The European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) held its 32nd annual colloquium in Naples, Italy during July this year. Mike Ward was supported to attend this conference by the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University and provided this brief trip report.
The theme of this year’s EGOS conference was Organising in the Shadow of Power and the constant presence of Mount Vesuvius, the reputation of the Mafia, and the many castles and forts in the area were constant reminders of the different forms that power can take. Over 2300 people attended the conference from 50 countries with the vast majority representing business schools from Europe and North America. Over 1600 papers were presented in 64 parallel sub-themes.
As the conference organisers noted “power can be more visable, institutionalized, and legitimate, but also hidden, anarchic, illicit and even violent, erupting suddenly and disrupting organizational life like a volcano…”. Within this broader theme I attended sub-theme 33 on Activity Theory and Organisations in which over 20 papers were presented on current work being informed by Cultural Historical Activity Theory, Expansive Learning and the use of Change Laboratories. This theme was organized by Yrjo Engestrom, Zlatko Bodrozi and Annelisa Sannino and presentations covered contexts as diverse as schools and colleges in Europe, South America and North America, social marginalization and innovation, healthcare, social movements and big business.
Despite the invitation in the overarching theme of the conference to grapple with issues of power I was left with a sense that a great deal was left unsaid about the role of business schools in supporting and legitimating current business practices and the resultant inequality and environmental degradation evident in the presentations that were made. As I walked around the ruins of Pompeii and up Vesuvius on the day after the conference I could not help but wonder whether the hundreds of thousands of people now living in the shadow of Vesuvius (the only active volcano on mainland Europe) provided some insight into the way that we deal with powerful forces. “This fatalism in the shadow of the Vesuvius’s power invites more reflection on whether and how power and resistance can be ignored or disregarded (as some organizational theorists do) and how, if dormant for long periods, they can surface periodically with unpredictable consequences.” (EGOS, 2016)
Two presentations during the conference really highlighted for me some of the emerging responses to the power of capitalism. The first was a sub-plenary entitled “Is Institutional Theory of any (practical) use? The case of Social Innovation”. The organisers were caught completely off guard as hundreds of people crammed into the venue looking for, I think, examples of how organizational and institutional theory can help to change the world and support social innovation and entrepreneurship. The second stand out event for me was a keynote within the Sub-theme that I attended by Paul Adler. This presentation opened up a very big picture (a broadly Marxist critique of big business) and challenged those of us working with Activity Theory to locate our work more explicitly within these big systems.
This raises a big challenge that hopefully will be taken forward into the conference next year which will take place in Copenhagen and focus on “The Good Organisation – Aspirations, Interventions and Struggles.”
For more information see the EGOS Website: http://www.egosnet.org/