routines as Things: Introduction to the Special Issue on Routine Dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 505–513.
  • Kaplan, S., & Orlikowski, W. (2013): “Temporal work in strategy-making.” Organization Science, 24 (4), 965–995.
  • Kremser, W., & Schreyögg, G. (2016): “The dynamics of interrelated routines: Introducing the cluster level.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 698–721.
  • Latour, B. (1986): “The powers of association.” In: J. Law (ed.): Power, Action and Belief. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 261–277.
  • Pentland, B., & Feldman, M.S. (2007): “Narrative networks: Patterns of technology and organization.” Organization Science, 18 (5), 781-795.
  • Sele, K., & Grand, S. (2016): “Unpacking the dynamics of ecologies of routines: Mediators and their generative effects in routine interactions.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 722–738.
  • Spee, P., Jarzabkowski, P., & Smets, M. (2016): “The influence of routine interdependence and skillful accomplishment on the coordination of standardizing and customizing.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 759–781.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • Yi, S., Knudsen, T., & Becker, M.C. (2016): “Inertia in routines: A hidden source of organizational variation.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 782–800.
Katharina Dittrich is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Business Administration, University of Zurich, Switzerland. Her research interests include organizational routines and strategy, with a particular emphasis on practice-theoretical approaches and qualitative research methods. Her work has been published in ‘Organization Science’, the ‘Academy of Management Journal’, and the “Cambridge Handbook of Strategy-as-Practice”.
Martha S. Feldman is the Johnson Chair for Civic Governance and Public Management at the University of California, USA. She has received the Administrative Science Quarterly's award for Scholarly Contribution (2009), the Academy of Management Practice Scholarship Award (2011), and the Academy of Management Distinguished Scholar Award from the Organization and Management Theory Division (2015). Martha has convened numerous sub-themes on routine dynamics at previous EGOS Colloquia and participated in EGOS sub-plenary panels.
Brian T. Pentland is the Main Street Capital Partners Endowed Professor in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, USA. His work has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Management Science’, ‘MIS Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, YouTube, and elsewhere.
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