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Emergence and Spread of ‘Unconferences’ as a New Temporary Organizational Form

Lampel, J., Banerjee, A. ORCID: 0000-0001-8961-7223 & Bhalla, A. ORCID: 0000-0001-5436-9485 (2020). Emergence and Spread of ‘Unconferences’ as a New Temporary Organizational Form. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 67, pp. 61-78. doi: 10.1108/S0733-558X20200000067008


Extant research mostly looks at the process of how temporary organizations proliferate within a single organization field. This study examines temporary organizations that emerge in one organizational field and are then introduced into other organizational fields. We argue that when this occurs, organizers must contend with the illegitimacy threat posed by temporary organizational forms that have long been institutionalized in the other fields. Organizers must decide whether they should accept the threat and retain the original form of the temporary organization, or whether they should modify the new temporary organizational form in order to make it more acceptable to audiences in other organizational fields. We argue that organizers will use legitimacy claims from the organizational field in which the temporary organization first emerged to mitigate the threat of illegitimacy. We further argue that the effectiveness of this strategy will depend on similarity in norms and beliefs between these fields: The more similar the organizational fields the more persuasive are the legitimacy claims, and the easier it is for the organizers to retain the form as it was first created; the more dissimilar are the organizational fields when it comes to norms and beliefs the harder it is for organizers to persuasively use these legitimacy claims, and the more organizers will have to modify the temporary organizational form to take account of audience expectations. We examine this using the case of the so called “unconferences”: an alternative conference form that emerged within the software development community at the start of the millennium in conjunction with the Web 2.0 movement. Our data comprises of 228 distinct unconferences between 2004 – when the unconference was first launched, and 2015. We examine the influence of organizational field dissimilarity of unconferences from the original field where it was first held, on the extent to which the pure unconference format is retained. We show that as adopters of the new form move away from the original organizational field, they are more likely to modify the original unconference form.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited
Publisher Keywords: New temporary forms of organizing, legitimacy claims, unconferences, diffusion of new temporary organizational forms
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School
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