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

When Does “No” Mean “No”?

Note: This article was published in The Globe and Mail on March 3, 2015. The version below includes additional hyperlink references not published in the original.

gam-masthead

On big resource projects, when does ‘no’ mean ‘no’?

By Joel Gehman and Michael Lounsbury
March 3, 2015

A recent column lamented that getting to “yes” on energy projects in Canada has never been tougher: Fossil-fuel developments, pipelines, mines, dams, transmission lines, and even wind turbines “are frequently contested, delayed or blocked.” But do such outcomes mean there is a problem? And if so, what kind of problem is it?

The argument – ‘Getting to Yes’ – assumes that “yes” is somehow on the side of angels. But a critical element of any great strategy is saying “no.” It’s Strategy 101. No organization – whether a corporation, a nation-state or a non-profit – can say “yes” to everything. Choices must be made. In his classic article “What Is Strategy?,” Harvard professor Michael Porter put it bluntly: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Clearly then, “no” is often the better strategic choice. And yet, organizations often fall into a “yes” trap. This is because, once set in motion, strategies are hard to reverse. There are sunk costs, learning effects, organizational inertia and network externalities, among other issues. And so, an organization can easily escalate its commitment to a losing course of action. But in real-time, as these strategic decisions are unfolding, the folly is often hard to stop.

One famous example is New York’s Shoreham Nuclear Plant. First proposed in April, 1966, the plant was expected to cost $75-million and come online by 1973. The plant was eventually completed in October, 1985, only to be decommissioned in March, 1989, having never sold any electricity. By that point total costs had ballooned to $5.5-billion. Predictably, the plant’s owner, Long Island Lighting Company, was unable to survive as an independent company. All because it refused to take “no” for an answer.

On the heels of President Obama’s recent veto, some advocates of the Keystone XL pipeline have proudly proclaimed they won’t take “no” for an answer. Perhaps their persistence in the face of “no” will prove prescient. Or perhaps Keystone XL is another Shoreham Nuclear Plant in the making. Only time will tell. But all of this suggests that perhaps Canada doesn’t have a “yes” problem; perhaps Canada has a “no” problem.

Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have a saying: “If you’re going to fail, fail fast.” By comparison, getting to “no” on Canadian energy projects has been taking longer and longer. That prompts some interesting questions. Why has Canada been taking so long to get to “no”? How can we get to “no” faster? Why do so many organizations keep chasing “yes” in the face of “no”? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the costs to Canada of not taking “no” for an answer?

Joel Gehman (@joelgehman) is assistant professor of strategic management and organization and Southam faculty fellow at the Alberta School of Business. Michael Lounsbury is associate dean of research, professor of strategic management and organization and Thornton A. Graham chair at the Alberta School of Business.

The Fossil Free Divestment Movement

Note: This article was published in The Globe and Mail on February 17, 2015. The version below includes hyperlink references not published in the original.

gam-masthead

What the divestment movement could mean for Alberta and Canada

By Joel Gehman and Michael Lounsbury
February 17, 2015

Recently, Norway’s $1.25-trillion sovereign wealth fund revealed that over the last three years it had divested from 115 companies engaged in coal mining, oil sands production, coal-fired electricity generation, and cement production, among others. According to Fossil Free, it was “likely the biggest divestment decision to date.” Closer to home, the University of British Columbia faculty last week voted 62 per cent in favour in a referendum asking its board to divest some $100-million in fossil fuel assets from the university’s $1.2-billion endowment. Certainly the fossil fuel divestment movement provides a potential legitimacy threat to Alberta oil sands firms’ social license to operate.

In the face of this growing momentum, a number of commentators have criticized the fossil free divestment movement. In one op-ed Martha Hall Findlay and Jean Charest offered two main points.

First, while agreeing that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem, the authors claimed: “The problem lies with the demand – it’s not the fault of those meeting the demand.” In other words: follow the money. Although we believe this depiction overly simplifies a complex problem, does the divestment movement violate its prescription? Clearly not. Even if a society limited itself to demand-side solutions, by definition, reducing demand for fossil fuel assets would qualify.

Second, the article claimed: “But investment decisions for university endowments must be based on one thing: which investments will bring the best financial returns.” In other words, maximize portfolio returns. Although we doubt all university endowments share a single investment strategy, is there evidence that divestment harms returns? Again, the answer is no. A comparison of the MSCI ACWI IMI index, which covers some 99 per cent of the global equity universe, with an index that excluded 247 fossil fuel reserve-owning companies found a return differential of 1.2 per cent in favor of the “ex Carbon list,” as well as a potential reduction in overall portfolio risk.

Clearly, a society that agreed with Hall Findlay and Charest’s twin prescriptions – follow the money and maximize portfolio returns – would not agree with their conclusions. Using their criteria it turns out that divestment is actually a “good idea.” By simply excluding fossil fuels from their portfolios, universities can meet or beat the market while reducing overall risk.

Although divestment may seem like a no-brainer, as scholars, we are curious: does the movement have any chance of succeeding? Past evidence is mixed. For instance, Nelson Mandela credited the University of California’s 1986 divestment of $3.1-billion as significant in abolishing white-minority rule in South Africa. Other campaigns have targeted child labor, land mines, and cigarettes. Recently, investors with more than $45-trillion in assets have signed the UN Principles for Responsible Investing, committing to incorporate environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues into investment analysis.

One big ESG issue for these investors is carbon. By any reasonable calculation the world has more carbon than it can afford to burn. According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2012, “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed.” Using this same logic, Deutsche Bank concluded: “Peak carbon rather than peak oil becomes the primary driver of oil prices.”

For the companies and economies implicated, these issues connected to the fossil fuel divestment movement pose clear strategic challenges. For instance, if not all carbon is burnable, which carbon gets priority? One possibility is de-commodification, in which qualifications such as “ethical oil” and “dirty oil” may be consequential. Similarly, while some analysts have claimed that divestment is merely symbolic, as Keystone XL and the tailings pond ducks make clear, when symbols take hold they can have potent effects. For both Alberta and Canada, it may be useful to more seriously consider the role of diversification in balancing carbon-based development and growth with carbon-free leadership in clean technology and related entrepreneurial initiatives.

Joel Gehman (@joelgehman) is assistant professor of strategic management and organization and Southam faculty fellow at the Alberta School of Business. Michael Lounsbury is associate dean of research, professor of strategic management and organization and Thornton A. Graham chair at the Alberta School of Business.

Oil and Gas Well Facility Siting

This week I’ll be giving an invited talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES). The talk will be on Thursday, March 20 at 3:30 pm in 550 General Services Building. For more details, visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website. The title of my talk is: “Community Vulnerability and Facility Siting: The Case of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, 2004-2012.” This work is joint with Dror Etzion of McGill University.

Abstract: Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has rapidly emerged as an ubiquitous technology for extracting oil and gas from previously inaccessible geological formations. Due to the nature of the technology and its relatively small surface footprint, wells can be sited virtually anywhere, including in close proximity to homes, schools and other sensitive locations. With many uncertainties about the technology still unresolved, critics point to the potential for unequally distributed negative health outcomes among those in regular proximity to drilling sites. Accordingly, for oil and gas companies, deciding upon well sites can be a contentious activity, incorporating not only economic and geological factors but social and community ones as well. In this study, we examine all hydraulically fractured wells in the Marcellus shale play from 2004-2012 in the state of Pennsylvania and assess whether community vulnerabilities played a role in well siting decisions. We find that indicators of socio-demographics, social cohesion and municipal governance are predictors of well siting decisions, beyond the traditional attributes of race and income usually highlighted in the environmental justice literature. Our findings suggest that research on community health should not be limited to phenomena like nuclear power plants and hazardous waste facilities, but should expand to include routine, commonplace and autonomous organizational siting decisions characterized by minimal regulatory involvement.

We are scheduled to present subsequent iterations of this research at the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability, in May 2014 at Cornell University, and again at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, in August 2014 in Philadelphia.

Marcellus Shale Drilling Talk

This week I was invited to give a talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), and I am really looking forward to it. The talk is scheduled for March. I’ll be presenting research related to Marcellus Shale Drilling that I have been working on with Dror Etzion from McGill University.

For more details, check back here, or visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website: http://www.rees.ualberta.ca/SeminarsandLectures.aspx

Looking for Summer 2014 Interns

Hard to believe, but I am already looking for Summer 2014 Interns! I have posted multiple positions through the University of Alberta Research Experience program.

For international students, the application deadline is October 31, 2013. The internships run from approximately May 1, 2014 to August 30, 2014. Total compensation for the summer is $5,000. Undergraduate students from the following partner institutions are eligible:

  • Brazil: UNICAMP, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  • China: Fudan Univeristy, Tsinghua Univeristy, Zhejiang University, East China Normal University (ECNU), Sichuan University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology
  • Germany: Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Technical University of Munich
  • Korea: Seoul National University
  • India: IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, University of Hyderabad
  • Mexico: ITESM-Campus Guadalajara
  • Oceania: University of Western Australia, Auckland University
  • USA: Penn State, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas Austin

For Canadian students, the application deadline is December 31, 2013. The internships run from approximately May 1, 2014 to August 30, 2014. Total compensation for the summer is $6,000.

If you are interested, please apply to my postings — IDs 319, 320 and 321 — through the UARE website.