Difference

SCOS Conference 2020: Difference
6-9 July, 2020
Copenhagen Business School
Conference website and abstract submission

Call for papers
Differences fascinate us, and they frighten us. To remain competitive, companies need to be different, but they also imitate and thus ultimately resemble each other. The same with humans: we want to stand out, to be different – just not too different. Scholars increasing pause to consider the concept of difference in their study of diverse practices. With this trend in mind, we would like to explore difference at the SCOS 2020 conference in Copenhagen, and to this end bring together organizational scholars who share a common interest in this theme. We encourage contributors to draw on the rich traditions of the social sciences, humanities and arts, as these stand at the vanguard of difference as a concept to be used in the study of social reality. Some prominent thinkers in this context include Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann, Gregory Bateson, Judith Butler, Sara Ahmed and many others. We are seeking contributions that look into how difference practices unfold in organizations and how we can begin to think differently about processes of organizing.

Our perception of difference affects our understandings of organizations and organizational processes. When we organize our world by putting things and people in boxes, categorizing them, we typically use identity as labels. Instead of identity, one could consider difference as the primary category of reality and begin to think difference in itself (Deleuze 1994). Structuralism insists that language is constituted by difference, that words are not endowed with an inherent meaning, but gain their significance by virtue of being distinguished from other terms. Poststructuralism has further argued that difference is not naturally given, but produced and performed in what Derrida calls the ‘play of difference’ (1982: 5). Similarly, system theory builds on the assumption that any system is produced through the difference between system and environment, a distinction that the system itself constantly produces and maintains. To understand a system, one should not start by identifying stable entities, but rather ‘begin with difference’ (Luhmann 2006: 38; see also Cooper 1986).

According to feminist and postcolonial scholars, difference markers like race or gender are constructed performatively. Bodies are never neutral, but gendered and racialized through historically and culturally produced categories of difference (Ahmed, 1998, 2007, Butler 1990, 1993; Braidotti, 2011; Essed 1996). A focus on how distinctions and identities are constituted and maintained serves to connect differences with ethics and politics. Arguing that certain groups tend to be favoured over others, Rhodes and Wray-Bliss (2012) call for an ethics of difference that value diversity. Kersten and Abbott suggest that we learn to tolerate difference, with the challenge being to ‘reconstruct our sense of community into one that can truly incorporate difference’ (2011: 333). This relates to organization studies because the norms for what is acceptable and unacceptable in the academic organization studies discourse are built on ethical and political presuppositions. Drawing on such reflections, we can begin to appreciate practices that allows us to ‘write differently’ (Gilmore, Harding, Helin and Pullen, 2019) and to find alternative forms of articulation that subvert dominant norms.

A failure to acknowledge the differences that animate the world can also have environmental consequences. According to Bateson, Western epistemology works on the basis of isolating things from their environment. For example, the Darwinian theory of natural selection, Bateson maintains, is concerned with understanding the survival of organisms. However, such a perspective can lead one to become preoccupied with the survival of oneself or one’s organization, and thus to forget the survival of the environment on which one’s own existence is based. This engenders a ‘man versus nature’ mentality instead of an appreciation for humankind’s interconnection with nature. A growing field of organizational environmentalism has argued that the current climate and social challenges we face should encourage us to ‘make sense of the world differently’ (Wright, Nyberg, DeCock and Whiteman, 2013: 654).

Possible themes include but are not restricted to:

  • Diversity in organizations
  • Different practices in organizations and alternative organization
  • Difference as a basis for ethics, subjectivity and self-formation
  • Organizational environmentalism and the relation between organizations and nature
  • Resisting difference in organizations
  • Doing justice to difference in organizations
  • Spaces of difference in organizations
  • Writing differently and alternative forms of academic articulation
  • Liminal spaces, social limbos and being in-between organizations
  • Bodies marked with difference
  • Hyphenated and hybrid identities
  • Borders and boundaries of/by difference

Open stream and workshops
SCOS 2020 has an open stream, our aim being to allow papers of more general interest to be presented to the SCOS community. We are also open to suggestions for workshops or similar events that address the proposed theme. Workshop outlines should be the length of a paper abstract, as well as indicate the resources and time required, the number of participants, the approach to be taken and the session’s objectives. Please indicate ‘open stream’ or ‘workshop’ on your abstract, as appropriate.

Submission of abstracts
Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be submitted using the conference webpage

Any inquires related to the conference should be directed to the email address scos2020@cbs.dk

The main organizers are Annette Risberg, Sara Louise Muhr and Christian Garmann Johnsen.

The conference will be hosted by the Department of Management, Society and Communication, the Department of Organization and the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), as well as the CBS Business in Society Platform for Diversity and Difference.

Ahmed, S. (1998) Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2017) A Phenomenology of Whiteness, Feminist Theory, 8(2): 1464-7001.
Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Braidotti, R. (2011) Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.
Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble. London: Routledge.
Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. London: Routledge.
Deleuze, G. (1994) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton. London: Continuum.
Essed, P. (1996) Diversity: Gender, color, and culture. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Gilmore, S., Hardning, N., Helin, J. and Pullen, A. (2019): Writing Differently, Management Learning, 50(1): 3-10.
Kersten, A. and Abbott, C. (2011): Unveiling the global spectacle: Difference, identity and community, Culture and Organization, 18(4): 323-335.
Luhmann, N. (2006) System as Difference. Organization, 13(1): 37-57.
Rhodes, C. and Wray-Bliss, E. (2012): The ethical difference of Organization, Organization, 20(1): 39-50.
Wright, C., Nyberg, D., De Cock, C. and Whiteman, G. (2013) Future Imaginings: Organizing in Response to Climate Change, Organization, 20(5): 647-58.

Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism