Sub-theme 64: Re-theorizing the Study of Inclusion and Diversity through Practice-based Approaches and their Theoretical Allies

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Chris Steyaert
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Maddy Janssens
KU Leuven, Belgium
Yvonne W.M. Benschop
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

In this sub-theme, we aim to explore the promise of practice-based theories and related theoretical perspectives that all adopt a relational ontology, to understand and cultivate inclusive organizations. For some time, the development of new theoretical approaches has been high on the agenda in reviews of the diversity and inclusion literature (Zanoni et al., 2010). Given the current “urgency” to advance the study of inclusion and equality in organizations (Nkomo et al., 2019), this sub-theme starts from the idea that diversity research would strongly benefit from theoretical innovation through exploring and adopting practice theory and its theoretical allies. While the value of practice theory has been compellingly adopted in management and organization studies (MOS) with several domain-specific applications such as strategy, knowledge and learning, and technology, the study of diversity and inclusion has until recently been rather slow in joining the bandwagon of practice-based approaches. Inspired by a range of practice-based attempts to re-specify diversity-related phenomena (see Janssens & Steyaert, 2019; 2020; O’Leary & Sandberg, 2017), we invite contributions that offer conceptual, empirical, and methodological proposals to the question of how research on diversity and inclusion can (be supported to) make a more definite turn to practice.
The slow uptake of practice-theory is almost ironic considering that notions like ‘practice’ and ‘best practice’ feature highly in diversity research. Going beyond the use of these notions in a “commonsensical” way (Sandberg & Tsoukas, 2016), we call for contributions that draw from the work of prominent social theorists like Bourdieu (1990), Shove (2014) and Schatzki (2002), and of leading practice theorists in Organization Studies, such as Gherardi (2019a) and Nicolini (2013). Furthermore, practice-based theories are related to many theoretical approaches that share some prime ontological and epistemological assumptions. Taking into account that practice theory is part of a larger movement within the social sciences that emphasize ‘materiality’, ‘embodiment’, ‘emotions’ and ‘practice’ (Tsoukas & Sandberg, 2016), we want to examine fruitful complementarities and synergies with performative gender studies (Berger et al., 2015), and feminist and queer approaches (Ahmed, 2006). This allows us to deepen out the affective (Gherardi, 2017) and embodied (Tyler, 2019) elements of entangled practices in order to focus on the relationships between diversity, affect and embodiment (Fotaki & Pullen, 2019). Also, actor-network theory (Sage et al., 2019) and, more broadly, socio-material and other posthuman (Gherardi, 2019b) approaches can conceptually expand the understanding of the material and sited nature of diversity practices by studying how objects, tools and spaces are intertwined in the performance of diversity-, gender- and queer-phenomena (Tyler & Cohen, 2010).
We consider the following themes and questions relevant for potential contributions, even if this list is not meant to be exhaustive:

  • Re-considerations of the philosophical and ontological premises on which we can ground recursive and ‘flat’ conceptualizations of diversity and inclusion

  • Theoretical practice-based conceptualizations (Bourdieu, Giddens, Shove, Schatzki, etc.) of excluding phenomena – such as whiteness, homophobia, ableism, language hegemony – and alternative, inclusion-oriented phenomena – such as gender and sexual equality, super-diversity, multilingualism, etc.

  • Advancements of new thematizations of inclusion and diversity that intertwine material, discursive, embodied and affective elements

  • Empirical illustrations of practice-based approaches that identify and analyze significant practices of inclusive organizing and/or document the practices that interrupt the reproduction of inequality regimes

  • Methodological advancements of the theory-method packages to study inclusion and diversity in processual, recursive and post-dual ways

  • Inquiries of interconnections between practice-based and performative, socio-material, posthuman and queer theories


  • Ahmed, S. (2006): Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Object, Others. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Berger, L., Benschop, Y., & van den Brink, M. (2015): “Practicing gender when networking: The case of university-industry innovation projects.” Gender, Work & Organization, 22 (6), 556–578.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1990): The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Fotaki, M., & Pullen, A. (eds.) (2019): Diversity, Affect and Embodiment in Organizing. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gherardi, S. (2017): “One turn… and now another one: Do the turn to practice and the turn to affect have something in common?” Management Learning, 48 (3), 345–58.
  • Gherardi, S. (2019a): How to Conduct a Practice-based Study: Problems and Methods. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Gherardi, S. (2019b): “If we practice posthumanist research, do we need ‘gender’ any longer?” Gender, Work & Organization, 26 (1), 40–53.
  • Janssens, M., & Steyaert, C. (2019): “A practice-based theory of diversity: Re-specifying (in)equality in organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 44 (3), 518–37.
  • Janssens, M., & Steyaert, C. (2020): “The site of diversalizing: The accomplishment of inclusion in intergenerational dance.” Journal of Management Studies, 57 (6), 1143–1173.
  • Nicolini, D. (2013): Practice Theory, Work and Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nkomo, S.M., Bell, M.P., Joshi, A., Roberts, L.M., & Thatcher, S. (2019): “Diversity at a critical juncture: New theories for a complex phenomenon.” Academy of Management Review, 44 (3), 498–517.
  • O’Leary, J., & Sandberg, J. (2017): “Managers’ practice of managing diversity revealed: A practice-theoretical account.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38 (4), 512–536.
  • Sage, D., Vitry, C., & Dainty, A. (2019): “Exploring the organizational proliferation of technologies: An affective actor-network theory.” Organization Studies, 41 (3), 345–363.
  • Sandberg, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2016): “Practice theory: What it is, its philosophical base, and what it offers organization studies.” In: R.A. Mir, H. Willmott & M. Greenwood (eds.): Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies. New York: Routledge, 184–198.
  • Schatzki, T.R. (2002): The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Shove, E. (2014): “Putting practice into policy: Reconfiguring questions of consumption and climate change.” Contemporary Social Science, 9 (4), 415–429.
  • Tyler, M. (2019): Reassembling difference? Rethinking inclusion through/as embodied ethics.” Human Relations, 72 (1), 48–68.
  • Tyler, M., & Cohen, L. (2010): “Spaces that matter: Gender performativity and organizational space.” Organization Studies, 31 (2), 175–98.
  • Zanoni, P., Janssens, M., Benschop, Y., & Nkomo, S. (2010): “Unpacking diversity, grasping inequality: rethinking difference through critical perspectives.” Organization, 17 (1), 9–29.
Chris Steyaert is Professor of Organizational Psychology at the School of Management, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Director of the Research Institute of Organizational Psychology. His current interests concern creativity, multiplicity (diversity) and reflexivity in teams, organizations and cities, drawing upon processual, practice-based and queer-theoretical approaches. His empirical work on diversity, inclusion and queer becoming is situated in the creative industries and referring to artists such as Derek Jarman, Michael Cunningham and Marguerite Yourcenar. Chris has published, among others, in the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, Gender, Work & Organization’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Maddy Janssens is Professor in Work and Organisation Studies at the Catholic University (KU) Leuven, Belgium. Her main research interest focuses on ways in which differences in an organizational context are constructed and managed. She has investigated different areas of inquiry: diversity in organizations, expatriate management, global teams, language and translation in MNCs, and interorganizational collaboration. Her current research works with diversity and inclusion in the creative industries, and with cosmopolitanism in order to consider how global connectivity is translated into ethical and political issues in global organizations. Maddy’s work has been published in leading academic journals such as ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of International Business Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organization’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘Academy of Management Journal’.
Yvonne W.M. Benschop is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Institute for Management Research at Radboud University, The Netherlands. She is Head of the Department of Business Administration and Director of the interdisciplinary research group Gender and Power in Politics and Management. Inspired by feminist organization theories and critical diversity studies, she has published in ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Higher Education’, ‘Sex Roles’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Gender, Work and Organization’. Yvonne has written about the networking practices of diversity networks in ‘Organization Studies’ and ‘British Journal of Management’ (with Marjolein Dennissen & Marieke van den Brink), about practicing gender in academic networking in ‘Journal of Management Studies’ (with Marieke van den Brink), and about the influence of postfeminism on practices of organizational change in ‘Gender, Work and Organization’ (with Patricia Lewis & Ruth Simpson).
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