SWG 10: Doing Process Research


, Strathclyde Business School, United Kingdom
, Université du Québec à Montréal, School of Management (ESG-UQAM), Canada
, Université Paris-Dauphine, France

Awareness of process as an alternative, and potentially very fruitful perspective on organizing has been growing for several decades, but it continues to be significantly under-represented in empirical studies. There have been helpful developments in the philosophical underpinnings of process research including the publication of the “The Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies” in 2014 (edited by Helin, Hernes, Hjorth & Holt) and the ongoing series of “Process Research in Organization Studies” (PROS) symposia and edited books arranged by Hari Tsoukas and Ann Langley. However, these developments have pointed up firstly, a gap between process studies’ theoretical assumptions and existing empirical studies in this field, and secondly, the relative paucity of empirical work that genuinely engages with the philosophical underpinnings of process.

In a recent Special Research Forum of AMJ, Langley, Smallman, Tsoukas and Van de Ven (2013) observed that although process studies of organization have become considerably more sophisticated over the past two decades, there is still plenty of scope for further development. In particular, they call for new theoretical tools that allow us to unravel the alternative logics of process-as-it-happens, which in turn anticipates new methodologies for engaging with the dynamics of emergence, the evolving nature of the categories we use to define (and redefine) the phenomena of work and life, and the ongoing transformation of actions in collaborations.

Paraphrasing Barad (2007), we need new apparatuses that will help us to re-configure the boundaries of more posthumanist, processual understandings of organizing. Such understandings are of immediate relevance to organizational practitioners, who are so often let down by the inadequacies of conventional theory when it comes to addressing their lived experience of work. If the process orientation is to achieve its full potential within organization studies then, addressing these methodological needs becomes a matter of urgency. Supporting this work through the formation of a new SWG is thus closely aligned with the EGOS mission to promote critical and pluralistic approaches to the study and analysis of organizations.
Most organizational theories rely on an entitative approach (Nayak & Chia, 2011) in which organization is understood as a social actor, a structure, an object or thing having its own features and interacting with a knowable environment. This view has led to the study of organizational change as an unfolding sequence or time series of events or states (Van de Ven & Poole, 1990; Pettigrew, 1992, 1997).

By contrast, the adoption of a processual ontology invites a ‘becoming’ perspective in which organization is seen as an ongoing and creative accomplishment that emerges continuously out of day-to-day actions. Here, agents (including researchers) are actively engaged in material-discursive practices through which both selves and worlds are co-constituted. Whereas entitative research seeks to strengthen the existing institutions of knowledge, which Kuhn (1970) refers to as Normal Science, ‘becoming’ research calls out ‘nomadic’ inquiry (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004) that continuously seeks to unsettle and destabilize the accepted norms of knowledge. Each of these modes of inquiry is founded on very different sets of philosophical assumptions. Entitative approaches to empirics and theorization are already well established and quite sophisticated. However, the same cannot yet be said for ‘becoming’ inquiries.
The first challenge for empirical researchers in this field is to explicate methodologies that are consistent with

ontologically processual, ‘becoming’ approaches. If organization is indeed dynamic, fluid and continuously emergent, and if organizing is understood as performative social practice, how should inquiry proceed? Studies that attend solely to entities such as products, outcomes, structures, strategies, identities, leaders, careers, stories, rules and procedures, do so by arresting the flow of organizing in order to abstract these elements from the ongoing movement. Research methods such as narrative inquiry, grounded theory, and phenomenological studies tend to focus primarily on these ‘things’ (entities) of organization. By contrast, ontologically processual research gives priority to movement or flow and considers entities only as derivative from the flow. Here, researchers need to adopt radical empiricist approaches (see, for instance, William James, 1912) that acknowledge their direct immersion in situated inquiries.

This SWG invites empirical researchers to in some way enter into the flow, becoming part of the emergent social experiences of organizing. In doing so, they seek to transcend the multiplicity of dualisms that characterise entitative thinking, struggling instead with a world-on-the-move that is both convergent and divergent, ordered and disruptive, predictable and ambiguous, recurrent and creative. Shadowing, following, and travelling approaches offer a potential way forward for process researchers, but there is still much to be worked out in order to refine such methods and articulate the nature of their knowledge claims.
Process thinking speaks to a whole range of topics that interest organization scholars. In particular, it is highly relevant to studies of dynamics and flow in areas such as sensemaking, leadership, strategic management, innovation, ethical and aesthetic practice, entrepreneurship, creativity and of course, organizational change. More generally, process offers a coherent theoretical foundation for the ‘as-practice’ moves that are increasingly evident in organization studies.
Given this context, the specific aims of this SWG are to focus on the ‘doing’ rather than ‘thinking about’ process research by:

  • Promoting and fostering empirical studies that reflect the underpinning assumptions of process philosophy
  • Clarifying the methodological implications of empirical process research
  • Supporting the writing and publication of process-informed empirical research
  • Encouraging early career (and PhD) scholars to undertake process-oriented research
  • Building a global community of process-informed writers and reviewers


  • Barad, K. (2007): Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.
  • Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988): A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Helin, J., Hernes, T., Hjorth, D., & Holt, R. (eds.) (2014): The Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hernes, T., Simpson, B., & Söderlund, J. (2013): “Introduction: Managing and Temporality.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 29, 1–6.
  • James, W. (1912 [2006]). Essays in Radical Empiricism. London: Longmans, Green and Company.
  • Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chigaco: University of Chicago Press.
  • Langley, A., Smallman, C., Tsoukas, H., & Ven de Ven, A. (2013): “Process Studies of Change in Organization and Management: Unveiling Temporality, Activity, and Flow.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 1–13.
  • Nayak, A., & Chia, R. (2011): “Thinking becoming and emergence: Process philosophy and organization studies.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 32, 281–309.
  • Pettigrew, A.M. (1992): “The character and significance of strategy process research.” Strategic Management Journal, 13 (S2), 5–16.
  • Pettigrew, A.M. (1997): “What is a processual analysis?” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 13 (4), 337–348.
  • Van de Ven, A.H., & Poole, M.S. (1990): “Methods for studying innovation development in the Minnesota Innovation Research Program.” Organization Science, 1 (3), 313–335.


Barbara Simpson is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Dynamics in the Department of Strategy & Organisation at Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow, UK. Her thinking about temporality is deeply informed by the American Pragmatists who emphasize the intertwining of agency and temporality in practice. Her published work appears in a variety of journals including Organization Studies, Human Relations, Organization, and Journal of Management Inquiry.
Viviane Sergi is Associate Professor in Management in the Department of Management and Technology at ESG UQAM in Montréal, Canada. Her research interests include process thinking, performativity, new work practices, leadership, and materiality. She also has a keen interest for methodological issues related to qualitative research and for practice of academic writing. Her work has been published in Academy of Management Annals, Human Relations, Scandinavian Journal of Management, Long Range Planning, and Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management.
Anthony Hussenot is Associate Professor in Organization Studies and Management at the Université Paris-Dauphine, France. Anchored in a process perspective, his research covers the emergence of innovative work practices and new organizational phenomena which participate in the evolution of society. He has conducted qualitative studies in various fields such as secondary schools, private banking and the maker movement. His work has been published in journals such as Organization Studies, Journal of Organizational Change Management and International Journal of Organizational Analysis. He has recently co-edited a book in French about recent trends in organization theories.