Archive for the ‘Organization studies’ Category

Object-oriented sociology and the material turn

14 December 2012

Pierides, D. and Woodman, D. (2012). “Object-Oriented Sociology and Organizing in the Face of Emergency: Bruno Latour, Graham Harman and the Material Turn.” The British Journal of Sociology, 63 (4): 662-679. H/t Ecology without Nature.

This paper explores the material turn in sociology and the tools it provides for understanding organizational problems highlighted by the Royal Commission into the 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires during which 173 people died in the Australian State of Victoria. Often inspired by Bruno Latour’s material-semiotic sociology of associations, organization scholars employing these tools focus on the messy details of organization otherwise overlooked by approaches assuming a macroscopic frame of analysis. In Latour’s approach no object is reducible to something else – such as nature, the social, or atoms – it is instead a stabilized set of relations. A Latourian approach allows us to highlight how the Royal Commission and macroscopic models of organizing do unwitting damage to their objects of inquiry by purifying the ‘natural’ from the ‘social’. Performative elements in their schemas are mistaken for descriptive ones. However, a long standing critique of this approach claims that it becomes its own form of reduction, to nothing but relations. Graham Harman, in his object-oriented philosophy develops this critique by showing that a ‘relationist’ metaphysics cannot properly accommodate the capacity of ‘objects’ to cause or mediate surprises. Through our case of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, we argue that a purely relational model of objects loosens a productive tension between the structural and ephemeral that drives sociological analysis. By drawing on elements of Harman’s ontology of objects we argue that it is necessary for material-semiotic sociology to retain a central place for the emergence of sociological objects.


21 February 2012

Charisma among others means ‘a special magnetic charm or appeal’ according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it comes from the Greek kharisma, ‘divine favour’ or ‘gift,’ from kharizesthai, ‘to favour,’ which comes from kharis, ‘grace’ or ‘favour.’ And now it is also the name of a new research network focusing on interdisciplinary consumer market studies. See the announcement below. You may notice that a lot of the people involved have been active at the intersection of economic sociology and science and technology studies (STS), which one of the organisers once described as the “‘new’ new economic sociology.’


We are pleased to announce that Charisma: Consumer Market Studies, a new online research network, is now live and can be accessed here:

In collaboration with CRESC and the Journal of Cultural Economy, the site acts as a resource hub and network for researchers interested in consumer markets. It features a range of material including news items, events and announcements, commentaries and working papers as well as photo essays and data visualisations. At the moment, this includes recent posts from Franck Cochoy, Bill Maurer, Paul Langley, Linsey McGoey, Daniel Weinbren, and Liz McFall.

Charisma takes a robustly interdisciplinary approach to consumer market research since we believe that properly understanding the mix of devices and desires that drive markets means being open to experimental, visual, digital, as well as more traditional techniques, methods, theories and perspectives.

We invite interested researchers to participate and contribute to the site. Charisma is designed to allow the production of content amongst a diverse range of participants. Members of the research network will be issued with an account enabling them to upload content ranging from publication or conference announcements, photos, blog entries or research briefs.

With this in mind, if you or your colleagues are interested in being part of this research network, please send a request to

Please feel free to distribute this email widely.

All the best,

The Charisma Team

Joe Deville, Goldsmiths, University of London
Liz McFall, Open University

Follow us on Twitter:
Join our mailing list: (sign up at the bottom of the page)

Forthcoming events with Callon, Latour et al.

24 January 2012

20 February 2012,  18:00 – 19:30 – Bruno Latour at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

7 March 2012, 16:30 – 19:00 –  Bruno Latour & Richard Rogers:  “Digital societies: between ontology and methods,” at Goldsmiths, London

30 March 2012 – 12:30 – 16:30 – Michel Callon, Fabian Muniesa, Adam Leaver and Karel Williams: “How Methods Move in Markets,” at Open University, Camden, London


23 January 2012

Workshop announcement:
“NO-THING PERSONAL? Drawing the frontier between persons and things in accounting, law and marketing

Time: Thursday 2nd February 2012, 14h-18h

Place: London School of Economics and Political Science, Graham Wallas Room (5th floor of the Old Building — behind the Senior Common Room)

After a few decades of increased interest in non-human things, it seems like a good idea for the social sciences to now look again, with their renewed intellectual gaze, at the traditional objects of anthropology that are human beings. What has the detour via things helped us discover about men and women, about individual subjects, about persons? More specifically, the question may be to understand in what ways humans are affected, and possibly redefined, by the non-humans they cohabit with. This workshop proposes to explore this question by confronting the point of view of three social scientists, from three distinct disciplines: Franck Cochoy (University of Toulouse, Sociology), Alain Pottage (LSE, Law) and Peter Miller (LSE, Accounting). Each of them has already, in his personal works, explored the frontier between persons and things (Pottage), subjects and instruments (Miller), or dispositifs and dispositions (Cochoy). All three have, moreover, focused acutely on the sphere of economic transactions, where persons aspirations intermingle constantly with accounting, legal and marketing devices. Their dialogue — or experimental trialogue, rather! — should help us see more clearly how unexpectedly personal things can sometimes get.

14h00-15h00: Franck Cochoy — “Animating markets”
15h00-15h15: intermission
15h15-16h15: Alain Pottage — “Taking law literally”
16h15-16h30: intermission
16h30-17h30: Peter Miller — “Democratising failure”
17h30-18h00: wrap-up Q&A

For further information on the workshop, please contact Martin Giraudeau, at

Routine objections

1 May 2011

There is an interesting debate unfolding on the pages of the current issue of the Journal of Institutional Economics, a special issue on Business Routines (Vol. 7, issue 2). It appears to mark the moment when institutional economics and the economic theory of the firm first encountered actor-network theory and its allies (unless I’d missed that moment happen somewhere else already).

The encounter was partly brought about by the confrontation between Teppo Felin & Nicolai Foss, who had launched a broadside against the literature of organizational routines, and Brian Pentland, who in turn rode to the rescue. Felin & Foss have been advocating for some time a “return to micro-foundations” in organisation studies (see e.g. Felin & Foss 2005), by which they seem to mean a return to methodological individualism, in the face of the methodological collectivism they perceive in the literature of organizational routines  (which can be traced back to Schumpeter and includes the evolutionary theory of the firm and the resource-based theory it inspired, as well as the more recent efforts to develop a theory of organizational routines by Feldman, Pentland et al.).

In their JIE paper Felin and Foss claim that the organizational routines literature considered the concept of the routine as a black box, where the inputs determine the outputs (somewhat reminescent of what Latour calls an “intermediary” in his Reassembling the Social):

In short, empiricist and behaviorist approaches postulate a strong, deterministic relationship between various inputs and associated outputs. Various external factors (whether stimulus, experience, environment, exposure, situation) essentially determine not only outcomes but also the internal make-up of the organism in question.

In response, they stand up for human agency which they feel is sidelined by the concept of organizational routine:

there is an opportunity to study the underlying ‘microfoundations’ of organization, that is to study the individuals that compose the organization, their underlying characteristics, nature, abilities, preferences, choices, and so forth.

There are three interesting responses to Felin & Foss by Sidney Winter (who disputes the above characterisation of the routines literature as empiricist and behaviourist), Geoffrey Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Brian Pentland. Let’s focus on Pentland’s response, as it draws directly on the tradition to which ANT belongs, and Pentland himself deployed ANT in some of his earlier work (e.g. Feldman & Pentland 2005, Pentland & Feldman 2007).

Already in his introduction, Pentland makes an ANT-ish observation of Felin and Foss’ critique:

They have created philosophical problems concerning organizational routines by disconnecting words from their meaning in practice; they write about ‘experiences’ and ‘routines’ in general, rather than writing about any specific experience or routine. (…) By avoiding empirical examples, and by overlooking or misrepresenting current theory, they create the impression that there are serious problems and confusion in the literature on organizational routines.

Pentland then stays true to the principles of ANT by using specific empirical examples to illustrate his argument that indeed there has been significant effort made in the ethnographic accounts of organizational routines to unpack the black box, which is far from a simple input-output switch. More importantly, and in contrast to the rationalist, choice-based humanist approach of Felin & Foss, Pentland makes the point that in his ethnographic study of organisational routines,

Multiple actors are involved. Dozens of people participated in processing invoices, but it is important to note that not all of the actors were human. Across the four organizations studied by Pentland et al. (2010), the percentage of actions taken by the humans ranged from 15 to 89%; the computerized workflow system performed the rest of the actions.

The main point of Pentland however is that Felin & Foss (and by implication, the economic theory of the firm and institutional economics) are unaware of the primarily sociological literature that has provided detailed empirical accounts of organisational routines for decades:

Some recent theories of organizational routines have been grounded in theories of structuration (Giddens, 1984) and practice (Bourdieu, 1990). Routinization is at the core of structuration theory (Giddens, 1984). Likewise, Bourdieu’s (1990) concept of practice centers on the repetitive, patterned activities that constitute habitus. These theories use different vocabulary and emphasize different things, but they have made a fruitful foundation for a theory of organizational routines (e.g., Pentland and Rueter, 1994; Feldman, 2000, 2003; Feldman and Rafaeli, 2002; Feldman and Pentland, 2003; Pentland and Feldman, 2005). This theoretical view is successful because it is supported by detailed ethnographic observation of a wide range of actual work practices, such as filing papers in an office (Suchman, 1983), photocopier repair (Orr, 1996), medical imaging (Barley, 1986), technology roadmapping (Howard-Grenville, 2005), software support (Pentland and Rueter, 1994), navigating a ship by sight (Hutchins, 1991), and many others.

The contributions of ANT-inspired approaches are brought up under their own heading (8: Routines are Socio-Material):

The most serious flaw in the current Felin and Foss paper (2011), and in their so-called ‘microfoundations project’ in general, is that it fails to incorporate current thinking about the ontology of organizational routines. (…) Contemporary scholars have adopted the term ‘sociomateriality’ to refer to this phenomenon (Orlikowski, 2007; Leonardi and Barley, 2008). Building on the work of Latour (2005), Law (2004) and others, Orlikowski has argued that: “…every organizational practice is always bound with materiality. Materiality is not an incidental or intermittent aspect of organizational life; it is integral to it” [emphasis in original] (Orlikowski, 2007: 1436).

Pentland’s intervention however wasn’t the only figuration of ANT in this special issue. Luciana D’Adderio has a separate paper focused solely on “Artifacts at the centre of routines: performing the material turn in routines theory,” making a strong argument for the agency of artefacts, drawing on STS and ANT:

Existing theories of organizational routines have generally had simplistic and extreme views of artifacts as fully deterministic or largely inconsequential. Artifacts have been treated as either too solid to be avoided, or too flexible to have an effect. This paper endeavours to improve our understanding of the influence of artifacts on routines dynamics by proposing a novel and deeper conceptualization of their mutual relationship. In drawing from recent advances in Routines and STS/Performativity Theory, the paper contributes to advancing our understanding of routines dynamics by bringing artifacts and materiality from the periphery to the very centre of routines and Routines Theory.

So there you have it: ANT and institutional economics face-to-face. Let’s hope that this debate results in some cross-fertilisation, although Foss’ initial response (“unfortunately Pentland has thoroughly misunderstood the nature of the micro-foundations projects we advocate”) suggests otherwise. However, Pentland and D’Adderio have provided plenty of pointers for where the theory of the firm could benefit from the insights of ethnographic studies inspired by ANT and related approaches. These approaches in fact share Felin & Foss’ desire to open up the black box of organisational routines: however, rummaging in the black box has already begun and it had found more than just ‘rational human actors’.


After rereading my post I realised that it may give the impression that the above debate is about methodological individualism vs. methodological collectivism. Felin and Foss indeed seem to propose methodological individualism as an alternative to the methodological collectivism that they perceive in the tradition of the evolutionary theory of the firm (such as in Nelson & Winter 1982). However, the ANT perspective is decidedly neither individualist or collectivist. As a research approach, ANT is agnostic about the nature of an agent prior to an empirical inquiry and it allows for the seemingly strange possibility that an individual can enact collective agency and/or that a collective can act as an individual, and that individuals and collectives also include nonhuman entities. As Callon and Law (1997) put it:

Stable social arrangements are both individual and collective. They are necessarily possessed of a double nature. Sometimes it is useful to talk of individual entities: to imagine that they are discrete objects in an environment. But it is equally appropriate to treat them as collective effects – as patterned networks.


The argument, then, is that the division between the individual and the collective is an effect.


The distinction between individual and society is unnecessary. Indeed, it is seriously misleading. For the sociology of science and technology shows that the idea that society is a set of relationships between human actors is a misunderstanding. Instead it suggests that it is better understood as a collective association of human and non-human entities.

(Some) references

Abell, P., Felin, T., et al. (2008). “Building Micro-Foundations for the Routines, Capabilities, and Performance Links.” Managerial and Decision Economics, 29 (6): 489-502.

Callon, M. and Law, J. (1997). “After the Individual in Society: Lessons on Collectivity from Science, Technology and Society.” Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, 22 (2): 165-182.

Felin, T. and Foss, N. J. (2005). “Strategic Organization: A Field in Search of Micro-Foundations.” Strategic Organization, 3 (4): 441-455.

Feldman, M. and Pentland, B. (2005). Organizational Routines and the Macro-Actor. Actor-Network Theory and Organizing. Czarniawska, B. and Hernes, T. Malmö: Liber; Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press: 91-111.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, R. R. and Winter, S. G. (1982). An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Pentland, B. T. and Feldman, M. S. (2007). “Narrative Networks: Patterns of Technology and Organization.” Organization Science, 18 (5): 781-795.

Imagining Business 2

22 December 2010

Submission deadline extended to 15 January 2011 for the 2nd EIASM Workshop on Imagining Business, focusing on “VISUALS & PERFORMATIVITY: RESEARCHING BEYOND TEXT,” to take place in Segovia, Spain, 19-20 May 2011.

Following the success of the 1st Imagining Business Workshop in Oxford, 2008, this second event seeks to examine ideas and approaches which go beyond a focus upon text in order to explore the impact of images, pictures, signs, sounds and passions on the process of organizing. A process which also goes beyond traditional ideas of business and into many areas of our lives.

By bringing together academics from a wide range of disciplines and approaches (e.g. organizational theory, accounting, anthropology, geography, art, sociology, communication studies, architecture, philosophy, social studies of technology, etc…), this event will provide an arena in which to discuss and debate different ways of imagining the complex process of organizing.

Special Guest Speakers are:

  • Mario Biagioli – Harvard University – History of science
  • Jacques Fontanille – Université de Limoges – Semiotics
  • Nigel Thrift (TBC)- University of Warwick – Geography

The Organising Committee members are Paolo Quattrone – IE Business School, François-Régis Puyou – Audencia, Nantes School of Management and Chris Mclean – Manchester Business School.

How Matter Matters

19 June 2010

Call for papers: “How Matter Matters: Objects, Artifacts and Materiality in Organization Studies” – Third international symposium on process organization studies.  16-18 June, 2011, Corfu, Greece.  Keynotes: Karen Barad, Wanda Orlikowski, Lucy Suchman. Download the full description here:  CFP PROS 2011 (PDF).

Market studies explosion?

11 March 2010

Looking at the list of accepted papers (RTF file) at the 1st Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop coming up in Sweden in June this year, I’m wondering if “explosion” is too hyperbolic a term or just right to describe what seems to be a dramatic increase of interest in the social study of markets these days. Many of the titles appear to be referring to the concept of market devices introduced in the volume edited by Callon, Millo & Muniesa in 2007, who draw on the insights of science and technology studies and actor-network theory for the study of economic phenomena, especially markets.

P.S. And there is also of course the After Markets event coming up in Oxford in April, along similar lines, in the tradition of their excellent “Does STS Means Business” series. Check out the provocation piece for this event here (PDF).

Market Studies Workshop

21 December 2009

See this call for papers for EIASM’s 1st Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop to be held near Stockholm on 3-4 June 2010. The announcement gives a good summary of the recent surge of interest in the nature of markets and the contributions actor-network theory driven approaches and science and technology studies (STS) have made to this area in recent years. The workshop aims to be interdisciplinary and calls for contributions from all areas that have an interest in markets, such as business studies, marketing, STS, economic sociology, economics, economic geography, consumer research, cultural studies and anthropology.

Possible topics:

  • the various forms markets may assume
  • the processes through which markets are realized
  • the import of economic theories at large on markets (economics, marketing, strategy)
  • the role of devices and metrics in shaping markets
  • the role of “market professionals” in the organizing of markets
  • how regulators act in and on markets
  • how representations of markets contribute to shape the markets they depict
  • how market agencies are equipped
  • how markets produce values

To apply, submit a 3-page abstract by 29 January 2010. The organising committee consists of Hans Kjellberg (Stockholm School of Economics), Debbie Harrison (Norwegian School of Management), Claes-Fredrik Helgesson (Linköping University), and Susi Geiger (University College Dublin). Guest speakers include Bernard Cova (Euromed Marseille), Barbara Czarniawska (Gothenburg School of Economics), and Steve Woolgar (Saïd Business School, Oxford).

Translation and Charles Péguy

24 November 2009

“Everything is external to everything else, and it takes difficult work to link any two things” – thus summarises Graham Harman one of Bruno Latour’s metaphysical points (Prince of Networks, pp. 104-105). The blog medium makes linking unrelated things rather easy, so hopefully it is not an entirely frivolous act to link transaction-cost economics with actor-network theory through the figure of Charles Péguy. The Organizations and Markets blog has just highlighted that the following Péguy quote is evoked at a crucial moment in Oliver E. Williamson’s (yes, this year’s economics Nobel Laureate) 1996 book, The Mechanisms of Governance, in support of  the ” microanalytic program” of TCE:

“The longer I live, citizen. . .” — this is the way the great passage in Peguy begins, words I once loved to say (I had them almost memorized) — “The longer I live, citizen, the less I believe in the efficiency of sudden illuminations that are not accompanied or supported by serious work, the less I believe in the efficiency of conversion, extraordinary, sudden and serious, in the efficiency of sudden passions, and the more I believe in the efficiency of modest, slow, molecular, definitive work. The longer I live the less I believe in the efficiency of an extraordinary sudden social revolution, improvised, marvelous, with or without guns and impersonal dictatorship — and the more I believe in the efficiency of modest, slow, molecular, definitive work.” (pp. 13-14)