Organisations increasingly dominate our lives in today’s modern society, as they have a significant influence on the way we work, interact, understand, and live our lives. We believe that it is imperative to conduct interpretive and critical research in order to contribute with up-close and in-depth interrogations of organisations, to challenge them and to change them for the better.
Our research is characterised by diverse interests in organisational phenomena such as leadership, identity, branding, change, creativity, craft, trust, night work, numbers, gamification, and knowledge work. We typically conduct our research in ways that challenge the mainstream and evoke new ways of seeing and understanding organising.
What unites us is an ambition to create meaningful research for and beyond the academic community by engaging in close collaborations with organisations, teams, and individuals – and by communicating our research in ways that reach and impact a broader audience.
We aim to contribute to society with novel ideas, theoretical contributions, provocative thinking, and rich, in-depth studies. Our group is creative, productive, and well-integrated in international research networks.
Examples of current research
Brand orientations in the public sector
Public organisations increasingly follow a brand orientation. They view themselves primarily through the lens of branding, spend resources on communicating what they do, and specifically on creating attractive and legitimate images of themselves.
Our research aims to generate a systematic analysis of organisational and societal consequences – productive as well as destructive – of the processes and outcomes of a brand orientation in public organisations. This is done through qualitative case studies of city organisations in Sweden and in the United States.
Contact: Jens Rennstam
Professionalization as a branding activity: Occupational identity and the dialectics of inclusivity-exclusivity. Gender, Work & Organization.
Branding in the sacrificial mode – A study of the consumptive side of brand value production. Scandinavian Journal of Management.
The rise and fall of an education program: The tension between academic and vocational education in business schools. The Corporatization of the Business School. Routledge.
Brand Theories: perspectives on brands and branding. Studentlitteratur.
Mimicry and artistry: Place branders’ construction of “good” branding. Communication & Language at Work.
Leadership and functional stupidity in organisations
Our researchers study structures and processes in organisations and how these contribute to or against various outcomes, with a specific focus on lack of rationality and thoughtfulness in organisation.
Our research is known by its critical awareness and empirical depth. It adds insights about problems and possibilities in managerial work and leadership. It gives input to better understandings and encourages more reflective managerial and organisational practices.
The concept of functional stupidity and the understanding of this phenomenon – limited thinking and acting outside a narrow set of assumptions and prescriptions – can encourage resistance and broader reflection, and lead to more thoughtful organisational work and better performance.
Contact: Mats Alvesson
More reading – books
- Reflexive Leadership. Organizing in an Imperfect World. (Also published in Swedish. Awarded the HR book of the year in Sweden 2018)
- Managerial Lives. Leadership and Identity in an Imperfect World
- The Stupidity Paradox. The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work. (Also published in Italian, Turkish, Chinese and Swedish)
- Return to Meaning
More reading: Interviews and news articles
- Interview with professor Mats Alvesson (Youtube)
- Mats Alvesson on corporate stupidity and what to do about it (Financial Review)
- Why smart people buy into stupid ideas: The Stupidity Paradox (Financial Review)
The meaning of work
How is the meaning of work experienced? Which types of meaning do employees see in their jobs? How does it affect employees to work in jobs that are not experienced as very meaningful? These are some of the questions addressed in this field.
In surveys, the meaning of work is usually measured employing a couple of questions whereby many conceptual nuances are lost.
In this project, we elaborate from three types of meaning:
- Individual meaning that employees personally see in the job
- Organisational meaning, i.e. whether employees feel that they are needed at the workplace
- Global meaning which depends on whether employees experience that they are contributing to the outside world through their work.
Analyzing how these types of meaning overlap among employees can offer a new understanding of the meaning(s) of work.
We currently have a project where the main aim is to identify and analyse situations at work in which employees experience a subtype of performance anxiety called “workplace anxiety”. Workplace anxiety refers to the emotional nervousness and apprehension of doing poorly at work.
Contact: Roland Paulsen
Return to Meaning (book)
Empty labor (book)
The Art of Not Working at Work (article in The Atlantic)
Arbetssamhället – hur arbetet överlevde teknologin (in Swedish)
Managing healthcare by numbers
The project ‘Managing Healthcare by Numbers’ investigates what happens in everyday work when it is managed by multiple forms of quantified control. Designed as an ethnographic case study, the project explores how numbers figure in daily work, how control by numbers affects work practices, and the implications for central goals of healthcare, especially quality of care.
Contact: Charlotta Levay
Quantified control in healthcare work: Suggestions for future research. Financial Accountability & Management.
‘We don’t like the rules and still we keep seeking new ones’: The vicious circle of quality control in professional organizations. Journal of Professions and Organization.
Gamification and serious play
The term ‘gamification’ refers to the application of game-elements to non-game contexts, most notably the sphere of work. While incentives, rewards, and competition between employees have long been a part of normal organisational life, gamification involves the implementation of digital platforms to turn mundane business activities in fun, goal-oriented tasks.
The project studies digitalized forms of gamification to understand shifts in contemporary work. It addresses two research questions: How does gamification change the nature of management in high performance organisations? How does gamification transform employees’ relationship to work? These questions focus on the managerial consequences of gamification as well as the lived experience of serious play for employees. The project provides insight into gamification, not only as a business tool to increase productivity and motivation, but also as a technology that re-engineers human relationships at work.
Contact: Sverre Spoelstra
Academics at play: Why the “publication game” is more than a metaphor. Management Learning.
Play at work: Continuation, intervention and usurpation. Organization.
Work, play and boredom. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization.
Trust, identity and ethics in the financial sector
The purpose of this project is to examine how management and employees make sense of the large scale trust crisis within the financial sector. The past years has propelled an increased interest in institution-based trust, business ethics as well as the role of identity in overcoming crisis, yet we still lack insights to the way management and employees in-situ understands and acts when faces with a crisis of moral character. This project addresses these issues with a longitudinal case study of a bank currently working to re-establish trust toward its key stakeholder after its worst trust crisis to date.
Contact: Sanne Frandsen
Behind the stigma shield: Frontline employees’ emotional response to organizational event stigma at work and at home. Journal of Management Studies.
Learning and knowledge provision
A number of research projects relates to this research theme, such as:
- The knowledge strip: The art of communicating and collaborating beyond ivory tower and market stalls through comics.
- Beyond the market stalls and ivory towers: A study on integrated science for sustainable provision of knowledge.
- Learning how to internationalize in practice – a case study of how local national firms from emerging markets acquire large multinational firms.
In focus are questions related to how different professions and industries learn, share and develop knowledge and knowing; how scientific knowledge is shared – and produced – with society; as well as how the meeting between art and science can be seen as a method for communicating science.
Contact: Anna Jonsson
Trust-based public management
We conduct research on trust as a coordination mechanism and administrative philosophy for the public sector, in Sweden referred to as trust-based public management. This line of research includes studies on professionalism, distributed leadership, psychological safety, employee empowerment and co-creation of public services.
Contact: Louise Bringselius
Styra och leda med tillit – teori och praktik. SOU 2018:38.
Professionalism and organizational performance in the wake of new managerialism. European Political Science Review
Sociology of science organisation
Science is an important institution in society, yet under strong and growing pressure from the populist questioning of expertise, bureaucratization and politicization, and the influence of business management ideology (including quantitative performance evaluation) on universities.
With basis in institutional theory and a historical view on the science-society interface, this line of research concerns various aspects of the transformation of publicly funded science and its role in society.
Contact: Olof Hallonsten
Stop evaluating science: A historical-sociological argument. Social Science Information.
On the essential role of organized skepticism in science’s “internal and lawful autonomy” (Eigengesetzlichkeit). Journal of Classical Sociology.
Managing, organising, and working at night
In this project, we investigate what is going on in and around organisations when it is getting dark outside. In organisation and management studies, daytime is usually considered the implicit and exclusive standard when developing theory on organising, managing and working. However, working at night is becoming normalized in many areas in our 24/7 societies.
Every twelve hours, the night ‘interrupts’ daytime operations and activities, which either come to a halt or continue in different ways: work tasks, numbers of managers and employees, formal regulations and also informal group norms often change, while the bodily and mental strain for people increases.
Studying these differences and related experiences in more detail and in different night contexts (traditional contexts in medical care work or factory production, the contexts of service work or self-employment, etc.) can help us gain new knowledge about managing and working in extraordinary circumstances that deviate from the usual routines.
Contact: Monika Müller
Escaping (into) the night… Organizations and work at night. Organization Studies.
Night and Organization Studies. Organization Studies.