Sub-theme 45: Formal Organization Today: Reconnecting with the Classics

Pedro Monteiro
emlyon business school, France
Paul L. du Gay
Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom, and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Signe Vikkelsø
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

Concepts and discussions on classic organizational authors currently seem to be relegated to the pages of manuals and history books (Adler, 2009). In particular, formal organizational dynamics (e.g., bureaucracy, staff-line relations, work formalization) occupy a secondary role in the current literature (du Gay & Vikkelsø, 2016; du Gay & Vikkelsø, 2018). Most contemporary studies explore societal matters, work interactions, and new organizational forms, while leaving formal organizational aspects – which were once core in our discipline – in the background. In part, this state of affairs is due to the development of the field which has been enriched by new themes and approaches (Lounsbury & Beckman, 2015). Yet, we also suffer from a ‘novelty bias’ and at times do not pause to explore how new ideas fit within the canons of our discipline (Barley, 2015).
The goal of this sub-theme is to stimulate an appraisal for our fundamental object of inquiry: formal organizations. In light of the theme of the EGOS Colloquium 2019, we believe that we can “enlighten the future” by (re)connecting with the classics (Blau & Scott, 1962; March & Simon, 1958). For example, bureaucracy is still central in the modern workplace (Adler, 2012; Walton, 2005; Monteiro, 2017). Yet we know little about how technical and social innovations are re-shaping it, and its relationship with emerging organizational forms (Bernstein et al., 2016; Turco, 2016). Similarly, although we might be living in an age of experts, there is still much to be learned about the interplay between formal organizational mechanisms, informal/emergent dynamics and professional/knowledge work (Bechky & Chung, 2018; Brivot, 2011; Langfred & Rockmann, 2016; McEvily et al., 2014). Also, we know that some companies today with only a comparatively tiny workforce are able to occupy an economic position which was once reserved for corporate giants (Davis, 2016). Yet this does not mean that vertical firms – and the challenges associated with them –  have disappeared. Finally, despite many changes in society, coordination and control (classic organizational themes) remain a crucial concern for both online and offline work (Dahlander & O’Mahony, 2014; Huising, 2014; Talking About Organizations, episode 18).
This sub-theme thus seeks to stimulate scholars to explore formal organizations both as an empirical phenomenon, as well as a source of theoretical problematics. In particular, papers may address issues related (but not limited) to the following topics:

  • How do bureaucratic structures appear today in contemporary organizations? What is their connection to the social and technical aspects of the modern workplace?

  • What is the relationship between traditional organizational forms (bureaucracy) and new organizational forms?

  • Which aspects of ‘classic’ organization design are still relevant? How can we examine organization structures in light of new methodological approaches?

  • How do organizational dynamics and occupational dynamics influence each other?

  • Are staff-line relations still a source of issues within organizations? In what ways?

  • How do formalization and control mechanisms shape work practices today? Do Tayloristic regimes still endure? If so, what novel forms might they be taking?

  • How can we make better sense of the interplay between formal and emergent mechanisms in the coordination and control of work?

  • What is the relationship of the contemporary gig economy with earlier ‘alternative’ work and employment arrangements?

  • Are there any classic authors who have been ‘forgotten’ and that could shed light on current organizational and management phenomena?

High-quality, novel contributions in both early and later stages of development are warmly invited.


  • Adler, P. (2009): “Introduction: A Social Science which Forgets its Founders is Lost.” In: P. Adler (ed.) “The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies Classical Foundations. Oxford University Press, 3–19.
  • Adler, P. (2012): “Perspective – The sociological ambivalence of bureaucracy: from Weber via Gouldner to Marx.” Organization Science, 23 (1), 244–266.
  • Barley, S.R. (2016): “60th Anniversary Essay: Ruminations on how we became a mystery house and how we might get out.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 61 (1), 1–8.
  • Bechky, B.A., & Chung, D.E. (2018): “Latitude or Latent Control? How Occupational Embeddedness and Control Shape Emergent Coordination.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (3), 607–636.
  • Bernstein, E., Bunch, J., Canner, N., & Lee, M.J. (2016): “Beyond the Holacracy Hype: The overwrought claims – and actual promise – of the next generation of self-managed teams.” Harvard Business Review, 94 (7-8), 38–49.
  • Blau, P.M., & Scott, W.R. (1962): Formal Organizations. A Comparative Approach. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Brivot, M. (2011): “Controls of Knowledge Production, Sharing and Use in Bureaucratized Professional Service Firms.” Organization Studies, 32 (4), 489–508.
  • Davis, G.F. (2016): “Organization Theory and the Dilemmas of a Post-Corporate Economy.” In: J. Gehman, M. Lounsbury & R. Greenwood (eds.): How Institutions Matter! Research in the Sociology of Organizations , Vol. 48B. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 311–322.
  • Dahlander, L., & O’Mahony, S. (2011): “Progressing to the center: Coordinating project work.” Organization Science, 22 (4), 961–979.
  • du Gay, P., & Vikkelsø, S. (2016): For Formal Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • du Gay, P., & Vikkelsø, S. (2018): “Crabs in a bucket.” Organization, first published online on February 28, 2018,
  • Huising, R. (2014): “The Erosion of Expert Control Through Censure Episodes.” Organization Science, 25 (6), 1633–1661.
    Langfred, C.W., & Rockmann, K.W. (2016): “The Push and Pull of Autonomy: The Tension Between Individual Autonomy and Organizational Control in Knowledge Work.” Group & Organization Management, 41 (5), 629–657.
  • Lounsbury, M., & Beckman, C.M. (2015): “Celebrating organization theory.” Journal of Management Studies, 52 (2), 288–308.
  • McEvily, B., Soda, G., & Tortoriello, M. (2014): “More Formally: Rediscovering the Missing Link between Formal Organization and Informal Social Structure.” The Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 299–345.
  • Monteiro, P. (2017): Heavier than Air: The Enabling Role of Bureaucracy in Cross-Expertise Collaboration. Unpublished PhD thesis, Warwick University Business School.
  • Talking About Organizations Podcast (2016): “Gig Economy and Labour Relations and Algorithmic Management”, retrieved from
  • Turco, C.J. (2016): The Conversational Firm. Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Walton, E.J. (2005): “The Persistence of Bureaucracy: A Meta-analysis of Weber’s Model of Bureaucratic Control.” Organization Studies, 26 (4), 569–600.

Pedro Monteiro is a post-doctoral fellow at emlyon business school, France. He is an ethnographer of work and organizations interested in bureaucracy and formal organizational structures and their implications for cross-expertise collaboration, learning, innovation, and knowledge work. Pedro is also the co-founder of the Talking About Organizations Podcast which focuses on ideas from classic organizational scholarship. He received the 2018 Grigor McClelland Award for his PhD dissertation.
Paul L. du Gay is Professor and Director of Research in the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, and Professor in the Department of Organization (IOA) at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark. He has published widely in organization studies, public management, and sociology. At CBS, he is currently directing the Velux Foundation research project ‘Office as a Vocation: re-instating an ethic of office in public service’.
Signe Vikkelsø is Professor and the Head of the Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She researches in organizational analysis and the organizing effects of tools and techniques in work practices and human relations. Signe has published in the sociology of science and technology, psychology, CSCW, and organization studies.