Sub-theme 02: The space of values and the values of space: Mobilizing frames to instantiate order


Rebecca L. Henn, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Fabio J. Petani, Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland

Call for Papers

Buildings structure social relations by making it difficult to conceive of other arrangements of architectural spaces… The politics of the design process — the interests, power, constituencies, patrons, and purposes …have been etched into the walls, floors, and doors… where they disappear. (Gieryn 2002)

How to “connect” such actions as the financing of a building, the creation of a design, and the collective dream of an ideal business education? They must be translated one into another… not only translations of words into other words — but also of things into other things, of images into other images. (Czarniawska 2004)

The design and construction of a building irrevocably connects meanings from multiple constituencies to the concrete, material world. Competing framings test ongoing suggestions, generalizing particular situations into widely accepted yet imperfectly compatible understandings of the common good. Images, ideas, desires, and interests compete within the building’s production to create a single entity that occupies a long-lasting and specific spatial location. How are multiple visions of a new building translated into images, concrete, titanium, brick, or glass? How are multiple meaning systems reconciled within the fragmented yet constrained structure of a design and construction team?

The pragmatic approach of Boltanski and Thévenot (2006/1991) pioneered a theoretical and methodological development, showing how actors are not slaves to “structuring” institutions, organizations, or habitus, but are instead endowed with an “agential” critical capacity. Actors mobilize competing value systems (i.e., “orders of worth”) to enact specific strategies, justify their views, and critique opponents’ arguments.

As values shape relations among entities, they help us understand organizing in a relational perspective: actors coordinate on the basis of a continually updated (i.e. “tested”) calculation of worth and worthlessness of the socio-material context. In this relational view, “reality is best grasped as an ordering of elements of perception through a process of construction that gives them intelligibility and meaning” where “space is a mental creation that can be used to think relationally about the physical or the social world” (Friedman 2011: 240, 243, emphasis in original).

The following questions illustrate some of the issues that papers in this stream may address:

  • Engaging orders of worth. How do actors mobilize multiple orders of worth to achieve their interests? Which orders prevail at which times during the design and construction process?
  • Engaging conflict and compromise. How do conflict and compromise emerge in a building project? “Well, what is compromise? I listened to their objections and made the building as a result more interesting. So I think the word compromise is not so pure” (Gehry 2004).
  • Spaces of value and values of space. How do values and spaces co-constitute each other in the socio-material boundary setting process (Hernes et al. 2006) of the production of space (Lefebvre, 1991/1974)? How do these values and spaces co-evolve and capture “space as process and in process” (Crang & Thrift 2000:3)?
  • Individual creator versus collective team. Does the invocation of multiple orders privilege orders that call for collectivity? “Frank Gehry worries about ideas being drained of their strength and power when they pass through too many people. [He] fears “intensity absorption,” the loss of passion as ideas move from person to person.” (Weick 2004)
  • From liquidity to crystallization. How long does the design and construction team allow uncertainties and indecision to endure? How do teams “crystallize” a conceptual design and what criteria of worth are used for crystallization? What gets lost in the process?



Boltanski, Luc & Laurent Thévenot (2006[199]): On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Crang, Mike & Nigel Thrift (eds.) (2000): Thinking space. London: Routledge.

Czarniawska, B. 2004. Management as the designing of an action net. In R. J. Boland & F. Collopy (Eds.), Managing as designing: 102–105. Stanford: Stanford Business Books.

Friedman, V.J. 2011. Revisiting Social Space: Relational Thinking about Organizational Change. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 19: 233-257.

Gehry, F. O. 2004. Reflections on designing and architectural practice. In R. J. Boland & F. Callopy (Eds.), Managing as designing: 19–35. Stanford: Stanford Business Books.

Gieryn, T. F. 2002. What buildings do. Theory and Society, 31: 35–74.

Hernes, T., T. Bakken, & P. I. Olsen. 2006. Spaces as process: Developing a recursive perspective on organizational space. In S. R. Clegg & M. Kornberger (Eds.), Space, organizations, and management theory: 44-63, Malmö, Sweden: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Lefebvre, H. 1991/1974. The production of space. Trans. D. Nicholson-Smith. Cambridge, MA: Wiley.

Weick, K. E. 2004. Rethinking organizational design. In R. J. Boland & F. Callopy (Eds.), Managing as designing: 36–53. Stanford: Stanford Business Books.


Rebecca L. Henn is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research employs organizational theory to understand shifting project teams and values such as those found in building design and construction. Her recent book Constructing Green: The Social Structures of Sustainability, edited with Andrew J. Hoffman, was recently published by MIT Press. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan (Ph.D.), Harvard (M.Des.), and Carnegie Mellon (B.Arch.).

Fabio J. Petani is a Doctoral candidate and research assistant at the Communication Sciences Faculty of the Università della Svizzera italiana, based in Lugano, Switzerland.

Posted On: June 8, 2014
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