Organization theory is a vast domain in research and practice where different elements interact, originating a unique setting for multidisciplinarity. Organizations are convenient microcosms where we can observe economic, social, political, and technological dynamics unfold and interact.

As scholars and artists alike have noted in the past, organizations are the fabrics of social life; according to Chester Barnard, the very way in which our species progresses in its evolution. As organization theorists affiliated with ASSIOA, we have grown into a vast community of ideas and approaches to reflect the multiplicity of interests, issues, and dilemmas to be explored within and across organizations.

Our journey toward ever greater richness is continuing and our WOA is a recurring landing point to share what puzzles us and recognize the existence of a community of interests and practices which is lively and supportive.  Our conference is a chance to know what others are working on, to develop new ideas and create commitments in order to promote new research together.

Alongside these elements common to any conference, our WOA is an occasion to reflect on what we share, our identity as scholars and reinforce it by being aware of where we come from and where we are heading.

The twentieth WOA will engage scholars in a conversation on the interplay between identity and pluralism at a time when many changes are challenging what we know. Technology is reshaping the meaning of division of work and coordination, and even the borders of what is human in and around organizations, anticipating the emergence of robots and machine-based agents. Global socio-demographic processes are leading to massive migration processes and changes in the focus of economic processes. Societal values are changing the habits and patterns of consumption and the use of resources. Many other challenges are waiting for us to consider them in our theorizing and researching.

The next WOA will explicitly invite each of us to reflect on identity and pluralism both across our paper tracks and in selected panels where we will discuss what lies ahead of us in the light of where we have come from.

What is identity

Identity is a dynamic concept at the intersection between what’s inside and what’s outside, defining the differences across that border. All identity building processes unfold sharing this characteristic; be it the evolution of any human being, the professional development or the evolution of a community identity like the one shared by all among us and founded on an event: the 1982 national congress of the Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale in Taormina.

The identity of organizational scholars is multifaceted, because it inherits much from many pre-existing fields of science. Originated in the application to practitioners’ issues and challenges organization theories have struggled to improve their scientific status, at times sacrificing the ability to have a practical impact on society.

At this time of rapid and unprecedented social, political and economic shifts, we believe that researchers have the obligation to consider how to strengthen the balance between rigor and relevance to fully take part in the changes which are occurring according to a socially responsible view of scholarship. Such a view requires to leverage rigor to address important issues, which may lie also at the border between our traditional domain and novel and even more diverse streams of research.

On this basis, we ask everybody to engage in a reflexive conversation across the traditional areas of our annual meeting:

  • organizational models,
  • people,
  • processes,

in order to collectively define where we stand in relationship to the great challenges of our times, and how we plan to interact within our identity and across its boundaries embracing a fruitful and responsible role in our universities, local communities and national settings.

Identity, pluralism and the never ending question of means and ends

As researchers and teams of research, we are the product of an inimitable journey affected by our encounters and the context where they have taken place, originating the unbelievable variety we share when we meet in our yearly conference.

Our research stems from this unique background to address specific questions, but this background influences how we define our goals and how we plan to pursue them in terms of methodology and utmost finality.

In the unfolding of our previous experience with our present interests, we are constantly dealing with the paradoxical question of how means and ends should be seen to interact. Should we continue to believe we can keep them separated? Or should we realize they are not and therefore we are playing a greater role than we perceive? Finally, should we consider that we are path dependent and what we research is bounded to our background?

The WOA in Palermo sets the stage for a collective reflection on three corners of this multiple dilemma:

  • What are the (legitimate) sources of organizational knowledge?
  • How are research conversations socially constructed and how are they influenced by different context (global, European, local)?
  • What is a (legitimate) research agenda in organization theory and when is it trespassing into different domains?

In order to transfer the issues at stake, the sources require us to investigate the relationship between organization theories and other neighboring domains, among which for example, Organizational Sociology, Industrial Organization, Economia aziendale, Work and Organizational Psychology, or even apparently secluded domains like Neurosciences, AI, Biotech, etc.

As for the research conversations, we have moved from being a mostly national community in the early nineties to a globally well-connected community. In this process, we have somewhat neglected our role in local communities, and it is probably time to reconcile these two relevant aspects of who we are, bringing to the global attention issues which are connected to our local sensibility and creativity.

As for the research agenda we need to redefine how we set the boundaries between organizational theory and other domains, not to exclude, but to make any inclusion meaningful. We need to decide for example whether any research taking place in organizations is part of our domain or not. In the wake of an unprecedented technological shift this requires also to consider the role of technology, in the form of AI and RPA.

All these issues are made extremely relevant (and the last one even more), because of a set of circumstances:

  • we have finally completed the transition to a community where (almost) all scholars have gone through a formal PhD program;
  • we have experienced a plural world of research with many different approaches
  • we have reached a size that may make us an important component of the institutional research setting here in Italy
  • we are global in our research ambitions

It is time to grow, our friends! We need to decide how we can help our colleagues define a research path which is global, but renders justice to what is original in our setting, and we need to make Italy (and WOA) an attractive venue for discussing what lies ahead in organization theory.

Our WOA in Palermo literally embodies these changes in a city which is both strong in its identity and plural in its historically becoming, having been one of the first melting pots of the Mediterranean sea.

Once again we expect that Palermo can be the cradle for a creative dialectic between identity and pluralism, but we need to be conscious actors of this process dedicating time and effort to prepare ourselves for this event.

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