Sub-theme 18:

Pragmatism, Organizing, and Learning

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Barbara Simpson, Strathclyde Business School, UK

Philippe Lorino, ESSEC Business School, France

Anna Rylander, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Call for Papers

This sub-theme reacts to conventional perspectives on organizing and learning as processes of combining and recombining finite elements that are pre-formed, stable and well understood. We invite contributors to take an alternative view that considers organizing and learning as perpetual processes of meaning-making in which both meanings and meaning-makers are continuously engaged in change. From this radically processual perspective, organizing and learning involve ongoing disassembling and reassembling processes that have neither start- nor end-points, and depend on neither fixed nor essentialist assumptions to provide a foundation for meaning. Nevertheless, order, habits and other stabilities do emerge, albeit temporarily, as resources and frameworks for meaning-making, but then they subside again as new situational challenges call for fresh efforts of organizing and learning.

Taking this processual view calls for a re-examination of the basic assumptions that inform research inquiry, the types of research questions we can ask, and the methodologies that might be appropriate. In particular, it approaches the crises of disintegrating organizations in modern post-industrial societies by questioning underlying meanings and habits in ways that require collective inquiry, exploration and action. We propose that pragmatist philosophy as developed by Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead and their later interpreters, provides a useful underpinning for this exploration through its focus on habits and change in the everyday practices of inquiry, its abductive orientation towards the future, and its commitment to the continuous co-emergence of social selves and social situations.

We further argue that these philosophical considerations apply equally to our own epistemic practices of theory building and empirical inquiry. As researchers, we have a responsibility to actively take part in the collective reconstruction of meaning, experience and practices, and to define our research objects and methods accordingly. A deepening engagement with pragmatism, therefore, admits the possibility of both better theory and better practice. It also offers the potential for fresh insights into the increasingly complex and intractable problems that face organizations in today's world.

Our goal in this sub-theme is to explore the potential for pragmatism to inform a thoroughly processual approach towards understanding the everyday learning dynamics by means of which organizations are assembled, disassembled, and reassembled. We invite submissions that explicitly build on this philosophical tradition to investigate the epistemological, theoretical, and/or methodological issues associated with these unfolding dynamics. Through our conversations in this sub-theme, we also hope to continue the work of pragmatist-informed EGOS sub-themes in 2007 and 2009 to build a community of like-minded scholars. Potential topics for submissions might include:

  • The assembling, disassembling and reassembling of organizations as understood through a pragmatist lens
  • The relationship between organizing, learning and knowing from a pragmatist perspective
  • Assembling and reassembling organizations through everyday talk and dialogical practices of inquiry
  • Learning and knowing as part of everyday organizing
  • Abduction and the construction of alternative futures in reassembling organizations
  • Symbols, objects, instruments and artefacts as mediations in the disassembling and reassembling practices of organization
  • Aesthetic experience and physical artefacts in the processes of organizing
  • The contribution of Feminist pragmatism to learning, knowing, and organizing
  • Researchers as assemblers and co-assemblers of organizations
  • Assembling and reassembling as collective practices that engage "communities of inquiry"

About the convenors

All three convenors have participated in pragmatist-inspired sub-themes at EGOS in 2007 and again in 2009. Our common bond is our passionate wish to draw pragmatism more towards the centre of contemporary debates in organization studies. In 2011, we will be joined by Ulrik Brandi, University of Aarhus in Denmark, Linh Chi Vo, ISC Paris School of Management in France, and Claudia Gillberg, Linnaeus University in Sweden, who will act as consultants in shaping the program for the sub-theme.


Barbara Simpson?is a senior lecturer in the Department of Management at the University of Strathclyde Business School. She holds a PhD in Organization Studies from the University of Auckland where she was also Principal Investigator in a 6-year, government-funded program to conduct research into the innovation activities of small manufacturing companies. Her current research and teaching interests, which are deeply informed by the pragmatist thinking of G.H. Mead, revolve around the organizational practices of change, innovation and creativity and she has several publications in this area.

Philippe Lorino?is a professor at ESSEC Graduate Business School in Paris. He holds a PhD in Management from the University of Paris and the grades of Paris Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole des Mines. He was a senior civil servant in the French government, in charge of manufacturing policies and a director in the financial department of a large manufacturing firm. His current research about organizing processes and the role of management systems in organizational dynamics is particularly informed by Dewey's theory of inquiry and Peirce's semiotics. He has several publications in those areas.

Anna Rylander?is a researcher with the Business & Design Lab, University of Gothenburg. She holds a PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm. She also has a background as a management consultant and advises clients on business strategy and the interface between intangible and tangible dimensions of knowledge work. Her research interests revolve around design as an approach to problem-solving and innovation, workplace design, identity & branding and she has several publications in those areas. Themes for consulting assignments include strategy and organization of knowledge work, workplace design and innovation environments.

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