CFP | Theory as method. Methodological options for organization and management research

Call for Papers to a special issue of the Journal of Organizational Change Management on

Theory as method. Methodological options for organization and management research


Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School, France, and Kazimieras Simonavičius University in Vilnius, Lithuania
Albert Mills, Sobey School of Business, Canada, and University of Eastern Finland, Finland
Dariusz Jemielniak, Kozminski University Warsaw, Poland
Bill Lee, Sheffield University, United Kingdom


As management and organization researchers, we have a vital interest in coherent interactions between our theories and methods. Whereas some theories, such as actor-network theory, game theory, or grounded theory, are casually referred to as research methods, the idea that any theory may be considered as methods is unpopular. The dominant view is that of a separation.

Theory as method
Illustration credit: Franz Hoegl

As with other dualisms, the mere existence of two sides suggests side-taking. Since the undisputed decline of Parsons-type grand theories, the balance of power between theory and method has clearly tilted in favour of the latter. Empiricist self-definitions of science and research prevail. Even those who disagree with abuses of theories as literal pretexts to explain the world typically consider theories as tools to change it. In either context, the quality of theories is measured against non-theoretical criteria, and theories therefore do not come off well. This auxiliarization of theory can be carried to the point where methods appear as “workable substitutes” for theories and where “theory-less” disciplines “may have an edge on those with strong theory” (Esping‐Andersen, 2000, p. 60; 76). As a consequence of what may also be branded as theoretical agility or pluralism, not least critical management scholars have early observed a commodification of theory: “Shopping at Theory, Culture and Society and wearing Ulrich Beck or Michel Serres’ latest collection. And sometimes we insist that others join in too, asking them what their favourite Theory is (…). Who is most relevant is most relevant in talking aim at corporate capitalism¾Marx, Althusser or Deleuze?” (Parker, 2002, p. 183). The proposed treatment for this diagnosis, however, paradoxically is again theory-abstinence: No theory. No surprisethen that “that almost all influential theories within” management and organization theory “have been brought in from the outside, not developed within” management and organization theory (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013, p. 130).

On the other side of the demarcation line, anti-theorism has for long now been countered by equally eloquent campaigns “against method”. Here the idea is it is not theories (Pick, 2017)but methods that cage rather than capture the realities of their research fields because methods tend to preserve older, and not better, theories (Feyerabend, 1970). Perhaps this is summed up well by Law (2004), who refers to “After Method”, and by Magnusson and Szijarto (2013) who liken methodology to ideology. Much of this problematic is captured by debate around the theory-method character of Actor-Network Theory (Law and Hassard, 1999).

Both radical positions have ever since been accused of anti-scientism and provoked serious anti-anti-science backlashes (Bristow & Robinson, 2018), various attempts at triangulation (Cox & Hassard, 2005), and countless forms of retreats to the comfort zones between the extremes.

The importance of the above considerations, controversies, commitments, and compromises notwithstanding, it is noteworthy that there has always been a minority of scholars who think that the categorical separation of theory and method is a category mistake (Elias, 1978; Luhmann, 2017) not only because the “separation of method from theory can potentially lead to the misuse of the technique, a misinterpretation of the results, or simply the creation of a mutated version” (Bourne and Jankowicz, 2018, 127) of the original theory. Rather, true to this camp, theories necessarily act as methodologies as soon as they apply their own distinctions or categories not only to their research objects, but also to themselves. As such self-referential theories indicate how their observations-including their self-observations-come about, these observations can be replicated using these theories, which consequently constitute “a knowledge of the way to knowledge” as which Hjorth and Reay (2018, 11) have recently defined “method/ology”. The quality of such reflexive theory-methods would then be not in their robustness against falsification or the richness of the data they are grounded on. Neither would it be in the number of problems solved by or for these theories. Rather, these theory-methods would need to be measured against the scales and scopes of scientific problems they allow to generate (Merton, 1959).

In this special issue, it is our ambition to give voice to the small minority of researchers who think that theories positively are methods, and who are willing to explore new ways of thinking of theories in management and organization studies.

The paradigmatic scope of this CFP is diverse, and we welcome submissions on topics including, yet not limited to, the following:

  • Theories as management and organization research methods
  • Theories of management and organization research
  • Methods of theorizing in management and organization research
  • Triangulations of theories, methods, and beyond
  • Theories as methods of organized critique and resistance
  • Theories as methods of change and intervention
  • Theories as programmes
  • Theory-methods of management and organization along and beyond (false) distinctions such as theory/method; theory/practice, reality, data, etc.; or method/methodology, substance, content, etc.
  • Performativity of theoretical engagement
  • Theories as conversations
  • Ritualization of theory in journal publication
  • Theory as method of and challenge for academic career design

The manuscript submission window is open from January 1st, 2019 to July 1st, 2019. Manuscripts must constitute original research and comply with the JOCM submission guidelines, see here.


Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2013). Has management studies lost its way? Ideas for more imaginative and innovative research. Journal of Management Studies, 50(1), 128-152.
Bourne, D., & Jankowicz, D. A. (2018). The Repertory Grid Technique. In Ciesielska, M. and Jemielniak, D. (Eds.) Qualitative Methodologies in Organization Studies (pp. 127-149). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Bristow, A., & Robinson, S. (2018). Brexiting CMS. Organization, 25(5), 636-648. doi:10.1177/1350508418786057
Cox, J. W., & Hassard, J. (2005). Triangulation in organizational research: a re-presentation. Organization, 12(1), 109-133.
Elias, N. (1978). What Is Sociology? (S. Mennell & G. Morrissey, Trans.). London: Hutchinson.
Esping‐Andersen, G. (2000). Two societies, one sociology, and no theory. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(1), 59-77.
Feyerabend, P. (1970). Against method: outline of an anarchistic theorie of knowledge: University of Minnesota Press.
Hjorth, D., & Reay, T. (2018). Organization Studies: Moving Entrepreneurially Ahead. Organization Studies, 39(1), 7-18.
Law, J. (2004). After Method. Mess in Social Science Research. New York: Routledge.
Law, J., & Hassard, J. (1999). Actor network theory and after. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell/Sociological Review.
Luhmann, N. (2017). The Theory of Society as Science. Zeitschrift für Soziologie46(4), 219-248.
Magnusson, S. G., & Szijarto, I. M. (2013). What is Microhistory? Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.
Merton, R. K. (1959). Notes on problem-finding in sociology. In R. K. Merton, L. Broom, & L. S. Cottrell Jr (Eds.), Sociology Today: Problems and Perspectives (pp. ix-xxxiv). New York: Basic Books.
Parker, M. (2002). No theory. Organization, 9(1), 181-184.
Pick, D. (2017). Rethinking organization theory: The fold, the rhizome and the seam between organization and the literary. Organization, 24(6), 800-818.

Guest editors of the special issue

Steffen Roth is a Full Professor of Management at the La Rochelle Business School, France, and a Research Professor of Digital Sociology at the Kazimieras Simonavičius University in Vilnius, Lithuania. He is also an Honorary Professor of Sociology at the Yerevan State University, Armenia. He holds a Habilitation in Economic and Environmental Sociology awarded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University, and Research; a PhD in Sociology from the University of Geneva; and a PhD in Management from the Chemnitz University of Technology. He is an associate editor of Kybernetesand the field editor for social systems theory of Systems Research and Behavioral Science. His research has been published in journals such as Journal of Business Ethics, Administration and Society, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Journal of Economic Issues, Journal of Organizational Change Management,or Futures. His ORCID profile is available at

Albert J. Mills is a Full Professor of Management at the Sobey School of Business, NS, Canada, and an 0.2 Professor of Management Innovation at the University of Eastern Finland. He is the Co-Chair of the International Critical Management Studies association and former Co-Chair of the Critical Management Studies Division of the Academy of Management. He is the Co-Editor of the journal Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, serves as Associate Editor of Organization; theInternational Journal of Work Innovation; andGender, Work and Organization; and he is a member of several editorial boards, including the Academy of Management Learning & Education; the Journal of Management History; the Journal of Management Educationand several others. Albert has also co-edited several special issues of scholarly journals, including Human Relationsand Culture & Organization. His publications include 28 books, 107 chapters in edited collections, and 118 journal articles.

Dariusz Jemielniak is a Full Professor of Management at the Kozminski University Warsaw, Poland, where he heads the MINDS (Management in Networked and Digital Societies) department. Most recently, he authored of Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia(2014, Stanford University Press, winner of Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture in 2015, and the Chair of the Polish Academy of Sciences academia award in 2016), as well as Collaborative Society(2019, MIT Press, co-authored by A. Przegalinska), and Big Thick Data: Doing Digital Social Sciences(forthcoming at Oxford University Press). In 2015 he joined Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. He had extended appointments at Cornell University (2004-2005), Harvard University (2007, 2011-2012, 2015-2018), University of California Berkeley (2008), MIT (2015-2016).

Bill Lee is a Full Professor of Accounting at the Sheffield University, UK. He has helped establish academic communities interested in research methods and was the inaugural secretary – and subsequent convenor and chair – of the Research Methodology special interest group of the British Academy of Management (BAM) and the inaugural chair of the Research Methods and Research Practice strategic interest group of the European Academy of Management (EURAM). He co-edits the Mastering Business Research Methodsbook series for Sage Publications. He is an associate editor of the European Management Reviewand Qualitative Research in Organizations and Managementand a member of the editorial advisory board of three other journals. He has published widely across journals in the accounting and management fields and cognate disciplines, including in Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Omega, Organization Studiesand Work, Employment and Society.

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