The fifth meeting of our Scientific Network opened up the research agenda on field-configuring events (FCEs) towards other kinds of events of a less “organized”, possibly unexpected nature. The meeting took place during April 20-21, 2015 at the Freie Universität Berlin. The two international guests and keynotes were Cynthia Hardy (Professor of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne) and Steve Maguire (Professor of Strategy and Organization at McGill University). Both have worked on FCEs in their paper on “Discourse, field-configuring events, and change in organizations and institutional fields: Narratives of DDT and the Stockholm Convention”, but are now studying risk and thus focus more on events of a more unexpected nature. At FU Berlin a number of scholars are interested in the nature of uncertainty and ways of managing and organizing uncertainy, and our aim in this workshop was to bring these different debates together and start a possibly fruitful exchange.
Elke Schüßler opened the meeting by briefly presenting the previous work of the network and introducing relevant research questions pertaining to FCEs and other kinds of events. Network members as well as guests introduced themselves and their research interest.
Focusing on FCEs, Steve and Cynthia then held their first keynote speech and introduced us in depth to their fascinating study on DDT and the Stockholm Convention and their discourse analytical method, an aspect we focused on in more depth on the second day of the workshop since our network aims to explore both conceptual and methodological issues.
After a coffee break, Gordon Müller-Seitz started off the debate on FCEs vs. other kinds of events by presenting the core arguments of a paper he co-authored with Elke Schüßler on “A Process Perspective on Organized and Unexpected Field-Level Events” in a first attempt to bridge different research streams on events. This presentation was followed by a fruitful discussion, in which the notion of “unexpected events” was questioned. If events are socially constructed, they might be unexpected for some actors, but not for others. The label “unexpected events” blurs over such differences.
The rest of the day was dedicated to research projects on different ways of organizing uncertainty. Simone Ostermann, a former doctoral student at FU Berlin, presented a study co-authored by Georg Schreyögg on how an ICU unit copes with event-based uncertainty through different organizing practices. The study highlighted the need of both adapability and stability and, coming from a systems theoretical perspective, argued that events can indeed be unexpected from the perspective of an organization. Then Gordon Müller-Seitz presented a study co-authored by Jörg Sydow on how the semiconductor industry consortium SEMATECH is coping with environmental uncertainty through, among others, the practice of convening, i.e. through organizing events.
The first day ended with a joint dinner in Schöneberg.
The second day began with a methodological discussion based on the second keynote speech by Cynthia and Steve, who gave us in-depth insights into their methodology on the DDT study. This session was particularly valuable to the doctoral and postdoctoral students who were invited to attend the workshop.
After lunch, Elke Schüßler then opened up the FCE research agenda again and presented an ongoing study on the role of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh as a so-called “focusing event”, a concept used in the political science literature. Focusing events are said to trigger stakeholder activity towards institutional change. The presentation was followed by an intense debate on the need to unpack the focusing events concept from a social constructivist perspective. Subsequently Marie Brüning, a doctoral student at Jacobs University Bremen, presented her doctoral project on supply network disruptions and possibilities for collaborative recovery.
After a coffee break, Guido Möllering kicked off a debate on the methodological challenges of researching unexpected events by using the crash of the Germanwings 4U9525 flight as an example. A main challenge in researching thus events in real time is the question of how to get resources to support the research, for which the National Science Foundation in the US has a grant format called “Rapid Response Research”. Intense discussions then revolved around the need for such rapid response research in the social sciences, and ethical issues stemming from such research shortly after an accident or other kind of disaster.
Before a longer break, Elke Schüßler briefly presented the Special Issue on “Field-Configuring Events as Arenas for Innovation and Learning” just out at Industry & Innovation. Several network members contributed to this Special Issue.
The workshop ended with a final keynote by Cynthia and Steve in the open “Forschungswerkstatt” seminar. They presented their ongoing work on “Ecologies of Risk: Synergies, Antagonisms and the Organizing of Risk”, showing how risk is discursively constructed as ever-present, which is then counteracted by increasingly intense organizational attempts to control such risks.
(by Elke Schüßler)
20.04.2015 - 21.04.2015
Freie Universität Berlin