Call for papers: (Per)formative diversity: Critiques, struggles, possibilities

In continuation of previous years’ successful workshops on theories, methods, and practices of diversity, we now turn to the question of how to operationalize contemporary critiques of diversity in organization and management studies. How do we, as researchers, make the move from investigation to intervention and what are the associated possibilities and struggles? This issue is both one of engaging (critically) with practice and of critical reflection on the (per)formative effects of research/practice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 - 12:00 to Wednesday, May 9, 2018 - 12:00

The CBS Diversity and Difference Business in Society Platform invites contributions to the workshop:

(Per)formative diversity: Critiques, struggles, possibilities

The workshop takes place at Copenhagen Business School on 8-9 May 2018.

Recent developments in diversity scholarship have brought the field into close contact with theories and practices of critical performativity. As Parker and Parker (2017) have observed, there seems to be two extreme positions in the debate as to whether and how scholars may engage critically and constructively with their research topics (see also Ghorashi and Ponzoni, 2014; Ghorashi and Sabelis, 2013; Akom, 2011; Ghorashi and Wells, 2009; Staunæs and Søndergaard, 2008). One relates to what has come be known as performative diversity and engages with existing diversity practice(s) (see e.g. Holck, 2016). The other, and more common position, relates to critical diversity research; it remains at a(n) (assumed) distance and tends to have a non-performative intent. While these two positions appear to be diametrical opposites, a growing number of scholars are suggesting ways of mobilizing critical insights with performative effects for organizational practice and managerial discourse (Ashcraft and Muhr, 2018; Christensen, forthcoming 2018; Just et al., 2017; Spicer et al., 2016; 2009; Cabentous et al., 2016; Riach et al., 2016; Nentwich et al., 2015). Some researchers have suggested that such critical performativity may work as a practical endeavor (e.g. Wickers and Schaefer, 2014). However, the effort remains highly theoretical, and other scholars have criticized the attempt for being too optimistic and resulting in ‘failed performativity’ (Fleming and Banerjee 2015). This, and other tensions, is also captured by Strumińska-Kutra (2016) who explains how critical collaborative research is torn between opportunism (researchers assume problem-solving actions that will sustain or change power asymmetries), paternalism (researchers ‘know’ the nature of the problem) and paralysis (local stakeholders’ views prime).

The purpose of this workshop is for us to examine collectively our roles as researchers in pushing beyond the (seeming) deadlock of performativity/non-performativity. The call is therefore also aligned with a long tradition in feminist organizational scholarship for engaged research. Meyerson and Scully’s (1995) notion of ‘tempered radicalism’, for instance, insists on a critical edge – researchers playing the devil’s advocate – when simultaneously engaging as an empathetic partner in the practical problems and concerns raised by the participants (King and Learmonth, 2015). Tempered radicals are engaged scholars that keep a critical, progressive agenda of/for change (Hibbert et al., 2015) while establishing a ‘critical friendship’ that allows to pose questions to disrupt, challenge and hence potentially trigger bottom-up transforamtive agency. Thus, we ask how to engage critically and constructively with empirical phenomena such as organizations’ diversity practices.

In providing answers to this question, we must consider what it means to perform critique in diversity studies. Hence, it might be useful to revisit Sedgwick’s (2003) distinction between what she calls a paranoid and a reparative reading. Paranoia, whose mode of criticism would be to expose the dark sides of diversity management, as Sedgwick (2003: 130) aptly puts it, ‘knows some things well and others poorly’. Conversely, embracing the possibilities (as well as the struggles) of reparative reading, Staunæs (2016: 66-67) argues, may lead to affirmative critique as a practice of ‘worldmaking’. Citing Taguchi, Staunæs (2016: 39) explains that affirmative critique is about ‘performing a critical tracing of normative articulations and practices on a field of thinking, as well as an experimental mapping exercise that might help us narrate the reality in question differently’ without necessarily determining a specific direction. Conceived thus, critique becomes an ethical attitude with an ambition of cultivating ‘judiciousness and excellence with regard to the conduct of already existing dispositions and the challenges they present’ (Raffnsøe, 2017: 50). Critique, then, is never impartial, general or distant; it is relational and invites hesitation as well as uncertainty in meetings with ‘the field’ (Kofoed and Staunæs, 2015). Critique, as articulated by Foucault via Butler (2004), becomes about not being governed quite so much. Perhaps we need oscillations as well as mediations between paranoia and reparation?

A potential move from investigation to intervention through affirmative critique, however, poses new questions. One is related to how critical performativity becomes performative critically; i.e. how it engages constructively with everyday practices without turning the critical aspect into a caricature of itself. Relatedly, how can we foster progressive change without being cast (or, indeed, casting ourselves) as all-knowing experts? How do we create space and time for not knowing and promoting productive confusion? Of relevance to criticality in diversity studies, then, is also an appreciation of the intermingling of theory and practice as well as new materialist insights on dispersed agency as the basis of transformative work, meaning such work is not exclusively the prerogative of human subjects (McLure, 2015).

Paper topics
The following list of ideas for paper topics is by no means fully exhaustive and should only be seen as suggestive. Other related topics and themes are encouraged.

  • Moving (critical) diversity studies from investigation to intervention, what are the possibilities for translating critical diversity theories into organizational practice?
  • Installing transformative capacities in fieldwork/case organizations, what are possible obstacles and enabling factors when working with a critical diversity agenda?
  • How can we use critique of mainstream diversity management to trigger organizational change and promote more progressive agendas in the organizations we engage with?
  • And what are the potential limitations and dangers of such a practical and critical engagement?
  • What potential methods are available to critical diversity researchers when engaging with managers and organizations?
  • What are the methodological challenges involved in such engagement?
  • (How) do experiences from the field reflect back on the theorization of (per)formative diversity?
  • What are the potential theoretical contributions of such work? What are its limitations?

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Dorthe Staunæs, Aarhus University: Affirmative critique, inventive methodologies and the effects of affect
  • Martin Parker, University of Leicester: Against criticism: Putting our arms around our friends
  • Joelle Cruz, University of Colorado Boulder: Accessibility, methods and hyphenation in engaged critical research

Organizing committee
•    Sara Dahlman, Copenhagen Business School
•    Jannick Friis Christensen, Copenhagen Business School
•    Sara Louise Muhr, Copenhagen Business School
•    Sine Nørholm Just, Roskilde University
•    Annette Risberg, Copenhagen Business School
•    Lotte Holck, Copenhagen Business School
•    Sarosh Asad, Copenhagen Business School

Submission details
Abstracts of approximately 1,500 words (Times New Roman 12, single spaced, no header, footers or track changes) are invited by 1 March 2018. All abstracts will be peer reviewed, and the workshop organizers will make decisions on acceptance within a month.

Contributors may choose to draw on material from a wide range of empirical spheres, theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations. We welcome papers from all national and cross-national contexts. We particularly encourage junior scholars to submit and submissions are expected to be work-in-progress. In case of co-authored papers, one person should be identified as the corresponding author.

Abstracts should be emailed to the workshop coordinator:
•    Sean Rehn

The document should include contact information (author names, institutional affiliation and email address).

This workshop is exploratory and experimental in nature, but we acknowledge the importance of publication. We therefore encourage authors to submit a full(er) version of their paper by 15 April 2018. This is, however, not a prerequisite for taking part in the workshop.

Important dates
•    Abstract submission: 1 March 2018
•    Notification of decision: 31 March 2018 (at the latest)
•    Full-paper submission (optional): 15 April 2018
•    Registration closes: 22 April 2018
•    Workshop: 8-9 May 2018

Practical information
The workshop takes place at Copenhagen Business School on a location in the former Royal Porcelain Factory called ‘Råvarebygningen’ at the address Porcelænshaven 22, room PHRs20 (ground floor). A receptionist will greet and guide you as you enter the building, which is in short walking distance from ‘Fasanvej’ Metro station. We will send out more information on transportation and accommodation after the notification of acceptance.

Participation fee
We charge a fee of DKK500 (roughly €67) for participation, which covers coffee/tea and lunch during the workshop. Dinner on the first day of the workshop is also included and will be provided by the social-economic eatery and catering business ‘Send flere krydderier’ (Send More Spices). You will receive more information on payment, etc. when we open up for registration.

In the meantime, feel free to contact the organizers by emailing the coordinator (, should you have any questions.

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

All the best

CBS Business in Society Platform on Diversity and Difference




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