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The Politics of Meaning-making / Meaning-breaking

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Organizational Ethnography

The 8th Annual Liverpool Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences

Hosted at VU University Amsterdam
28th  – 30th August 2013

Call for Papers

The Annual Liverpool Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences is a leading international forum for debate and dialogue on the theory, practice and form of ethnographic work in the social and management fields. Having travelled within the UK so far, the symposium now makes a symbolic move towards Europe’s mainland, confirming its ambitions to build a distinctly international community of ethnographic researchers. The 8th Symposium will be hosted by the department of Organization Sciences at VU University Amsterdam, where ethnography has firmly established itself as a methodology for organizational research and, more generally, as an analytical orientation towards meaning and meaning-making processes. The title of this year’s symposium hence is The Politics of Meaning-making/ Meaning-breaking.

Meaning-making or sensemaking is a prime focus in ethnographic studies. Scholars often conceptualise sensemaking as an exercise of mental ordering. Arguably, social actors’ meaning-making involves a cognitive mapping of the world. Yet, meaning-making is also a social, politicized, power-sensitive act of worldmaking in which actors try to grasp meaning for themselves, as well as attempt to make meaning for others. Instead of making sense, they may then be out to make nonsense; to remake, unmake or ‘break’ meanings of others; to deprive something of its meaning and talk nonsense; to raise commotion or to deceive by spreading misleading meanings. We may ask such questions as: do social actors search for understanding to create order or are they rather out to ‘break’ meaning? The ethnographer is trained to always surmise meaning, to interpret symbolism, to find ‘depth’ underneath surface impressions. So, could meaninglessness be the ethnographer’s blind spot? The ‘hole in a doughnut’ or, to remain loyal to our Dutch roots, in a ‘holey cheese’? This year’s symposium therefore encourages papers that explore both meaning-making and meaning-breaking efforts in the organizational world and in our explorations of it.

In keeping with past symposia, the theme for the 8th Symposium deliberately constitutes a broad canvas. We expect the precise conference themes and streams to emerge from the papers themselves. We anticipate papers that will organize themselves within and around the following illustrative topics: culture and collaboration; identity and distinction-drawing; time, space and materiality; stories and narrative; crisis and transformation; power and organizational politics; senses and ethnographic sensibility; or everyday doings and sayings. We welcome papers contributing to ethnography theoretically, empirically, and/or methodologically. We seek to encourage a diverse range of submissions, across disciplines, and particularly welcome work-in-progress from emerging scholars.

Conference Chairs

Dr. Jason Ferdinand
[email protected]

Dr. Frans Kamsteeg
[email protected]

Dr. Ida Sabelis
[email protected]

Organising Committee

Dr. Matthew Brannan, Keele University
Dr. Manuela Nocker, University of Essex Business School
Dr. Geoff Pearson, University of Liverpool Management School
Dr. Mike Rowe, University of Liverpool Management School
Dr. Harry Wels, VU University Amsterdam, Organization Sciences
Dr. Sierk Ybema, VU University Amsterdam, Organization Sciences

Keynote Speakers

Barbara Czarniawska, Gothenburg Research Institute, University of Gothenburg
Mark de Rond, The Judge Institute, University of Cambridge
Tim Pachirat, The New School for Social Research, New York (TBC)

Submission Details

Abstracts (up to 750-words), should be submitted to [email protected] in PDF format, saved as the authors surname followed by the paper title by Friday 8 February 2013. The abstracts should list all authors, an email contact and institutional affiliation details at the top of the first page. Decisions on acceptance of papers, subject to external refereeing, will be given by email by the 1st of March 2013.

We ask that delegates submit full papers prior to the conference no later than Friday 26th July 2013. Delegates also have the option to include their work on the conference website  However, this is not compulsory and submission should indicate if you do not wish your paper to be included in the website.

Best Paper Award

This year the symposium will be running a 'best paper' award co-sponsored by Emerald Group Publishing Limited, the publisher of the Journal of Organizational Ethnography with which this conference is affiliated. This award will be made at the symposium to a paper selected from among the full papers submitted to the conference webpage.

Symposium attendance fees, accommodation and registration

Attendance fee for delegates in full-time employment – £ 375.
PhD and postdoctoral research students, Emeritus Professors and/or semi-retired colleagues in part-time employment - £250

The Attendance fee includes:

  • All symposium proceedings
  • daytime refreshments and lunches
  • an informal dinner on Wednesday 28th of August
  • Gala Dinner on Thursday 29th of August.

We urge PhD students to attend the pre-conference PhD workshops on Wednesday 28th of August.


Accommodation is not included in the conference fee. Information and details of local hotels offering ‘special’ delegate rates / promotional booking reference will be emailed to delegates and posted on the symposium website in the near future.

How to Register

Delegates wishing to register for the Symposium should register and pay online via the Ethnography website: If you prefer to pay by invoice please contact [email protected], providing a purchase order number from your institution's finance department and containing:

  1. your Institution’s name
  2. a full postal address
  3. the amount to be charged
  4. any special dietary or mobility requirements.

Our accounting procedures require all of this information before we can issue an invoice.

When registering please ensure that you select the appropriate fee: standard (for those in full time employment) or reduced (for PhD and postdoctoral research students in part-time employment, and emeritus professors and/ or semi-retired colleagues). The deadline for registration is Monday July 29, 2013.

Cancellation Policy

Delegates requiring a full refund should contact [email protected] by Monday 5th August 2013. After this date refunds will be considered on an individual basis at the discretion of the organizing committee.


Queries regarding academic issues can be made to Jason Ferdinand or Frans Kamsteeg. Queries about non-academic matters should be directed to Katie Neary, conference administrator ([email protected]). Queries about the venue should be directed to Elles Bandringa ([email protected]). All information will be regularly updated on

Follow Us on Twitter: @Ethnography_LK

We look forward to seeing you in Amsterdam in August 2013!