Organisation Studies

The research group Organisation Studies of the Utrecht University School of Governance, led by prof. Patrizia Zanoni conducts critically oriented research on contemporary work, organisations and organising processes. To create public value and foster open institutions, in our work, we unpack how norms, structures, meanings, processes and practices shape organisational realities. We pay particular attention to how such realities are imposed, contested and renegotiated, leading to more or less equal relations and outcomes for those who inhabit them.

Empirically, we study organisations and organisational processes through a variety of qualitative methods including in-depth case studies, ethnography, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, visual methods, participatory action research, art-based research, and document-based analyses. Conceptually, we rely on theoretical traditions ranging from (post)marxism to feminist theory, critical discourse analysis, theories of embodiment and affect, new materialism, social movements, whistleblowing and street-level bureaucracy theories.

We conduct engaged research with the explicit ambition to support organisations and organisational practices that foster equality and create collective, as opposed to enclosed and privatised, value. As reflexive practitioners, we see ourselves as part and parcel of the social reality we study, interpret, represent, and contribute to change. We translate this vision in all our educational activities guiding students in critically assessing organizations and organising processes and encouraging them to engage and reflect on their own role as agents of social change.

Our research is organised along three research themes:

  • Identity, diversity, and (in)equalities
  • Work, ethics and power
  • Alternative organising and activist organisations

Content:

  • Identity, diversity, and (in)equalities
  • Work, ethics and power
  • Alternative organising and activist organisations
  • Social impact through education
  • Service to Key Scholarly Communities

Identity, Diversity and (In)equalities

Identity, diversity, and (in)equalities deals with the dynamics of identity, power and embodiment; the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in contemporary organisations; diversity (management) in contemporary fragmented organisations; diversity (management) and digitalisation of HRM; organising exclusion and exclusion.

Illustrative ongoing projects:

  • Body size in the workplace: Exploring experiences of fat female employees. (Noortje van Amsterdam with Dide van Eck and Katrine Meldgaard-Kjaer). This project investigates body size as a marker of diversity. It explores through in-depth interviews with self-identified fat women how in- and exclusionary workplace practices are shaped by (intersecting) ideas about size, health, gender, and appearance and the material and affective realities these are tied up with. Publication example 1, 2.
  • Working women and the menopause (Noortje van Amsterdam with Patricia Wijntuin, Anna Aalten and Josje Dikkers). Drawing on in-depth interviews with 40 women employed in higher education, this project explores how their experiences with the transition into menopause are felt and negotiated in their everyday working lives. Publication example 1.
  • The algorithmic production of the ideal employee (Patrizia Zanoni with Jannes Zwaenepoel, Koen Van Laer, Paul Boselie and Mayra Ruiz Castro). This FWO-funded research project (2019-2022) investigates the impact of the introduction of algorithmic technology in human resource management systems on the social construction and management of diversity in organisations.
  • Social connectedness in later life (Eugène Loos). The international project BCONNECT@HOME (2018-2021) is funded by More Year Better Lives (). It investigates fundamental changes in the contemporary diverse experience of later life, at the intersection of digital infrastructures, place and the experience of being connected. Publication example 1.
  • Fighting Fake News: A generational educational approach (Eugène Loos). This project focuses on the role of educational institutions to enhance the media literacy of a variety of generations to be able to evaluate the credibility of (digital) information. Publication example 1.
  • The relational dynamics of multistakeholder meetings (Sandra Schruijer): the relational dynamics as they unfold when working across organisational boundaries, as a consequence of diversity of interests, identity, power, etc., and manifested when parties actually meet (trust and its development, power dynamics, intergroup phenomena), is studied using simulations, observations and interviews. Publication example 1, 2.

Work, Ethics and Power

Work, ethics and power considers the dynamics of power and resistance in contemporary organisations; practices and ethics of employment law enforcement; tackling labour exploitation; whistleblower protection; algorithmic control and precarious employment; health and control at work.

Illustrative ongoing projects:

  • Inspectors tackling labour exploitation and human trafficking (Kim Loyens). International comparative studies (using vignettes, qualitative interviews and observations) exploring how inspectors assess cases of labour exploitation and human trafficking, as well as the role of inspector-client interactions and the broader institutional context in frontline decision-making. Publication example 1.
  • Whistleblower protection (Kim Loyens with Wim Vandekerckhove). Exploring how recipients of whistleblower reports (both NGOs and government agencies) implement whistleblower legislation. This study was commissioned by the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority, and compared whistleblowing legislation and its implementation by whistleblowing recipients in 11 countries. Publication example 1.
  • Platform capitalism, labour market inclusion and precariousness (Patrizia Zanoni). Drawing on the case of the recent Belgian law on the ‘sharing economy’, this paper develops a critique of the dominant discourse of platform-mediated work as fostering the inclusion of individuals belonging to historically underrepresented groups (e.g. women with caring roles, people living in remote areas, individuals with disabilities, etc.) into the labour market. Publication example 1.
  • Ethico-politics of resistance (Ozan Alakavuklar). This research agenda analyses how ethically driven practices challenge and confront established power mechanisms in organisational settings. Conceptualisation of ethico-politics of resistance critiques top-down managerialist ethics and opens up space for a radical, critical and bottom-up ethics. Publication example 1.

Alternative Organising and Activist Organisations

Alternative organising and activist organisations focuses on social movements and the mobilisation of precarious workers, social movements and public governance, learning from and working with/for (activist) communities; alternative ways of being, knowing and doing in academic education; non-capitalistic organisations and alternative notions of value.

Illustrative ongoing projects:

  • Re-distribution of surplus food and collective value creation (Ozan Alakavuklar). This research analyses the relationship between alternative (e.g. non-capitalist, diverse) organising practices and social value creation in the case of surplus food re-distribution by community organisations. Publication example 1.
  • Alternative union organising forms (Ozan Alakavuklar with Jane Parker). This developing research agenda studies union revitalisation through social movement unionism by drawing arguments from critical/radical theorists such as Laclau and Mouffe, and Hardt and Negri. Publication example 1.
  • Mobilising solo self-employed workers in the creative industries (Patrizia Zanoni with Marjan De Coster). Theoretically drawing from Judith Butler’s concepts of vulnerability, precariousness and the assembly, this research investigates the case of an organization that successfully mobilises project workers in the creative industries to decrease their precariousness.
  • Community engagement in academic education (Jeroen Vermeulen with Peter Linde, Danielle Vlaanderen, Gerda van Rossum, Irina van Aalst and Gery Nijenhuis). This interdisciplinary project (subsidised by the Education Incentive Fund, Utrecht University) aims to study and develop practices of "community engagement" in academic education. We work with students and local stakeholders in Utrecht neighbourhoods on societal issues using innovative forms of research in education, such as participatory action research and arts-based methods.
  • Research into Collective action’ organising and the significance of embodiment in activist work (Yousra Rahmouni Elidrissi with David Courpasson). Based on an ethnography of a non-violent climate movement organisation, the project sheds light on the centrality of the body in activist organising. More specifically, in processes of learning how to perform non-violent action through the interplay between trainings and performances, and in processes of identity control through the culture of self-sacrifice. Publication example 1.
  • The researcher’s body in the field (Yousra Rahmouni Elidrissi). Working with social movements and activist organisations necessarily brings to the forefront the question of the researcher’s positioning in the field. This project reflects on the ethnographic journey as an apprentice activist-ethnographer, examining the relevance of putting one’s body on the line(s) and attending to the researcher’s own vulnerability.

Social impact through education

We believe that equipping professionals with academic knowledge and research skills enables forms of active citizenship, which in turns fosters social change. Our vision on the close relations between education and research thus includes and extends the notion of public value creation. We are involved in Bachelor and Master’s programmes of the School of Governance as well as in the three executive master’s programmes.

Service to Key Scholarly Communities

Researchers of the Organisation Studies group are individually involved in the scholarly communities tied to conferences such EGOS, AOM, GWO, Critical Management Studies, SCOS, European Group of Public Administration, Ethnography, Human Rights and Health, and International Public Policy Association.

They also hold official roles in the following communities and journals: Board of the International Critical Management Studies Association; the Executive of the Critical Management Studies Division of the Academy of Management Association; Associate editorship of Organization; Editorial board of the British Journal of Management; Editorial collective of Ephemera; Associate editorship of Labour & Industry.

Research staff