Sub-theme 73: The Plurality of Meta-organizations: Variations and Dynamics of Collective Action among Organizations

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Göran Ahrne
SCORE & Stockholm University, Sweden
Héloïse Berkowitz
CNRS, LEST, Aix Marseille University, France
Sanne Bor
Hanken School of Economics, Finland

Call for Papers

Meta-organizations, formal organizations that are made of other organizations, are increasingly being set up everywhere around the world. They deal with every sphere and every aspect of contemporary society, from organizing cities, states, firms or markets (Ahrne et al., 2016; Berkowitz & Souchaud, 2019; Corazza et al., 2019; Peixoto & Temmes, 2019) and defending members’ interests (Rajwani et al., 2015; Spillman, 2017), to tackling grand challenges like climate change (Chaudhury et al., 2016) and designing responsible value chains (Carmagnac & Carbone, 2018). They coordinate activities across organizational borders, they form organizational identities and they are active in influencing policy decisions of all sorts. Much of global governance takes place through meta-organizations. These meta-organizations even in turn organize themselves into an increasing number of meta-meta-organizations. Not only is the pure number of meta-organization increasing, but their form is also varying a lot: they are moving away from more traditional forms of similar organizations with similar interest joining forces towards more multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral forms (Berkowitz et al., 2017; Carmagnac & Carbone, 2018; Laurent et al., 2020). Meta-organizations therefore constitute a salient and changing phenomenon in contemporary society.
The question of inclusion is an interesting one for meta-organizational research. The question of inclusion (and exclusion) is intimately linked to the question of boundaries, between meta-organizations and the outside, as well as within the meta-organization (Berkowitz & Bor, 2018). While some may promote openness in membership, others may very much restrict who can belong (Saz-Carranza & Ospina, 2010). And also, even if the organization is open in terms of membership, it is not self-evident all members will be able to influence or partake in decisions (Saz-Carranza & Ospina, 2010). Not only are meta-organizations more or less inclusive towards members and stakeholders, but some meta-organizations are also specifically dedicated to tackling inclusion issues, like gender equality at the Women empowerment Principles (Berkowitz et al., 2017).
Following up on two very successful events in 2019, the MMP workshop in Toulouse and the the sub-theme at the 35th EGOS Colloquium 2019 in Edinburgh, this sub-theme aims to further the theory development in the area of meta-organization. In this sub-theme, we aim to continue developing meta-organization theory and understanding. We welcome both theoretical and empirical papers. We also welcome methodological papers that investigate the specificities of meta-organizational research. For inspiration, we provide examples of key topics below. Papers on other topics are also welcome as long as they explicitly contribute to the theorization of meta-organization per se, rather than inter-organizational phenomena in general.

  • Meta-organizations and inclusion: What drives inclusion or exclusion in and around meta-organizations? Under which conditions and organizational forms can meta-organizations contribute to a more inclusive society?

  • Processes of meta-organizing. What are the challenges of taking decisions and organizing actors in a meta-level system? Is meta-organizing specific to strictly bounded meta-organizations or is meta-organizing happening outside of formal meta-organization and where do we put the limit of the concept?

  • Dynamics of power in meta-organizations. What are the sources of power meta-organizations draw on? How can we differentiate weak and strong meta-organizations? Why do some meta-organizations grow or become salient for their members and their environments while others remain weak and insignificant? What are the sources for and forms for power struggle between meta-organizations and their members?

  • The dark side of meta-organization. Under which conditions can meta-organizations become dormant and useless? Irresponsible? How is accountability bounded in meta-organizations and what are the mechanisms that allow member-organizations or meta-organizations to escape accountability and responsibility for their decisions?


  • Ahrne, G., Brunsson, N., & Kerwer, D. (2016): “The paradox of organizing states: A meta-organization perspective on international organizations.” Journal of International Organizations Studies, 7 (1), 5–24.
  • Berkowitz, H., & Bor, S. (2018): “Why meta-organizations matter: A response to Lawton et al. and Spillman.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 27 (2), 204–211.
  • Berkowitz, H., Bucheli, M., & Dumez, H. (2017): “Collective CSR strategy and the role of meta-organizations: A case study of the oil and gas industry.” Journal of Business Ethics, 143 (4), 753–769.
  • Berkowitz, H., & Souchaud, A. (2019): “(Self-)regulation in the sharing economy: Governing through partial meta-organizing.” Journal of Business Ethics, 159 (4), 961–976.
  • Carmagnac, L., & Carbone, V. (2018): “Making supply networks more sustainable ‘together’: The role of meta-organisations.” Supply Chain Forum: An International Journal, 20 (1), 56–67.
  • Chaudhury, A.S., Ventresca, M.J., Thornton, T.F., Helfgott, A., Sova, C., et al. (2016): “Emerging meta-organisations and adaptation to global climate change: Evidence from implementing adaptation in Nepal, Pakistan and Ghana.” Global Environmental Change, 38, 243–257.
  • Corazza, L., Cisi, M., & Dumay, J. (2019): “Formal networks: The influence of social learning in meta-organisations from commons protection to commons governance.” Knowledge Management Research & Practice,
  • Laurent, A., Garaudel, P., Schmidt, G., & Eynaud, P. (2020): “Civil society meta-organizations and legitimating processes: The case of the addiction field in France.” VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 31 (1), 19–38.
  • Peixoto, I., & Temmes, A. (2019): “Market organizing in the European Union’s biofuels market: Organizing for favouring, acceptability, and future preferences.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 236, 117476.
  • Rajwani, T., Lawton, T.C., & Phillips, N. (2015): “The ‘Voice of Industry’: Why management researchers should pay more attention to trade associations.” Strategic Organization, 13 (3), 224–232.
  • Saz-Carranza, A., & Ospina, S.M. (2010): “The behavioral dimension of governing interorganizational goal-directed networks – Managing the unity-diversity tension.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21 (2), 327–365.
  • Spillman, L. (2018): “Meta-organization matters.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 27 (1), 16–20.
Göran Ahrne is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Sweden, and also affiliated with Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE). Göran’s main research interest is focused on connections between social theory and organization theory, the role of meta-organizations in globalisation and the topic of social change and organizational change.
Héloïse Berkowitz is a permanent researcher at CNRS, CNRS, LEST, Aix Marseille University, France. Her research currently deals with industry transitions to sustainability, focusing on sectorial governance and meta-organizations, in several empirical settings from natural resources to collaborative economy or ocean sustainability.
Sanne Bor is a post-doctoral researcher at Hanken School of Economics, Finland, in the Collaborative Remedies (CORE) project, as well as researcher at LUT University in the Package Heroes (PaHe) project. In her research for CORE, Sanne looks at collaboration in solving environmental conflicts, drawing on concepts of value co-creation, learning and collaborative capacity; in her research for PaHe, she looks at the transition in food packaging to reduce, recycle and replace plastics, and particularly at the role of meta-organizations within this transition.
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