Personal Statements

Below are the introductory statements from each of the team members.
Check out the blog for inspirational and thought-provoking posts from these authors and more!

Elke Schuessler – Personal Statement

I started out my research career as a doctoral student at Freie Universität Berlin by studying the past and more specifically path-dependent dynamics that lead to a lock-in situation making system change very difficult. Of course, studying history more broadly and path-dependent dynamics are extremely important for understanding how we got to where we are and to learn from the past. But, then as now, I have felt that we also need to work on creating visions of the future as a potential path-breaking mechanism for societal grand challenges. We should no longer just teach our students that there might be a “business case for corporate responsibility”, even though there are ongoing “tensions between conflicting logics and goals”, but we should inspire them to think beyond the existing dominant logics as a basis for becoming agents of sustainable change and transformation. Likewise, we need to find ways of engaging, as researchers, with practice and the public to work towards and co-shape the future, as for instance the “Scientists for Future” movement proclaims.

The Covid-19 crisis has put “business as usual” temporarily on hold and has created new avenues for thinking the impossible and for imagining possible alternative futures. While the risk is there that this opportunity will be left unused, or that it it is leading us towards even more dystopian futures than previously imagined, I’m eager to try and create a platform through which we as a scholarly community can collectively imagine and enact a more just and sustainable future. The platform hereby offers multiple and intersecting opportunities. First and foremost, we as scholars can have an impact through our teaching, so the platform is intended as a collective teaching resource for courses dealing with sustainability-related topics and grand challenges. I developed my first collaborative teaching platform in response to the Covid-19 crisis and felt it was hugely satisfying to bring together the collective expert knowledge by scholars by colleagues from different universities in different countries, thus challenging the by now dominant logic that universities need to compete with each other – a logic that has created many burnt-out and frustrated scholars in search of the highest publication and citation scores, unlikely to act as inspirational role models for a better future. Second, the platform can be a collective site of reflection and learning – it contains book and article recommendations, book reviews and up-to-date blog posts on topics related to utopian and transformative thinking, which can serve as an inspiration for everyone.

Markus Helfen – Personal Statement

I work as a research fellow in the Department of Management, School of Business & Economics, Freie Universität Berlin. Within the area of Human Resource Management & Labour Politics I do research in the fields of employment relations and organization theory Setting a focus on collective action and institutional work in interorganizational settings, my current topics and projects include global labour standards, work and employment in multi-employer work arrangements as well as sustainability studies.

I am very proud to be on the kickstarting team for the #UP:IT #imaginingtransformations blog together with such an inspiring bunch of colleagues. Why? As academics in the social sciences, we are trained perfectly well in analyzing data and theorizing about these. Unfortunately, most well-known procedures connected to this sort of activity are directed towards the past, although coming very close to the present, occasionally. However, for informing the future-oriented demands of societies confronted with change and transformation, this sort of “backwardness” may just not be enough. We also need imaginative reasoning, informed speculation and scenario-thinking. For me, a platform like the “Utopia Project: Imagining Transformations” comes at the right time to engage collectively in forging our future-looking tools.

My hope for the utopia platform is that it facilitates a broad, collective debate on how to envision new solutions for the many problems the sustainability crisis brings along. For me, this involves thinking also about how to make societies and organizations more resilient and robust, but much more how to make them more inclusive, participative and diverse. I can only invite everyone interested in these and similar issues to join the bandwagon and come along with us. And, I would be very glad if the utopia platform contributes to turning the current crises into a window of opportunity for building bridges towards a better future.

Andi Pekarek – Personal Statement

I’ve long been fascinated by how people work. In particular, I’ve sought to understand how collective action by workers can steer the world of work in a more sustainable direction, towards fairness and social justice.

Everyday struggles between workers and employers are often underpinned by broader visions for alternative, better models of society – that is, by utopias. Utopian visions of work provide a benchmark against which to evaluate current conditions; they also light the way ahead, and implicitly encourage gradual, practical steps towards positive transformation.

Utopias, or ideal worlds, are important for social change: they articulate a goal worth striving for. Today we face many urgent social challenges – including climate change, inequality, human rights – which are attracting strong interest from scholars in organization studies and beyond. To tackle these challenges, collective action is vital.

I see UP:IT as a small step – in the spirit of prefigurative politics – to build greater momentum for positive change. Through this platform, we seek to connect and share insights, develop a repository of knowledge, examine practical alternatives, and fuel imagination. By bringing our own work into this collective realm, I hope that together we can articulate shared visions and explore steps towards realizing them.

Rick Delbridge – Personal Statement

I am a Professor of Organizational Analysis at Cardiff Business School and have previously held senior research management roles at both the school and at Cardiff University (here). I have always felt that part of our role as academics is to try and improve the lot of our fellow citizens, particularly those who are disadvantaged. In my early career I did quite a bit of work for trade unions, both reporting on my research into the impact of ‘lean production’ on workers and also giving presentations and contributing to training programmes. And throughout my career, I have self-identified as a critical and even Critical management researcher. In the early 2000s I was an ESRC/EPSRC Advanced Institute of Management Research Senior Fellow and we worked hard in that initiative to try and make our research accessible and relevant to practitioners, including senior managers. As John Brewer says in his book on public value (see here), we need to work with the powerful elites of society as well as the disadvantaged if we are to try and catalyse sustainable change. John’s work helped shape my own thinking on this, as did Michael Burawoy’s, and while working as a senior manager I have tried to help create new institutional spaces where colleagues can work collaboratively across disciplines and with practitioners to address societal challenges. Working with my good friend and former Dean of Cardiff Business School, Martin Kitchener, and drawing on the collective wisdom of many colleagues, we have developed a school that is committed to delivering public value (see here). As University Dean of Research, Innovation & Enterprise, I have led the creation of the world’s first Social Science Research Park, (SPARK) , a physical space designed for and dedicated to inter-disciplinary collaborative research and impact that will see researchers and external partners co-located to develop a shared enterprise and commitment to addressing societal challenges. The SPARK concept was developed with Adam Price, then of Nesta and now leader of Plaid Cymru (a major political party in Wales which advocates independence) (Nesta paper). Adam and I also collaborated to create Y Lab, a partnership between Cardiff University and Nesta that works with public services organizations in Wales to build innovation and research capacity (Y Lab). I hope the UP-IT platform will bring together people who want to imagine a better world and are willing to collaborate in various ways to try and see that come to fruition.

Charlene Zietsma – Personal Statement

I’m Charlene Zietsma, Associate Professor of Management & Organization at Smeal College of Business, Penn State University. My research focuses on social and organizational change. I explore contexts in which management research can impact societal grand challenges such as sustainability, poverty and social justice. Primarily grounded in institutional theory, I focus on the multilevel interplay of the people who try to make or oppose change, the social structures that constrain and enable them and the processes involved in social change efforts. I have looked at the dilemmas involved in big-system change from various vantages including interactions among individuals, within organizations, between organizations, within and between fields, and up to the macro societal and field structures that pattern behavior. I am an International Research Fellow with the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, and I have previously held Chair of Excellence and Distinguished and Visiting Scholar positions at the Universidad Carlos III, Madrid, University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, University of Liverpool, Nottingham University, Ningbo, China, Queensland University of Technology and University of Queensland, Brisbane. I serve as a Senior Editor for Organization Studies, a Field Editor for Journal of Business Venturing, and I am on the editorial boards for the Academy of Management Journal and Academy of Management Review.

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