Grand Challenges and the Rhetoric of Collective Action
This SI seeks to explore the role of rhetoric in shaping collective action for complex social, political and environmental problems, also known as “grand challenges.” The world today is in havoc; acute problems such as geopolitical conflicts, war, climate change, inequality and poverty, public health, and human rights are interwoven with significant transformations in economic, social and technological realms. Numerous stakeholders, institutions and ideologies, at the local, regional and global levels are competing for influencing public opinion and decision-makers for the purpose of impacting the public agenda and legitimizing collective action. Whereas a commonly held assumption of the relationship between rhetoric and collective action might propose that political discourse is disconnected from and largely a substitute for social or organizational action, we depart from an alternate view, suggesting that rhetoric is a prerequisite for mobilizing social movements and triggering political change.
Indeed, there is a great deal of research on how rhetoric and discourse facilitate institutional change (Cornelissen et al., 2015; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005; Brown, Ainsworth & Grant, 2012). Drawing from diverse disciplines, organizational theorists have elaborated the connection between rhetoric and organizational action in organizational communication (Orlikowski & Yates, 1994), organizational commitment (Cheney, 1983), contingency theory (Sillince, 2005), strategic management (Balogun, et al., 2014), and studies of organizational change (Heracleous & Barrett, 2001). However, management scholars’ relatively narrow view of rhetoric as a managerial tool used “primarily as a means of manipulation and control” (Sillince & Suddaby, 2008: 5) leaves us with little understanding of how rhetoric shapes collective action in addressing today’s most pressing grand public policy concerns. This is despite the fact that the so-called New Rhetoric (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969/1971) offers a variety of theoretical tools and methods to examine the wider implications of rhetoric in society, especially in terms of enhancing legitimacy of change (Drori & Honig, 2013; Sorsa & Vaara, 2020; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). Also, extant management literature echoes the need for collective action (Ostrom, 1990) for grand challenges (e.g. Bridoux & Stoelhorst, 2022; George et al., 2016; McGahan, 2021), acknowledging, however, that their very characteristic of being wicked problems (Weber & Khademian, 2008) tends to hamper joint action for a common goal.
It is therefore surprising that the rhetorical perspective is fairly absent from the debate of how to pursue collective action to address grand challenges. This lack of knowledge is critical, as by its very nature, major crises or shocks often raise heated rhetoric that is political, conflicting, and idiosyncratic. Such contesting rhetoric which is embedded in persuasive discourse that attempts to promote certain versions of a societal reality drawing on conflicting values and ideologies also contributes to sharp, sometimes unreconcilable divisions within and between societies (Freedman & Medway, 2003). Consequently, we see an opportunity to connect and integrate the currently disparate streams of research on collective action and rhetoric, as combining these theoretical traditions offers new perspectives on research on adaptive responses to grand challenges, i.e. how different categories of rhetoric emerge and how they hinder or facilitate collective action in the context of societal grand challenges. The rhetorical perspective, has emerged as both a key theoretical construct and effective toolkit for practical application in organizational and social life. Thus, it is helpful to understand strategic choices and outcomes in various setting and among diverse stakeholders and can provide insights on how social actors demarcate the boundaries of social relations to motivate collective action in navigating complex social problems with far-reaching implications (George et al., 2016; Grodal & O’Mahony, 2017).
We call for research that investigates how the current rhetoric addresses grand challenges in terms of tackling contesting public agenda and action. We encourage submissions that are theoretically rich and policy relevant, deploying different levels of analysis (e.g., individual, organizational, system), conceptualizing the issue as a multi-level process and providing ideas for innovative management and policy practices for grand challenges. We welcome conceptual and qualitative (e.g., narratives, content analysis, multiple cases, experiments) papers, but note that AMP is not a theory-testing journal. Prospective authors are reminded that the brief of AMP is to carry consolidations and extensions of scholarly debates (i.e., primarily conceptual work) with a theoretical and policy relevance. In turn, policy is broadly defined to cover all dimensions of the public realm: state, economy, society, community and/or the firm. We welcome papers from different disciplines using diverse theoretical lenses, e.g. (1) Social identity and identification theory; (2) Social movement theory; (3) Rhetoric and the public good; (4) Rhetoric and the nation state; (5) Rhetoric and public policy change, and (6) Rhetoric and Stakeholder theory. More specifically, we invite submissions focusing on (but by no means limited to) the following issues:
When you submit your manuscript online, please indicate in your cover letter that the paper should be considered for this special issue. Contributors should follow AMP manuscript submission guidelines. The submission deadline is 15 March 2023, and papers should be submitted on the AMP website at https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/amp. Do not submit your paper until 15 February 2023. All papers will be reviewed according to the standard policies of Academy of Management Perspectives. 1-2 September 2023 we will host a Paper Development Workshop at VU Amsterdam for R&R authors to develop their manuscripts. Participation in the workshop is neither a guarantee nor a prerequisite for publication. The SI is fully integrated in (1) a virtual PDW (session #710) at the Academy of Management Conference 2022, and (2) a sub-theme at the EGOS conference 2023, both run by the guest editors and entitled: “Grand Challenges and the Rhetoric of Collective Action.”
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