Doing Sociology in Organization Studies
Sub-Theme at a Colloquium in Vienna, Austria on July 7–9, 2022
The past few years have seen a plethora of debates regarding the nature of theorizing in organization research and the position of sociological theory therein (Besio et al., 2020; Clegg et al., 2020). While it has been argued that organizational scholarship draws its intellectual lineage from a diversity of sources, thereby developing rich accounts of the workings of organizations, there is little doubt that the divide between organization scholars and sociologists has widened considerably (Clegg & Cuhna, 2019; Adler et al., 2014; Clegg, 2002; King, 2017). While many paradigms of organization theory – e.g. neo-institutionalism, population ecology and resource dependency – have originated in sociology, sociology is nowadays considered a neighboring discipline of organization studies as opposed to being constitutive of it. The once lively dialogue on the social nature, characteristics, and consequences of organizing and organization seems to have come to a halt (Barley, 2010; Davis, 2015; Hinings & Greenwood, 2002).
“Sociology of organizations”, or as it is more often and perhaps erroneously called “organizational sociology” (as if the sociology was subservient to the organizations analyzed – but we will stick with tradition) has thus entered the classic canon of organization studies – a gentle reminder that organizational scholarship has “history” (Scott, 2020). The label “organizational sociology” however, does not mirror the rich and varied sociological scholarship we witness among today’s organization scholars. For many, if not most, it has become unclear what the sociological is supposed to be or mean in organization studies. Against this backdrop we ask, irrespective of a classic canon: What is “organizational sociology” today?
This sub-theme seeks to explore the new boundaries of organizational sociology. It sets out to map a community of scholars that transcends disciplinary limitations by following one simple epistemic logic: society is constituted in, between, across and around organizations (Powell & Brandtner, 2016). We thereby work under the assumption that the dialogue on the social nature of organizing and organization did not simply vanish but instead switched levels to become an integral yet tacit part of the community’s research agenda (Scott, 2004). For while sociological questions and themes are broadly present in the field of organization studies, many organization scholars do not identify as authors of sociological works (Adler et al., 2014). We hope to revitalize the dialogue over future avenues of sociologically minded organization research. We do so by identifying, discussing and challenging the genuinely sociological contribution to and of organization studies.
We locate the nature of the sociological contribution in a sociological imagination for which, as Karl Marx wrote in a flamboyant letter to the German philosopher Arnold Ruge, the primary mission is “the ruthless criticism of everything existing”. He further elaborated by writing that “the criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be” (Marx. 1843). A similar logic has subsequently driven much sociological work. The question that this imagination implies for organizational scholarship is to ask what is the role of social critique? In a world in which much of recent scholarship is located in business schools, with an inherent mobilization of bias towards normative issues posed by and for business (Grothe-Hammer & Kohl. 2020), how can that imagination not only be applied but also be able to make a difference, socially, organizationally, sociologically?
How do organizations contribute to the production and reproduction of social inequalities? When social scientists do situate inequality in a social space, it is too often myopically focused on national markets and cultural processes, thereby ignoring the workings of organizations and their often-global network implications (Tomaskovic-Devey & Avent-Holt, 2019). Organizations are not only a major arena in which significant social forces and change are played out but are also actively shaping these forces and changes globally and locally. Papers that provide insights into the organizational mechanisms behind social inclusion and exclusion are explicitly welcome.
Michael Grothe-Hammer (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway)
Kathia Serrano Velarde (Heidelberg University, Germany)
Mikaela Sundberg (Stockholm University & SCORE, Sweden)