Developing a Research Agenda to Advance Perspectives on Performativity

Developing a Research Agenda to Advance Perspectives on Performativity
Friday, August 7, 2015 from 3:15 PM – 5:15 PM
Sponsored by OMT, TIM, SAP, CMS

This PDW offers participants an opportunity to develop in-depth exposure to current research developing theories of performativity that highlight the constitutive effects of theorization. Research on performativity has been conducted from a variety of perspectives, including organization theory, strategy, and technology studies.

Part 1: The first part of this PDW (3:15-4:15) is open to all participants. In the first part of the PDW, three senior scholars will present a perspective on performativity.

  • Raghu Garud (Pennsylvania State U.) will describe how the notion of performativity applies to management thought;
  • Jean-Pascal Gond and Laure Cabantous (both of Cass Business School, City U. London) will discuss the performativity of strategic knowledge; and
  • Wanda Orlikowski (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will explore the generative possibilities a performativity perspective offers to our understanding of technology in organizations.

Part 2: In the second part of the PDW, we offer participants the opportunity to submit research proposals and receive feedback in a roundtable format. In addition to the presenters named above, Susan Scott and Daniel Beunza (both of the London School of Economics) will participate as roundtable discussion leaders.

To participate in the second part of the PDW, send a 1500 word research proposal or extended abstract to the PDW organizers: Joel Gehman (jgehman@ualberta.ca) and Vern Glaser (vglaser@ualberta.ca). The submission deadline is July 15, 2015.

Once you submit your proposal we will provide you with a code to register for Part 2 of the PDW at https://secure.aom.org/PDWReg.

Best, Joel and Vern

SONGS Meets the Market

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is an inoperative nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast of the United States, near San Diego, California. The plant was closed in June 2013 and is in the early stages of being decommissioned. According to Think Progress, the decommissioning process will go on for at least two decades, and the radioactive waste will be stored onsite for the foreseeable future.

Southern California Edison owns 78.2% of the plant; San Diego Gas & Electric Company 20%; and the City of Riverside Utilities Department 1.8%. The plant’s first unit, Unit 1, operated from 1968 to 1992. Unit 2 was started in 1983 and Unit 3 started in 1984. Units 2 and 3 underwent upgrades in 2009 and 2010 that were intended to last 20 years. However, both reactors had to be shut down in January 2012 due to premature wear found on over 3,000 tubes in replacement steam generators that had been installed in 2010 and 2011.

SCE announced on June 7, 2013 that it would “permanently retire” Unit 2 and Unit 3, citing “continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service” and noting that ongoing regulatory and “administrative processes and appeals” would likely cause any tentative restart plans to be delayed for “more than a year.”

Some 100,000 people live within ten miles of SONGS and nearly nine million within 50 miles. In an effort “to keep residents engaged in the decommissioning process” Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Company recently organized a Community Engagement Panel. The first meeting was held in late March, and attended by around 300 people. David Victor, director of the University of California San Diego Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, chaired the panel “because of his proven leadership abilities and experience bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders.”

At first blush, this account suggests a real effort is being made to cultivate a public space for fostering discussion and debate among interested social groups. This idea resonates with the notion of “hybrid forums” proposed by Callon and colleagues as a solution to the governance of complex socio-technical issues (e.g., Callon et al., 2009; Callon and Rabeharisoa, 2003). Forums, “because they are open spaces where groups can come together to discuss technical options involving the collective,” and hybrid, “because the groups involved and the spokespersons claiming to represent them are heterogeneous, including experts, politicians, technicians and laypersons who consider themselves involved. They are also hybrid because the questions and problems taken up are addressed at different levels in a variety of domains, from ethics to economic” (Callon et al., 2009, p. 18).

Some of my work has explored and theorized the potential role of hybrid forums. For example, in “Boundaries, Breaches, and Bridges: The Case of Climategate,” we consider the possibility of hybrid forums in the context of climate science and concerns related to climate change. In “Metatheoretical Perspectives on Sustainability Journeys: Evolutionary, Relational and Durational,” we propose the possibility of hybrid forums as an approach to sustainability-related policy formulation and governance.

In addition to signalling a possibly interesting case study of hybrid forums in the making, there was another quote in the Think Progress that caught my eye, on a completely different topic. The quote comes from an earlier piece by Joe Romm, and has to do with the role of markets.

The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product.

I’ve been studying nuclear power for several years now. For instance, in “Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission Free Electricity,” we studied the ongoing efforts to (re)categorize nuclear power from 1945 to 2010. More recently I have been studying the diverse and continuing responses to the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown by countries around the world. In the course of this work, one of the discourses that I have found really fascinating relates to the role of markets in nuclear power. Last fall, the topic even came up during class discussions with MBA students.

Some time ago, I blogged that “the preponderance of the evidence from both the US and the rest of the world suggests that heavy governmental subsidies, loan guarantees and/or liability exemptions — either explicitly or de facto — are essential to the development of nuclear power. By comparison, all of the literature I have read on the topic suggests that the market has yet to build a single nuclear plant.”

Romm’s recent quote re-contextualizes this basic thesis, but pivots the emphasis from reactor construction to “dead-ends” (a well-known possibility in any innovation journey; see Van de Ven, Polley, Garud & Venkataraman, 1999). The SONGS experience is yet one more example of the role of the market in nuclear power. It shows that while markets cannot build nuclear power plants, they can “dead-end” them.

Whether this market performativity is a good or a bad thing, is another question entirely…

Sources

Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. 2009. Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Callon, M., & Rabeharisoa, V. 2003. Research “in the Wild” and the Shaping of New Social Identities. Technology in Society, 25: 193–204.

Garud, R., & Gehman, J. 2012. Metatheoretical Perspectives on Sustainability Journeys: Evolutionary, Relational and Durational. Research Policy, 41: 980–995.

Garud, R., Gehman, J., & Karnøe, P. 2010. Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission-Free Electricity. Research in the Sociology of Work, 21: 51–93.

Garud, R., Gehman, J., & Karunakaran, A. 2014. Boundaries, Breaches, and Bridges: The Case of Climategate. Research Policy, 43: 60–73.

Van de Ven, A. H., Polley, D. E., Garud, R., & Venkataraman, S. 1999. The Innovation Journey. New York: Oxford University Press.

Upcoming Talks

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve heard back on several conference submissions. Below is a summary of some upcoming talks.

Putting B-Corp Certification to Work? Differences in Cultural Entrepreneurship within an Emerging Category. With Matthew Grimes. Sustainability, Ethics and Entrepreneurship Annual Conference; Denver, April 2013.

The “B-Corp certification” is a recent endeavor requiring that organizations complete a social impact assessment and make changes to key corporate governance documents that specify the importance of social impact to the organizations. Despite increased organizational interest and adoption of the B-Corp certification as a cultural resource, we have found meaningful variation in the degree to which certified B-Corps associate with the certification, highlighting a gap in research on cultural entrepreneurship.  As such this research explores how organizations within an emerging market category vary in their use of cultural resources and what factors explain this variation. Our work contributes to theories of cultural entrepreneurship as well as the study of sustainable organizations.

 

Predatory Selection: An Analysis of Cultural Vulnerability and Opportunity Exploitation in Marcellus Shale Drilling, 2004-2011. With Dror Etzion. Inequality, Institutions and Organizations Conference. Simon Fraser University; Vancouver, June 2013.

Prior research on opportunity exploitation has generally conceptualized opportunities as scarce and fleeting. However, organizations often find themselves confronted with the opposite problem – abundant opportunities relative to their available financial, human and temporal resources. But in that case, how do organizations prioritize multiple competing exploitation opportunities? In this paper we link emerging cultural perspectives in organization studies together with community health and environmental justice studies, and propose the concept of cultural vulnerability as a way of meaningfully assessing differences in exploitation opportunities across geographies. Our core hypothesis is that firms are likely to prioritize their exploitation opportunities through a process we call predatory selection. That is, opportunities located in areas of greater cultural vulnerability are likely to be exploited first, all other factors being equal. To empirically test our proposition, we study how oil and gas exploration companies prioritize among available unconventional drilling locations. Our study utilizes a large-scale, longitudinal panel of oil and gas wells in the Marcellus Formation in Pennsylvania, considered one of the largest unconventional shale gas plays in the world.

Categorical Dynamics: Sociomaterial Processes of Category Emergence and Performance. With Raghu Garud and Peter Karnøe. Subtheme 48: The Emergence of Categories, Identities, Fields and Organizational Forms; European Group for Organization Studies Colloquium; Montreal, July 2013.

Questions about categories, the dynamics of their emergence and performance, and the naturalization and transformation of their various meanings and consequences are part of an ongoing research program that spans multiple levels and domains. Taking as its starting point a view of categories as materially anchored, institutionally performed, socially relevant and entrepreneurially negotiated, we are interested in theorizing some of the mechanisms involved in these categorical processes. For instance, under what conditions do categorical dynamics lead to convergence of the various interpretations involved? The assumption that such convergence occurs is the mainstay of the Bayesian updating hypothesis. However, our work shows that there is a considerable contestation around categories (whether they are descriptive or evaluative). Thus, categorical dynamics may be driven both by centripetal and centrifugal forces. If so, then under what conditions do members of a field (e.g., Fligstein & McAdam, 2012) come together, and when might they break apart? These are just some of the issues we are currently theorizing.

The Meaning of Water: Institutional Complexity and Strategic Practice in Issue Driven Fields. With Miriam Wolf and Krsto Pandza. Subtheme 48: The Emergence of Categories, Identities, Fields and Organizational Forms; European Group for Organization Studies Colloquium; Montreal, July 2013.

Literature on practice and institutional complexity has addressed the question how actors deal with the challenges that emerge from reproducing habitual practices in the context of multiple, competing logics. In this paper, we propose a more nuanced conception of practice and suggest that in the context of institutional complexity, agents are more likely to engage in a projective and strategic rather than iterative, habitual mode of agency. Drawing on a case study in an issue driven policy field, we explore the practices an actor draws on in order to influence the meaning of the issue of water in the context of multiple and competing meanings. We identify three strategic practices: appraising, legitimizing and materializing. Building on our empirical insights, we theorize that institutional complexity provides actors with a toolkit of discursive resources they strategically draw on in order to influence the creation of meaning within issue driven fields.

Cultural Perspectives on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Professional Development Workshop. Academy of Management Annual Meeting; Lake Buena Vista, August 2013.

This Professional Development Workshop (PDW) is designed to offer participants hands-on experience studying entrepreneurship and innovation through theoretical and empirical approaches associated with cultural sociology. The backdrop for the PDW is increasing recognition across entrepreneurship and innovation research that cultural resources such as frames, discourses or narratives are an integral part of an on-going process by which entrepreneurs create new ventures or innovations and communicate about them with their stakeholders to acquire much needed capital and support (e.g., Bartel and Garud, 2008; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001). Although the role of culture in general, and of narratives in particular, has been acknowledged in prior research, this area remains theoretically and empirically underdeveloped and methodological protocols have yet to be solidified. Given growing interest in adopting cultural approaches to understanding the nature of entrepreneurship and innovation, in this PDW we aim to provide direct access to a valuable set of theoretical and methodological resources and protocols for exploring questions of entrepreneurship and innovation within different institutional contexts. Thus, the purpose of this PDW is to bring together individuals from entrepreneurship, innovation and organization theory who are experienced in the use of cultural and narrative approaches to run a PDW, which will enable others to do more work in this area. PhD students and junior scholars with data on entrepreneurial or innovative activities who are interested in adopting such an approach will benefit from the workshop.

Values Work Paper Accepted

I’m pleased to report that my paper with Linda Treviño and Raghu Garud on Values Work: A Process Study of the Emergence and Performance of Organizational Values Practices has been formally accepted for publication at the Academy of Management Journal. The paper has been a long time in the making and I couldn’t be more pleased with the final outcome.

In the paper we argue that existing cognitive and cultural perspectives on values have under-theorized the processes whereby values come to be practiced in organizations. We then address this gap by studying the emergence and performance of what we call values practices, defined as sayings and doings in organizations to articulate and accomplish what is normatively right or wrong, good or bad, for its own sake.

In other words, we conceive of values practices as ends in themselves, and thus, analytically distinct from organizational practices driven by technical or efficiency considerations. Examples of values practices include efforts to address normative concerns in areas such as ethics, diversity and sustainability, among others.

To understand values practices, we draw inspiration from scholars who have combined a practice perspective with insights from actor-network theory as a way of generating new theoretical insights. This approach enables us to move from cognitive understandings of values as abstract principles and cultural understandings of values as symbolic artifacts to a performative understanding of values as situated in networks of practices.

We apply this perspective to study the development of an honor code within a large business school over a 10-year period. Based on our analysis, we offer the concept of values work comprising four key interrelated processes – dealing with pockets of concern, knotting local concerns into action networks, performing values practices, and circulating values discourse. These processes are depicted in the figure below.

Taken together, these insights contribute to an understanding of the work involved in the emergence and performance of organizational values practices as well as the work that values practices perform and provoke in organizations. We conclude the paper by discussing some of the opportunities and challenges that values work implies for future organizational scholarship.

Putnam’s Ethics Without Ontology

Already this summer I’ve read a dozen or so books, most of them more or less academic. One of the books I read this weekend was Hilary Putnam’s (2004) Ethics Without Ontology.

The book consists of six lectures: four on “ethics without ontology” and two on “enlightenment and pragmatism.” Given my various research interests, I found the most profound and interesting parts of the book to be in essays 1, 4, and 5.

Essay 1: “Ethics Without Metaphysics.” This essay sets up Putnam’s next three essays.  On p. 24 he brings in Levinas: The foundation of ethics is my immediate recognition, when confronted with a suffering fellow human being, that I have an obligation to do something. No me, no ethics. No other, no ethics.  Thus, we can say that ethics is both personal and relational. To not feel the obligation is to not be ethical.

On p. 28, building on Dewey, he introduces the concept of “practical problems.” He interprets Dewey: Solving practical problems is the concern of ethics.

From here he turns to the issue of “controversiality” (pp 29-32). Solutions to practical problems are controversial — unless they are put into practice and succeed to the satisfaction of all those involved. In other words, problems cannot be solved in principle, only in practice, and even then, the solutions may “fail.” Indeed, even when a practical problem is successfully solved, there is still controversy as to whether the successful solution can be generalized to the next problem that seems similar. Even the “similarity” between problems is typically controversial!

Essay 4: “Ontology: An Obituary.” On p. 74 Putnam reprises quite quickly the “collapse of the fact/value dichotomy.” Valuings do not contrast with descriptions. There is an overlap between the class of valuings and the class of descriptions. As with solutions to practical problems (which are always ethical), ethical claims (i.e., valuings) are frequently controversial. But so are questions of fact (p. 75). In short, factual, descriptive and ethical valuings are controversial.

Some ethical questions are such that agreement is unlikely until such time as it can be demonstrated that we agree (p. 76). [Note the performative quality to ethical controversies.] And even in the case of success — i.e., cases where the problem is solved for now — questions may arise as to whether the same thing would work again the next time, or in the next case, etc.

If we try something in connection with a social problem and it works well, meaning to the satisfaction of those involved, those who object to such a solution in another situation are unlikely to concede that it will work again (pp. 76-77). In short, it is impossible to “verify” that something is the right thing to do, even when the success criteria are agreed upon, unless you have actually done it, and it has worked to everyone’s satisfaction. But even then, questions may remain about its ongoing applicability. This is a general feature of practical problems, that is to say, a general feature of ethical problems.

Essay 5: “The Three Enlightenments.” Lengthy quote from Dewey on the “common good” (p. 97). In short, the common good is only possible when it involves those whose benefits are intended. Again, more interpretation of Dewey as positing a kind of participatory democracy as integral to resolving social problems (pp. 99-100).

Although not invoked, recall Levinas’ ethics as implicating a me-other relationality. From this Putnam concludes that contra to Kant, Hobbes, etc., there can be no morality prior to sociality (p. 101). That is to say, moral beings do not confront the social world. Rather social beings confront the moral world, or perhaps, moral worlds. Although Putnam has supposedly done away with ontology, clearly he is saying there is a primacy of sociality over ethicality. But if that is the case, if I am social before I am ethical, then there are bound to be ethical lapses in social life. My capacity for ethical living grows out of my social life. The ethical response is a response to the confrontation of the other.