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ephemera – Hosting emergence with hospitality image

Article and rationale:

Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Christian Garmann Johnsen and Konstantin Stoborod (2017) Hosting emergence with hospitality, ephemera, 17(4): 733-749.

Ekaterina Chertkovskaya: Via engaging with the notion of emergence, this editorial addresses some of the aspirations we have in ephemera, and their challenges. In particular, it speaks to the difficulty of finding the balance between being open and experimental, acting as a ‘good host’ to contributions, while at the same time ensuring a high quality of what we do.

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With the intention of moving organisation studies toward a new location, we hosted the 2015 ephemera conference in Moscow. The aim was to explore different understandings of emergence. This issue, which stems from the Moscow conference, uses the concept of emergence to explore alternative politics, epistemologies and ontologies. By virtue of casting our eyes on these issues, we are, in fact, going back to the genesis of ephemera. The original vision for the journal, as stated in its very first editorial, was to ‘produce a space for the articulation of alternative models of critique’ insofar as critique ‘challenges orthodoxies, questions power relations, [and] disrupts the normal’ (Böhm et al., 2001: 4, original italics). To achieve this goal, Steffen Böhm, Campbell Jones and Chris Land – the journal’s founders – hoped that ephemera would facilitate a dialogue that would ‘interrupt and erupt’ (ibid.) by creating a space for critical discussion around organisation. For us, emergence is linked to attempts to explore alternative terrains for engaging in various practices, obtaining knowledge, organising politics and understanding the world around us.

Along these lines, we wanted to seek out other ways of exploring the concept of emergence, which offers fertile soil for grappling with alternatives due to its polysemy. Nevertheless, this endeavour entails a certain impossibility. While we intend to introduce alternative perspectives on emergence in organisation studies and academia more generally, we might simultaneously be laying the premises for how such a conversation would take place. In other words, we want to remain open to new ways of thinking about emergence, but we might have already presupposed what those ways of thinking entail. Such an approach would proceed on the basis of having unconsciously prepared for the unpreparable, expected the unexpected and foreseen the unforeseeable. However, in order to truly remain open to new ways of thinking, we must receive the unexpected, tolerate the unforeseeable and accept the fact that we might be taken by surprise. …

… This paradox is embedded in the academic discourse in which we partake. Although we strive for innovative research, we remain within an academic tradition that operates on the basis of conventions for what is considered, for example, ‘excellent’, ‘relevant’ or ‘impactful’ (Butler and Spoelstra, 2012; see also the recent special issue on ‘The labour of academia’, Butler et al., 2017). Any discourse, especially the academic one, remains governed by rather rigid conventions that deem certain utterances appropriate and others inappropriate. These are fundamental assumptions about what is right and wrong, true and false, rational and irrational – de facto, what is acceptable and what is not. This is particularly evident in the literature on, for instance, emerging economies. Paradoxically, having confronted truly unforeseen and complex phenomena (like post-colonial independent India or post-Soviet neoliberally reformed Russia), the respective fields of inquiry came up with nothing better than measuring them against the yardstick of ‘developed’ countries – that is, with the West. This was an outcome of operating within what Derrida [(2007a)] terms the ‘binary oppositions’ that govern our thinking.

In academic discourse, we always have certain expectations of what serves as a rational argument, what constitutes a solid concept and how persuasive academic writing should look. There are methodological standards, criteria of consistency, structures of argumentation and specific terminologies to which academic writing should adhere. Any discourse, as Böhm et al. (2001) recognised, following the work of Foucault, is embedded in power relations. Therefore, it is neither necessary to abandon those conventions nor easy to do away with them. Nevertheless, we should be aware of the fact that academic work, including organisation studies, proceeds with certain presuppositions, and that any new insights must both transcend and conform with those presuppositions. They will invariably confine experience to certain preconceived oppositions that prevent alternative modes of reasoning from emerging (Cooper, 1986).

In line with Derrida, we posit that our task in not only this special issue but also the field of organisation studies and academia in general is to ‘destabiliz[e] foreclusionary structures’ (Derrida, 2007b: 45). This allows for the release of new modes of experience and new ways of looking at the world – in short, that which is yet to come. The challenge is driving a wedge between the oppositions that inevitably define the field. This is not a dialectical pursuit of arriving at synthesis. Quite the opposite – we must learn to live with aporias. […]


Böhm, S., C. Jones and C. Land (2001) ‘Castles made of sand’, ephemera, 1(1): 1-11.

Butler, N. and S. Spoelstra (2012) ‘Your excellency’, Organization, 19(6): 891-903.

Butler, N., H. Delaney and M. Śliwa (eds.) (2017) ‘The labour of academia’, ephemera, 17(3).

Cooper, R. (1986) ‘Organization/Disorganization’, Social Science Information, 25(2): 299-335.

Derrida, J. (2007a) ‘A certain impossibility of saying the event’, Critical Inquiry, 33 (winter): 441-461.

Derrida, J. (2007b) Psyche – Inventions of the other, Volume I. Stanford: Stanford University Press.