Sub-theme 19: The Liminality of Organizational Spaces


Professor Peter Case, James Cook University, Australia
Michal Izak, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom
Professor Pauline Leonard, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Harriet Shortt, University of the West of England, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Recent reflections of organizational theorists suggest that the boundaries between organizations and the outside world are weakening (Paulsen and Hernes, 2003; Tempest and Starkey, 2004) and that work and private spheres are converging (Hochschild, 1997). Social stability is perceived as fleeting, ‘liquid’ and marked by a deracination of social actors (Bauman, 2001, 2000). Subject inexorably to transience and occupying in-between states, individuals, groups, organizations and institutions are increasingly conceptualized as assuming liminal status.

The concept of the ’liminal’ – originally meaning of or pertaining to a threshold in the physical sense, already connotes the spatial in terms of a boundary, border or transitional landscape (Andrews and Roberts 2012). Simmel (1997) expanded the concept to include psychic spaces of possibility, thus embracing not only the spatial but the temporal; a transitional period which marks both a beginning and an end, as well as duration. Anthropologists speak about ‘a liminal period’, i.e., the stage of transition following the ‘separation’ from an initial social context and preceding the ‘reassimilation’ into society upon the endowment of a new status (van Gennep, 1909/2004). Sociological reflection has focused on the ‘social ambiguity’ and ‘structural invisibility’ of the subject during the liminal period (Turner, 1967, p. 95). In the liminal phase, no entitlements and no new sources of authority emerge, since no stable coordinates are anchored in social perceptions.

That liminal spaces resist classification (Rottenburg, 2000) means they may tend toward a materialization of aporia or disorganization; however, they have also been shown to be highly organizationally productive spaces, associated with creativity (Clegg et al., 2004), improvisation and negotiation, (Zabusky and Barley, 1997), as well as with creating room for political agendas (Sturdy, Schwartz and Spicer, 2006).

Despite increased academic interest in advancing new understandings of liquid and fleeting social realities as well as in proposing new ways of dealing with the transience of relationships, emotions or frameworks in organizational contexts, the topic of liminality of organizational spaces is relatively under researched. We would like to invite papers addressing this issue from a range of theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches.. Relevant questions might include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • How does the concept of liminal space enhance our understanding of organizational processes and practices?
  • Which new (liminal?) organizational spaces and/or forms may emerge from liquid modernity?
  • How can the spatial liminality of organizations be studied empirically and what are the methodological consequences of such studies?
  • How can liminal spaces be conceptualised theoretically? How do relations of power articulate within liminal spaces?  <
  • What role can liminal transience of established categories play in ideological representations of organizational ‘reality’?


Andrews, H. & Roberts, A. (2012). Liminal Landscapes: Travel, Experience and Spaces In-Between London, Routledge.

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman, Z. (2001). The Individualized Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Clegg, S.R., Kornberger, M. & Rhodes, C. (2004). Noise, Parasites and translation: theory and practice in management consulting, Management Learning, 35(1), 31-44.

Czarniawska, B. & Mazza, C. (2003). ‘Consulting as liminal space’, Human Relations, 56(3), 267–290.

Garsten, C. (1999). Betwixt and between: temporary employees as liminal subjects in

flexible organizations, Organization Studies, 20(x), 601-617.

Gennep, van A. (1909/2004). Rites of Passage. London: Routledge.

Hochschild, A. (1997). The time bind: when work becomes home and home becomes work. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Paulsen, N. & Hernes, T. (2003). Managing boundaries in organizations – multiple

perspectives. Houndmills: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Rottenburg, R. (2000). Sitting in a bar, Studies in Cultures, Organizations, and Societies, 6(1), 87-100.

Simmel, G. (1997). Bridge and door in Frisby, D and Featherstone, M (eds), Simmel on Culture (London: Sage, 1997), pp 170-74.

Sturdy, A.J., Schwarz, M. & Spicer, A. (2006). Guess who’s coming to dinner? Structures and uses of liminality in strategic management consultancy’, Human Relations, 59(7), 929-960.

Tempest, S. & Starkey, K. (2004). The effects of liminality on individual and organizational Learning, Organization Studies, 25(4), 507-527.

Thrift, N. (1997). The rise of soft capitalism, Cultural Values 1(1), 29–57.

Turner, V. (1967). Betwixt and between: the liminal period in rites de passage, In: Forest of symbols: Aspects of the Ndembu ritual. Ithaca: Cornell Univrsity Press.

Zabusky, S.E. & Barley, S. R. (1997). You can’t be a stone if you’re cement: reevaluating the emic identities of scientists in organizations’, Research in Organizational Behaviour, 19(x), 361-404.

Peter Case is Professor of Organization Studies at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, UK, and Professor of Management at James Cook University, Australia. His research interests include philosophy and theory of organization, organizational ethics and international development. Belief and Organization (with Heather Höpfl and Hugo Letiche, 2012, Palgrave) is his most recent book.

Michał Izak, PhD is Lecturer in Management at University of Lincoln. His research interests include different genres of discourse analysis; fiction as a reflection of organizational dynamics and organizational storytelling. He is a member of editorial board of Organization Studies, a guest editor of forthcoming issues of the journals Futures and Tamara as well as a co-editor of an edited volume Organizational Storytelling: Untold Stories (Routledge, forthcoming).

Pauline Leonard is Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Work Futures Research Centre, University of Southampton, United Kingdom. She has longstanding research interests in all issues of work, organization and diversity and the ways in which organizational spaces intersect with social identities and work performances.  She has published widely in this area including Negotiating Gendered Identities at Work: Place, Space and Time (with Susan Halford 2006, Palgrave).

Harriet Shortt is a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England.  Her research interests lie within the field of critical organisation studies, visual research methods, organisational space, aesthetics and identity. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals including Management Learning and the International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion.

Posted On: June 8, 2014
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