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Time and temporality in and around organizations

Time has an important role as a tool for societies to organize and coordinate their activities (Adam, 1990; Clark, 1985; McGrath and Rotchford, 1983). Although there is a wide body of research covering time in organization and management research, there are few studies on temporality. When time is reflected in research then according to Lee and Liebenau (1999, p. 1035-1051), these studies represent “time-related research” and missing “research on time.”   

Keywords: time, temporality, continuity, change, time orientation, event-based analysis

Topic

Research on time and temporality aims to make a distinction between time and temporality viewing time as active and dynamic, embedded in events, and temporality as an on-going purposeful effort to create one’s time and keep up one’s sensed continuity in time. Further, viewing social actors and their actions as immersed in the flow of time presupposes that for sustaining continuity in organizations the connections across the past, present and future are maintained tactfully. It is important to emphasize that the process of linking the past and future in the present is an on-going process (Schultz & Hernes, 2013). 

 

The view of event-based time accounts for an active view of time and gives it agency (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Hernes, 2014) by stressing that time as events is enacted. Based on that view, actors are not observing time in events (Adam, 1990; Clark, 1985) and neither do they arrange events sequentially (e.g., Jay, 2013; Langley et al., 2013; van Oorschot et al., 2013). Instead, they are in events, and in events, they take part in the on-going construction of events, including the one they are in (Hussenot & Missonier, 2016). Being in events means that actors are in the on-going present (Schultz & Hernes, 2013), where the simultaneous enactment of the past and expected events is allowing transcendence of events (Griesbach & Grand, 2013; Hussenot & Missonier, 2016).

 

The working assumption is in the flow of time; continuity is sustained in organizations through the continuous interaction of different temporalities. The different temporalities of human actors, actions, identities, and meaning structures form together the organized social context, which in turn shapes the possible trajectories of the different temporalities (Hernes, 2014). Sustaining actual and sensed continuity requires skillful management of different temporalities to avoid unnecessary conflicts between competing temporal perspectives (Gurvitch, 1964/1990; Reinecke & Ansari, 2015). The skillful management of different temporalities demands that, first, these different temporalities are recognized, and second, that their interdependencies are understood.

 

Paying attention to time and temporality in their different manifestations is bound to alter our comprehension of organizations and organizing. The role of time and temporality in organizational settings is much more important than often thought, offering new interesting and rewarding avenues for research. A temporal focus applies to several areas of research and organizing, including organization studies, entrepreneurship, innovation studies, individual and organizational decision making, business history, strategy, management, and leadership.

Possible research topics

Potential topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Events, transcendence of events and time in events
  • Agency of time (in events)
  • The dynamics of temporal agency
  • Continuity as an on-going balancing between stability and change
  • Narratives and temporal experience
  • The nature of temporal experience in organizations
  • The nature of temporality of organizing
  • Leadership as imagining different pasts and futures
  • Strategic change as the enactment of different past and future events

Possible research questions

This view of time as active and enacted in events invites a fresh approach to study organizational life allowing to ask, but not limited to, questions such as presented below. Doctoral students are welcome to choose and work with one of the following questions:

  • How transcendence of events may suddenly change possible event trajectories and create surprises?
  • How the agentic nature of time and transcendence of events may impact temporality of organization or organizing through their impact on strategizing, leadership, decision-making, learning, narrating, sensemaking, and innovating?
  • How do actors use both their immanent and distant past for projecting different futures?
  • How do actors bring distant past horizons and long future horizons into decision-making processes?
  • How do actors create, maintain and change their temporal trajectories?
  • How do differences in time horizons, pacing, speed and acceleration between actors influence their interaction and mutual impact?
  • How does a view of actors embedded in time enable other constructs (such as organizational identity, culture, strategy, change, and leadership) to be understood differently?
  • How, in the flow of time, is continuity sustained in organizations?

Approach

Following a temporal-processual-phenomenological theoretical framework case study approach based on observations, in-depth interviews and qualitative textual analyses of archival data are welcome. Also, collaborative studies either in the form of ethnographies or action research are recommended. 

PhD candidate profile

Candidates who wish to join should have a relevant master degree in management, business administration or sociology as well as some experience in organizational life. Candidates should demonstrate enthusiasm for working with a topic related to time and temporality; they should have interest and readiness to collect and work with qualitative data; they should have an eye to recognize interesting real-

life organizational problems or dilemmas and be willing to question established taken-for-granted assumptions. 

Collaboration

Time and temporality in organization studies is relatively recent but quickly spreading topic attracting wide scholarly interest. Numerous sessions and symposiums at Academy of Management (AoM) annual conferences and a standing working group at European Group of Organization Studies (EGOS) annual colloquium is the evidence of that growing interest. Thus, there is a growing network one is welcomed to join. Center for Organizational Time at Copenhagen Business School is the closest hub with extensive international

contacts.

Expected outcome

The outcome of the project will consist of a number of research papers that will form the contents of the PhD dissertation. The project is designed to result in publications in leading field journals in management, organization theory, organizational behavior or organizational psychology depending on the chosen research direction. 

Relevance

Societal relevance
Paying attention to time and temporality in their different manifestations is bound to alter our comprehension of organizations and organizing. While developing a more dynamic and expansive model of time, we can improve our understanding of the reciprocal relationship of organizations in one hand, and the society with its economic and institutional setup, on the other.  While recognizing different temporal orientation and trajectories, we can anticipate the possible developments and mitigate the risk of unintended consequences. While understanding how actors enact their past and future to create their present we can better understand how this enactment creates actors’ organizational and societal reality. 

Scientific relevance
The role of time and temporality in organizational settings is much more important than often thought, offering new interesting and rewarding avenues for research. Paying attention to time and temporality in research allows us to move away from time-free theories and explain dynamic processes both in the organizations and societies. A temporal focus applies to several areas of research and organizing, including organization studies, entrepreneurship, innovation studies, individual and organizational decision making, business history, strategy, management, and leadership.

References

Adam, B. (1990): Time and Social Theory. Oxford, UK: Polity Press.
Clark, P. (1985): “A review of the theories of time and structure for organizational sociology.” In: S.B. Bacharach & S.M. Mitchel (eds.): Research in the sociology of organizations, Vol. 4. Bingley: Emerald, 35–79.

Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998): “What is agency?” American Journal of Sociology, 103 (4), 962–1023.
ethnography.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 29, 63–77.

Gurvitch, G. (1964/1990) The Problem of Time. In Hassard, J. (Ed) (1990) The sociology of time. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 35-44.

Hernes, T. (2014): A Process Theory of Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hussenot, A., & Missonier, S. (2016): “Encompassing Stability and Novelty in Organization Studies: An Event-based Approach.” Organization Studies, 37 (4), 523–246.

Jay, J. (2013): “Navigating Paradox as a Mechanism of Change and Innovation in Hybrid Organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 137–159.

Langley, A., Smallman, C., Tsoukas, H., & van de Ven, A.H. (2013): “Process Studies of Change in Organization and Management: Unveiling Temporality, Activity, and Flow.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 1–13.

Lee, H. and Liebenau, J. (1999) Time in Organizational Studies: Towards a New Research Direction. Organization Studies. Vol. 20, No. 6, 1035-1058.

McGrath, J. E. and Rotchford, N. L. (1983) Time and behavior in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior. Vol. 5, 57-101.

Reinecke, J. and Ansari, S. (2015) When Times Collide: Temporal Brokerage at the Intersection of Markets and Developments. Academy of Management Journal. Vol. 58, No. 2, 618-648.

Schultz, M., & Hernes, T. (2013): “A temporal perspective on organizational identity.” Organization Science, 24 (1), 1–21.

van Oorschot, K.E., Akkermans, H., Sengupta, K., & van Wassenhove, L.N. (2013): “Anatomy of a Decision Trap in Complex New Product Development Projects.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 285–307.
 

 

Supervisor: Associate Professor Kätlin Pulk