Tapiwa Seremani defends his dissertation « Maintaining and challenging institutionalized forms of exclusion: Agency, institutional work and postcolonialism ».

The oral defense will be held on Wednesday, March 8th, 5pm (room 1112).

Jury:

  • Ignasi Marti Lanuza (Principal Supervisor), EMLYON Business School, France
  • Bernard Forgues (Committee Chair), EMLYON Business School, France
  • Stewart Clegg (External Advisor), University of Technology, Sydney , Australia
  • Marc Schneiberg (External Advisor), Reed College, USA

Abstract:

Drawing from the rich heritage of studies of exclusion in studies of organizations, this dissertation focuses on exclusion and the institutional structures that sustain and reproduce it. Addressing this relationship between institutions and exclusion inherently involves factoring in questions about power, vested interests and agency as institutions invariably reflect and reproduce the interests of powerful actors (Levy & Scully, 2007; Seo & Creed, 2002; Clegg, 2010). Different social orders create different forms of power in relation to different issues (Haugaard, 2003), hence enabling empowerment or inclusion as well as disempowerment and exclusion via structural constraints. From this perspective institutions are not to be seen as politically neutral monoliths but as outcomes of negotiations, power struggles and differently embedded interests (Fligstein 2001; Lawrence, 2008: p. 173; Oliver, 1992: Schneiberg, 2013). As such, in this dissertation, we shed light on how actors with different interests may influence the institutional arrangements around them, in process either escaping or propagating different forms of exclusion embedded in the institutions around them. We center our study on the former system of racial segregation in South Africa, Apartheid.

Apartheid was a system designed to systematically exclude non-white South Africans from all spheres of life. Whilst apartheid officially ended in 1994, its influence continues to be felt in some spheres of life. Specifically, we study two aspects of the continued exclusion in South Africa, public spaces and land ownership. We are interested in understanding how some apartheid era practices and institutions prevail despite the formal end of apartheid. We want to better understand the preservation of such vested interests in a context of change. Thus, the broad research question that guides the inquiry of this dissertation is: how do dominant actors who benefit from existing institutional arrangements react to preserve their interests in the face of impending institutional change?

Our findings point out several things. First, we illustrate how incumbent actors may preserve their interests via actions of agenda setting when institutional change becomes inevitable. We show this with the case of the continued skewed land ownership in South Africa. Second, we show that sometimes actors may temporality escape institutional pressures and situations of exclusion without necessarily any strategic action or calculation. In some moments institutions are simply “put on pause”. We show this with our analysis of interactions in a public space. Finally, we highlight the challenges facing postcolonial theory’s attempts to give voice to previously silenced non-Western perspectives. We argue for the importance of paying greater attention to questions about epistemology to create an even basis for the inclusion of previously excluded perspectives in OMT. We introduce the notion of “epistemological third spaces” as an initial step in this direction.

We contribute to the growing questions being raised about over-rationalized notions of agency as the only sources of escape from institutional demands. In so doing we highlight blind spots in approaches such as institutional work and institutional entrepreneurship. We also highlight the role of power in influencing outcomes of conflicts over institutional forms. We highlight how agenda setting, power in the second dimension (Lukes, 2005), can be deployed to influence the directions in which challengers channel their efforts. Incumbents may do this to preserve their vested interests whilst allowing some components of the institutional fabric to be altered by challengers. Finally, we also contribute to the growing calls for the creation of a more inclusive management scholarship in general. With the notion of epistemological third spaces that we have advocated for, we contribute to calls to pay greater attention to epistemology.

Photo credits: Gossipguy