Culture and Organization Special Issue Call for Papers

From antagonists to allies? Exploring the critical performativity of alternative organization

Culture and Organization

In a recent contribution to the debate concerning the status and nature of performativity in critical management studies (CMS), Parker and Parker (2017) offer the turn to alternative organization as a resolution to the seeming impasse: critical or constructive? Is it possible for CMS to maintain its distance from and engage with its objects of study? When one explores alternative organizations, Parker and Parker suggest, the inhibiting dichotomy may be turned into a constructive duality as the critical scholar can make allies in the field. Exploring alternative forms of organization, they conclude, provides CMS with “…a resource that would allow for a more substantial challenge to the idea of business as usual” (19).

In this spirit, we invite papers that challenge mainstream organizing in and through empirical investigations of ‘actually existing’ alternatives as well as papers that contribute to conceptualizing the critical performativity of alternative organization.

Critical performativity

Since its introduction, critical performativity (CP) has become an influential, but also a contested concept. In recent debates, it has, on the one hand, been presented as a means of endowing CMS with much-needed transformative potential (Spicer, Alvesson and Kärreman 2009; Alvesson and Spicer 2012); as a way of leaving behind CMS’ anti-performative stance (as established by e.g. Fournier and Grey 2000). On the other hand, such willingness to not only critique, but also transform organizational and managerial norms and practices has been derided as the “the happy end of Critical Management Studies” (Spoelstra and Svensson 2016, 69).

Seeking a middle-ground between these two extremes, some have argued that the conceptual base of CP must be deepened and nuanced. Wickert and Schaefer (2015), for instance, advocate thinking of performativity as a progressive and reflexive movement of incremental change from within whereas Cabantous et al. (2016) argue that performativity is more adequately theorized as a subjectifying force, making subjects the effects rather than the agents of performativity. We encourage development of CP’s theoretical base along these lines and also invite contributions that explore other dimensions of performativity, e.g. its link with Austin’s speech act theory and the various interpretations thereof (see Loxley 2007).

Further, we welcome contributions that consider how the overall CP framework might benefit from dialogue with other theories and concepts. Such dialogue has, for example, been sought by Just, Muhr and Burø (2017) who offer Malabou’s concept of plasticity as an inroad to studying the interrelations of performativity and affect. Parker and Parker (2017) also imply the usefulness of conceptual additions to the CP framework when introducing Mouffe’s notion of agonism as a means of highlighting the productivity of performative tensions. Underlying these two examples are broader concerns with the relationships between performativity and materiality and performativity and power, respectively. We are particularly interested in seeing these two issues developed, but also invite contributions that explore other conceptual intersections, dimensions, nuances and/or additions that might strengthen the theoretical base for critically performative studies of alternative organizations.    

Alternative organization

Turning to alternative organizations, we follow Parker et al. (2014) in defining these as organizations that hold to three foundational principles: individual autonomy, collective solidarity, and responsibility for the future. We invite papers that contribute to detailing how these principles play out in empirical practice and/or substantiating what alternative organization might mean conceptually.

The notion of alternative organization not only offers an empirical field with which critical scholars may engage constructively while upholding a demand for social change; it also provides an opportunity for reconceptualizing organization as such. Here, one may discuss the ‘alternative’ in relation to the ‘mainstream’, but alternative organizations should also be defined and promoted in their own right. Thus, we invite papers that explore how theories of alternative organization may be performative in and of themselves, serving as engines that drive new spatiotemporal configurations rather than cameras that register existing organizational realities (MacKenzie 2006).

In sum, while we see alternative organization as the empirical site for practicing CP, we also invite contributors to participate in the development of alternative organization studies as a field. Ultimately, the ambition is to challenge current organizational norms and push beyond established disciplinary boundaries whilst recognizing the potential limitations and possible dark sides of alternative organizations themselves.

Possible themes and issues

Specific issues that may be addressed include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Types and typologies of alternative organization
    • What are the sites and types of alternative organizing?
    • What are the signs of different organizational forms emerging at the edges or the seams of the shifting spaces of our present situation?
    • What alternative organizations exist within various sectors? What forms of alternative organizing cut across sectorial boundaries? 
  • Modes and modalities of alternative organization
    • How are alternative organizations themselves organized? In what ways do they prefigure (Maeckelbergh 2011) the social change they advocate?
    • What are the technologies of alternative organizing? And, in particular, what are the digital affordances relevant to alternative organization? How do, for example, social media facilitate or obstruct alternative organizing?
    • How are radical alternatives to be presented, maintained and developed in a system that is by its nature all-consuming and tends to colonize subjects, spaces and temporalities?
  • Subjects and subjectivities of alternative organization
    • How do alternative organizations support individual autonomy? And, conversely, how do alternative organizations become sites of subjectification, of socialization and of ex- as well as inclusion?

Innovative interpretations of the call are encouraged. With its long tradition of interdisciplinary approaches, C&O invites papers that draw insights and approaches from across a range of social sciences and humanities. In addition to scholars working in management and organization studies we welcome contributions from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies. We welcome papers from any disciplinary, paradigmatic or methodological perspective as long as they directly address the theme of critical performativity of alternative organization.  

Submission and Informal Enquiries

Please ensure that all submissions to the special issue are made via the ScholarOne Culture and Organization site. You will have to sign up for an account before you are able to submit a manuscript. Please ensure when you do submit that you select the relevant special issue (Volume 27, Issue 2) to direct your submission appropriately. If you experience any problems, please contact the editors of this issue.

Style and other instructions on manuscript preparation can be found at the journal’s Instructions for Authors page. Manuscript length should not exceed 8000 words, including appendices and supporting materials. Please also be aware that any images used in your submission must be your own, or where they are not, you must already have permission to reproduce them in an academic journal. You should make this explicit in the submitted manuscript.

Manuscripts must be submitted by 31.08.2019.

Prospective authors are invited to discuss manuscript ideas for the special issue with the guest editors before the deadline for submissions.  They can be reached via e-mail.


Alvesson, Mats and André Spicer. 2012. “Critical Leadership Studies: The Case for Critical Performativity.” Human Relations 65 (3): 367–390.

Cabantous, Laure, Jean-Pascal Gond, Nancy Harding and Mark Learmonth. 2016. “Critical Essay: Reconsidering Critical Performativity.” Human Relations 69 (2): 197–213.

Fournier, Valérie and Chris Grey. 2000. “At the Critical Moment: Conditions and Prospects for Critical Management Studies.” Human Relations 53 (1): 7–32.

Just, Sine N., Sara L. Muhr and Thomas Burø. 2017. “Queer Matters – Reflections on the Critical Potential of Affective Organizing.” In Feminists and Queer Theorists Debate the Future of Critical Management Studies, edited by Alison Pullen, Nancy Harding and Mary Phillips, 203-226. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.

Loxley, James. 2007. Performativity. London: Routledge.

MacKenzie, Donald. 2006. An Engine, Not a Camera. How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Maeckelbergh, Marianne. 2011. “Doing Is Believing: Prefiguration as Strategic Practice in the Alterglobalization Movement.” Social Movement Studies 10 (1): 1-20.

Parker, Martin, George Cheney, Valérie Fournier and Chris Land. 2014. “The Question of Organization: A Manifesto for Alternatives.” Ephemera 14 (4): 623-638.

Parker, Simon, and Martin Parker. 2017. “Antagonism, Accommodation and Agonism in Critical Management Studies: Alternative Organizations as Allies.” Human Relations, DOI: 10.177/0018726717696135, 1-22.

Spicer, André, Mats Alvesson and Dan Kärreman. 2009. “Critical Performativity: The Unfinished Business of Critical Management Studies.” Human Relations 62 (4): 537–560.

Spoelstra, Sverre and Peter Svensson. 2016. “Critical Performativity: The Happy End of Critical Management Studies?” In Routledge Companion to Critical Management Studies, edited by Anshuman Prasad, Pushkala Prasad, Albert J. Mills and Jean H. Mills, 69–79. Routledge, New York.

Wickert, Christopher and Stephan M. Schaefer. 2015. “Towards a Progressive Understanding of Performativity in Critical Management Studies.” Human Relations 68 (1): 107–130.

Editorial information