The City: Regenerating Management and Organization?

Professor Nigel Thrift, Warwick University, UK
Professor Barbara Czarniawska, Göteborg University, Sweden
Philip Jeck, Sound artist


The city is becoming an obligatory point of reference in studies of management and organization. There are global-cities, postindustrial cities, dream cities, narcissistic cities, alphabet cities, and even messian-icities, to name just a few. According to Baudelaire, in the modern city the ‘marvelous envelops and saturates us like the atmosphere’ to create a lyrically intense dreamworld that for many remains suspended between imminent catastrophe and proliferating on-going repair and sprawl. In his writings on Invisible Cities Italo Calvino picks up on this and notes that ‘Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else’. In terms of size and population, the concentration of productivity and wealth, there can be little doubt that cities have come to dominate the global economy. At the beginning of the 20th century only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities; by 2000, an estimated 50%. In every hour Delhi grows by an addition of 47 people; Manila by 60; London acquires a rather more modest number of inhabitants growing by 12 individuals each year, whilst Moscow, by contrast, loses an average of 6 people every hour (Moriconi-Ebrard, 2000).

One typical approach is to treat the city as a context or a background, a space, a frame or place within which organization is formed. Factories, schools, banks, hospitals, police force, churches, etc. might all be considered discrete organizations located in the space and time of a particular city. In cities people variously work, shop, walk, form ‘encounters’, interaction rituals, and seek what Goffman (1967) calls ‘vicarious fatefulness’, ‘distraction’, and ‘killing time’. The city is also the site of the mob, the unruly mass, collective protest, barricades and the infamous massacre. It is at the heart of the ‘society of the spectacle’, and its street life a system of desire. On the other hand cities are not simply the space within which organizations are located – a simple background or frame; the city is organization – verb and noun. Like the arterial network of the human body, transportation systems regulate the movement of vehicles such as bicycles, buses, cars, lorries, railroads, wheelchairs, and air-traffic. Road, rail, and footpaths are all specific ‘organizations’ in their own right, but crucially they also must inter-relate and interact in ways that allow cities to be ‘organized’. Cities are literally traffic in motion – a complex, emergent and cyclical phenomena, perhaps a leviathan or doppelganger that seems to live and breathe a rhythm all of its own.

Context and text, subject and object, cause and effect, the city is a complex space and time within which to conceive, practice and possibly understand organization and its management. What are the coming ‘stories’ of organization in times of an emerging global airport city, in which we travel without ever seeming to arrive, as we reside in the postmetropolis ‘end of the city’ (Soja), or dwell in the simulacra of cities that appear to roll up on themselves and take their leave from any shared sense of ‘the social’ or ‘the real’? From Park Forest to South Park, we can be sure that ‘the city’ continues to regenerate organization, but perhaps in ways that we are still waiting to discover.

Papers are invited that address the question of organization and city, and which may include the following:

·       The City as Spectacle – a space of consumption, sport, leisure, entertainment, festivals, the shopping mall, ‘fashionable cities’

·       Organizations in the city – the brothel, hospital, hotels, prisons, dance-halls, clubs, ‘street corner’ societies, housing estates, skateboard parks

·       The symbols and artefacts that allow the city to happen – traffic lights, street markings, lampposts, elevators, the subway, one-way streets, police officers, bouncers, taxis, rules and regulations

·       ‘Cities on the edge’ – terrorism and the city, secret societies, secret agents, cabals, factions, plots and counter-plots that haunt as shades in modern cities

·       The City as a space of ‘encounters’ and ritual interactions – enclaves and sub-cultures, dwell time, waiting, ‘hanging-out’

·       The Crowd and the multitude, the riotous mob, the unruly mass

·       Temporary Autonomous Zones, Reclaim the Streets, the ‘capture’ of the city

·       Alternative Geographies and mappings of Organization and the City

·       Digital Cities, Information Cities, Imaginary Cities, Virtual communities, The Liquid City

·       Alphabet Cities – The city as text, graffiti, tag lines, hieroglyphics, signs, ciphers, cryptograms, insignia …

·       Psycho-geographical mappings of the City

·       Studies of particular cities or comparative studies that treat the city as an example of organization – Athens, Rome, Cairo, Harare, Lagos, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Baghdad, Persepolis, Mumbai, Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo …

·       Global, Postmodern Cities – the Cities of the Future

·       Dream Cities or the Nightmare City – accidents, waste, pollution, decay, violence, distress

·       City Planning and the Organization of Urban Living

·       Myths, Traditions and Histories that organize and disorganize cities

·       The City as Action-Net – heterogeneous and interorganizational networks

·       The Industrial and Post-Industrial Organization of Cities

·       Tactile, the somatic, the olfactory, and other sensual dimensions of cities

·       The city as a mapping of sex, desire, acoustic footprints …