Sub-theme 21:

Constellations of Past, Present and Future

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Alf Rehn, ?…bo Akademi University, Finland

Christian De Cock, University of Essex, UK

Damian O'Doherty, University of Manchester, UK

Call for Papers

Contemporary economic organization has been accused of not paying enough attention to what it leaves behind, the afterlife of its products and its material history. This might be an example of "neophilia", or the perennial fetishising of the new that ignores the debris we create and the ruins we leave behind. Arguably, one could levy a similar charge against organization studies. The history of organization and organization studies contains a multitude of subjects and objects that are discarded, unremarked, forgotten, and cast adrift ? things no longer considered worthy or interesting enough to bring into the genres and regimes of knowledge with which we are (perhaps unwittingly) pre-occupied. The sub-theme Assembling Constellations of Past and Present wants to stimulate a recovery of such matter and by extension engage with modes of inquiry that are no longer in vogue and which represent, perhaps, the forgotten history of organization studies.

The sub-theme thus invites papers that engage with alternate histories, what-if stories, forgotten theories, unfashionable approaches and discarded empirical fields; all of which might provide important ways of de-limiting and constructing alternative hybrid 'constellations' which can then help us understand the evolving nature of organization and those who study it. What weird and wonderful hybrids could we create once we include and re-animate the ruins and spectres of various pasts in our acts of assembling, disassembling and reassembling? It should be clear from the above that our purpose is not simply a recovery of the past. This would merely offer what Benjamin (2002) called the "strongest narcotic of the century" (AP N3, 4).

Rather, our intention is to liberate "the enormous energies that are bound up in the 'once upon a time' of classical historiography" (ibid: AP N3, 4). What can we do with the hitherto ignored and scorned reaches of history (organizational or otherwise)? What energies and passions reside in the vanishing and outmoded: old factory buildings, dresses of five years ago, once-fashionable restaurants, or organizational initiatives and structures when the vogue has begun to ebb from them? Could this stratum of material, the alluvium of the past circulating unnoticed in the shadows of organization studies, allow us to assemble a host of chimeras, strange hybrids "in which life under capitalism is productively mated with (rather than replaced by) the devalued, degraded, and other obsolete realizations of other modes of life" (Willmott, 2009: 135)? Particular dimensions contained within the overall theme include:

  • Re-imagining Constellations: Certain lineaments of the past may only become detectable after a certain period of time has passed and as they form constellations with present events. Suddenly the past then allows protagonists in the present to grasp their own moment in terms of a situation in which they are able to intervene. Rather than focus on, for example, 'fashionable classics', we would like to elicit an engagement with those works/situations which were never fashionable in their time but that suddenly connect or might connect with a modern audience and solicit our attention.
  • Rethinking Defeats: Can we continue certain experiments that history started but did not carry out? Defeats indicate that there has been a conflict; and if there was a conflict then there could have been alternative outcomes. History's victors write out not just those they defeated but also the possible futures they represented and the hopes they awakened. Can we turn historical defeats into utopian laboratories?
  • Redeeming the Dark: There is a lot in modern organizational history that is dark and destructive. Yet, do even reviled forms such as Nazism and Stalinism, precisely as forms (i.e. as symbolic acts), not testify to the immense gestures of liberation and new construction we can glimpse through historical reconstruction? Can we redeem such wild, destructive energies somehow for more positive purposes in our present?

Potential issues for submissions to the sub-theme might include:

  • Forgotten areas of study, ignored phenomena, marginalized issues in organization studies
  • Once-popular organizations that are now rarely mentioned
  • The fads of yesteryear, the out-of-fashion, or retro (think Sinclair C5; the hologram; Northern Soul music; the Space Invaders arcade game; Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice, etc). But we might also think here of now unfashionable forms of management and leadership, dated theories, passé positions, and outmoded organizations
  • Hip versus unhip theorists: What's the net present value of Latour versus ´i¸ek, Keynes versus Williamson, Follett versus Fleming? Are we witnessing the emergence of a 'futures' market in theory: Shorting on Clegg to buy call options on Kärreman?
  • The notion of "vintage" ? the rehabilitation of the old and discarded
  • The sustainability of organization studies: Can we reuse that which has been left at "the side of the road"?
  • Organization studies as collection: Objet trouvé, cabinets of curiosities and the state of organization as empirical site
  • History as critique ? historiography and the re-writing of organization studies
  • Reclaiming the old ? the politics of remembrance, gendered forgetting and the state of organization studies
  • Speculative histories, what-if theorizing and counterfactuals
  • The politics of chimeras: Organization studies as outsider art, phantasmagoria and management, going beyond the accepted and seen


Benjamin, W. (2002) [1927-1940]: The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Willmott, G. (2009): "In the time of theory, the timeliness of modernism." In: S. Ross (ed.): Modernism and Theory: A Critical Debate. Oxford: Routledge, 127-135.


Alf Rehn?is the Chair of Management and Organization at ?…bo Akademi University, Finland. His research has focused on creativity in organizing and organization studies, the ideological underpinnings of economic theory, and moralization in management studies. For further information, please see at:

Christian De Cock?is Professor of Management and MBA Director at the Essex Business School, University of Essex. He has a long-standing interest in the role of the arts, literature and social theory in thinking about organization. His current research focuses on particular features and manifestations of capitalism, with his most recent fieldwork, exploring various dimensions of finance capitalism.

Damian O'Doherty?is Senior Lecturer in Organization Analysis at the University of Manchester. He is currently living inside an airport where he has spent the last 12 months conducting ethnographic fieldwork. He will return to the University in December 2010.

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