UP:IT is the collaborative outcome of debates held at the virtual 15th Organization Studies Summer Workshop in May 2020 on the topic of “Organizing Sustainably: Actors, Institutions, Practices”. The workshop, taking place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, was not just a site for scholarly exchange about ongoing research, but also for self-reflection about how we, as a scholarly community, could organize ourselves more sustainably (e.g. through new forms of collaboration and new uses of digital technology) and could could contribute to shaping a more sustainable society (e.g. through our teaching). In this spirit, our keynote speaker and co-convenor Charlene Zietsma called on us to “reimagine” our post-Covid future in her speech.
Those of us with longer memories will recall similar exhortations to ensure we did not return to the ‘bad old ways’ that created or exacerbated our problems following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Much of that discussion was centred on what we did not want and what was wrong with ‘the system’, and too little was engaged with imagining practicable and communicable future visions that could act as a guide to transformation. The discussion at the workshop that Charlene’s plenary catalysed picked up on this recognition of the need to reimagine our futures and to engage with alternative visions of the future to help us do so. To us, it seems that we need a new utopia as a basis for what Guido Palazzo calls “a new Enlightenment movement”. Utopia is hereby not to be understood as a non-place but, as argued in this recent Conversation piece, as “a philosophy that encompasses a variety of ways of thinking about or attempting to create a better society.” Movements like “Fridays for Future” already explicitly appeal to the future as something to be shaped and enacted. One might even say that, as Wenzel et al. (2020) recently argued, there is a new obsession with the future in the light of societal grand challenges.
But how can we train our thinking, spur our imagination? How can we fill the idea of the “new normal” with a vision of a socially and ecologically responsible world rather than looking back to the old business as usual as a model? How can we inspire people – e.g. our students – to abandon dominant logics and ideas? How can we as scholars research and teach utopia? How can we work with an imagined future as data? How can we study the new normal before it exists? How can we integrate “imagination” in our theories, e.g. of institutional change? Can utopia, based on imagination, become a program for change and action? For that is our hope.
Some would say: We may start with reading. Then discussing. Then imagining. And then enriching our theories, our teaching and inspiring others. This platform is intended as a collective resource to help this process.