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Using qualitative methods to respond to the changing nature of work

Special issue call for papers from Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

QROM Special Issue Call for Papers:

Using qualitative methods to respond to the changing nature of work

How will people work in 2040 and beyond? How do we make sense now of the societal, economic and environmental pressures that will impact work in the future? As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the world of work is facing deep uncertainty. Often descriptions of the changing nature of work fall under the umbrella of what is termed the 4th Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, characterized by technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, 3-D printing, the internet of things, nanotechnology, energy storage, big data, the cloud, robotics and so on. These technologies are seen to enable ‘smart factories’ that facilitate worker self-organization, new systems of distribution, product and service development and cyber-physical networks (Lasi, Fettke, Kemper, Feld & Hoffman, 2014). This results in, as described by Schwab (2016, np), a “blurring [of] the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres”; and therein signifies a “fundamental paradigm shift in industrial production” (Lasi et al, 2014: 239). But, the implications of such fundamental changes to organizing have much more widespread ramifications; from how people will work, to where they will work and even how work as a concept might be (re)defined (Gratton, 2011). Thus, it calls into question the very nature of ‘work’ itself (Svendsen, 2016). Therefore, we seek qualitative methodological contributions which will support researchers to study of the changing nature of ‘work’.

Subjective accounts of work date back to the early revolutionary research, which emerged from “The Chicago School”. For example, Hughes’ (1958) subjective accounts of ‘Men and their work’ and his exploration, along with Becker, of careers and professionalization (for example marijuana use as a career, Becker, 1953; and the careers of schoolteachers, Becker, 1970). However, since this initial focus there has been scant research into the concept of work in the management discipline – although the study of work goes beyond management to for example sociology and institutional economics (Barley; 1996). Barley and Kunda (2001) in their seminal article, “Bringing work back in” published in Organizational Science argue for the concept of work to be integrated back into ‘organization studies’. They suggested that work has “increasingly slipped into the background as organization theory converged on the study of strategies, structures, and environments as central and defining interests” (Barley and Kunda, 2001: 76). We see this as a useful point from which to create a discussion on work and in particular the multitude of ways we might work in the future (Barley, Bechky, & Milliken; 2017).  Thus we situate work as a contested concept in order to develop organizational and management theory (and practice) for what looks to be an increasingly uncertain business environment.

The key question we ask in this special issue is how do we as organizational scholars qualitatively study the future of ‘work’ and develop ways of understanding for both theory and practice? Future possibilities have been systematically studied since the early twentieth century (Schoemaker, 1993) and are currently undergoing resurgence most likely due to increasingly uncertain environments (Wilkinson, Kupers & Mangalagiu, 2013). With increased interest in understanding the future, the methods employed to do so are also under scrutiny and constant refinement (Hughes, 2013; Rowe, & Wright, 2011; Donohoe & Needham, 2009). Futures research methods (such as scenario planning, forecasting, the Delphi method, and so on) offer insights into future happenings, but importantly they engage imaginations (Schoemaker, 1993) providing an avenue for the future to be discussed in the present. However, these tools tend to descriptively or quantitatively outline the future, ignoring subjectivities in and on the future of work. This call for papers encourages the development of appropriate and relevant qualitative framings to make visible the experiences and perspectives on the future of work. One such analytical technique is the emerging area of prospective sensemaking (Brown, Colville & Pye, 2014; Ramírez & Selin, 2014; Selsky & Parker, 2010; Wright, 2005) which draws on sensemaking theory (Weick, 1995; 1988), suggesting that by prospectively making sense of future happenings one can better understand how to act today (Brown et al, 2014). We wish to extend and explore this and other techniques for qualitatively understanding the future of work.

Therefore, we seek papers focusing upon qualitative research on the future of work and what that means for work and workers. We are particularly seeking submissions which explore subjective accounts of the impacts on work. It is easy to talk of epoch shifts but much harder to understand the often harsh and everyday realities of that shift on work and workers. Below are a number of topics submitters could respond to. These are intended to stimulate thinking in the development of papers, therefore other relevant submissions are also invited.
•    In-depth accounts of qualitative research approaches applied in the study of the future of work and the challenges involved (e.g., what methods were used, how/why were they used, and what lessons can be learned from adopting a particular research strategy, including alternative methodologies, for example Indigenous or feminist);
•    A critical perspective on studying work futures (i.e., broadly concerned with understanding the impact of managing and organizing on human experience and life chances);
•    Qualitative research methods that showcases workers’ experiences and the methods which can be employed to bring out subjective voice (i.e., provides in-depth understanding of what people feel about the processes involved);
•    Exploring the context involved with the future of work (i.e., provides understanding of the context in which the study is conducted and the potential influence on the people under study); or,
•    Qualitative research methods that capture the experience of consumers of goods and services produced by new forms of work.

Guest Editors:

Sara Walton, University of Otago, New Zealand [email protected]

Paula O'Kane, University of Otago, New Zealand [email protected]

Diane Ruwhiu, University of Otago, New Zealand [email protected]


September 30th 2019

Submission info:

Please read the author guidelines here

All submissions should be made via the Scholar One system


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Barley, S. R., Bechky, B. A., & Milliken, F. J. (2017). The changing nature of work: Careers, identities, and work lives in the 21st century. Academy of Management Discoveries, 3(2), 111-115.
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