EGOS2023 ST71 – Secrecy & Transparency

We welcome your submissions to Subtheme 71 on Secrecy and Transparency at 39th EGOS Colloquium 2023 in Cagliari, Italy!

Subtheme 71: Secrecy and Transparency in Governing and Regulating a Good Life 

Submission Deadline: Tuesday, January 10, 2023 (3,000 words all inclusive)


  • Ziyun Fan, University of York, United Kingdom
  • Lars Thøger Christensen, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
  • Dan Kärreman, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, & University of London, United Kingdom

The legacy of modernity celebrates transparency as a necessary source of reason, rationality, and good governance (Vattimo, 1992). These ideals and the implied promises of accessibility, visibility, openness, inclusivity, and equality have given rise to a ‘transparency explosion’ in recent decades and a sense that secrecy might eventually be a thing of the past. Although Simmel (1906/1950) in his influential work on the sociology of secrecy argued that knowledge is partial and intertwined with ignorance and inaccessibility, secrecy is often associated with impropriety (Wilson, 1913/2011) and unfairness in ways that benefit in-groups, but harm others (e.g., Bok, 1982; see also Jung, 2001/1933). Secrecy, or the speculation of its existence, triggers a quest for more transparency.
While transparency has become the currency of our time, the assumed ‘zero-sum’ relationship between transparency and secrecy, where the rise of transparency reduces secrecy, has been increasingly problematized (e.g., Albu & Flyverbom, 2019; Birchall, 2021; Christensen et al., 2021; Fenster, 2017). The inevitable links between transparency and secrecy establish the parameters of what can be seen, imagined, and practiced in the name of ‘rationality’ in and of our contemporary society. Hence, to understand transparency, we ought to understand secrecy.
Despite being identified as an important aspect of organizational life in general and of transparency in specific, secrecy remains under-researched. Existing studies have explored secrecy and its roles in concealing trade secrets and preserving organizational competitive advantages (e.g., Hannah, 2005), in triggering conspiracy and forming the sense of stigmatization in organizational life (e.g., Parker, 2016; Wolfe & Blithe, 2015), in cultivating confidential gossip as part of the unmanaged organization (Fan et al., 2021; Fan & Dawson, 2021), and in (re)shaping identity management that (un)links individuals to an organization (e.g., Scott, 2013). Secrecy, thus, shapes our behaviour and interactions at work in ways that constitute normative orders and expectations, which in turn (re)shapes the demand for and understanding of transparency. Contemporary discussions of organizations and organizing therefore must look beyond the familiar and immediately recognizable and integrate the less observable into our thinking and understanding about the complex and challenging roles transparency plays.
Our subtheme is a call to explore new boundaries in processes of understanding the nexus between transparency and secrecy, to speak the unspoken, to reveal the hidden, as a platform to offer theoretical, practical, and policy insights and to address the broader significance of transparency and secrecy in governing and regulating a good life for individuals, organizations, and society.
We welcome papers from a range of theoretical and empirical approaches and from different cultures to discuss the possible topics and questions that could include but are not limited to the followings:

  • How could we (re)conceptualize the relationship between transparency and secrecy in contemporary democratic societies? While existing studies indicate that their relationship is ‘mutually constitutive’ (e.g., Birchall, 2021; Costas & Grey, 2016; Cronin, 2021; Fan & Liu, 2021), how should we unpack and understand such ‘mutual constitution’ in a specific (organizational) context?
  • Through the explosion of legislative and institutional reforms calling for further disclosure about the working of organizations, what might be the risks of transparency? Can transparency as a principal regulation and governance of good life lead to dysfunctional consequences? In what ways does secrecy play a role in this?
  • While transparency ideals influence legislative reforms, should transparency itself be reformed for constructive policy and organizational implications on sustainability, inclusion, and ethics? If so, how might it be? Can secrecy help?
  • Does any particular form of secrecy (e.g., Costas & Grey, 2014, 2016; Horn, 2011; Scott, 2013; Taussig, 1999) play a role in the sense-making and sense-giving process of transparency? Do specific approaches to transparency (e.g., Albu & Flyverbom, 2019) provoke particular conditions and consequences of secrecy?
  • Can we learn from historical examples and archival cases about the nexus of transparency and secrecy?
  • What is the influence of the expansion of digitalization, artificial intelligence, and big data on transparency, secrecy, and their interrelations (e.g., Birchall, 2021; Dean, 2002; Flyverbom, 2019; Stohl et al., 2016)? How should we understand the tensions between our ‘right to know’ and technological surveillance; and between privacy and security in such cases?

Looking forward to meeting you in Cagliari! Ziyun, Lars, and Dan

EGOS2023 ST64: Archival Data

Sub-theme 64: Qualitative Research with Archival Data

We continue our series of history-relevant sub-themes at next year’s EGOS.


Call for Papers

Qualitative researchers have developed an arsenal of tools for theory development, including techniques for research design, data collection, and data analysis (Grodal et al., 2021). In years past, archival qualitative data – textual traces that actors (e.g,. people, organizations or markets) leave behind when they go about their daily business – was often used as a side dish to field work – interviews and ethnographic observations – and was thus not given much methodological consideration (Yates, 2014). Today, archival research is becoming more prominent in organization studies (e.g., Aversa et al., 2021; Grodal, 2018). This recent growth has been largely spurred by the digitalization of “texts” – for example, written documents, visual representations, and physical designs (Kahl & Grodal, 2016). Some of this digitalization pertains to recent events: as our social and work lives increasingly move online, we leave digital traces of interactions both within and across organizations. Yet digitalization of data is not limited to contemporaneous data. Textual sources have been produced for centuries, and these older archives are increasingly being digitalized, providing us with unprecedent access to textual data that span both time and space. For example, all New York Times articles are now available with the touch of a keyboard, and The Library of Congress’ is steadily expanding the digitalization of its entire content. The time is thus ripe to give this important tool for theory development its deserved attention.
Drawing on archival materials presents researchers with an opportunity to extend our theories by studying phenomena from unique and unexplored angles. First, archives reflect the actions, cognitions, and meanings produced outside of the research context. In this respect, archives act as ethnographic materials in which actions and sensemaking can be observed as they occur in their natural setting . Archives can simultaneously span multiple temporal or spatial locations, allowing the researcher to transcend the physical limitations of being in multiple places at the same time. Thus we can trace organizational phenomena across longer time periods, as well as historical events no longer accessible to us, thus enriching longitudinal and process studies (Bansal et al., 2018; Langley, 1999). Lastly, archival data allows us to trace aggregate phenomena that are not readily observed with an ethnographic gaze, such as field-level studies (Ventresca & Mohr, 2002).
While archival research is increasing in prominence, we lack adequate techniques to tackle each stage of research, from sampling to collection to analysis, and lastly theory development. New challenges arises both from the heterogeneity and abundance of the archival data. First, qualitative researchers have historically drawn on snowball sampling (Biernacki & Waldorf, 1981), convenience sampling, or direct observation. These techniques arose out of the limited availability of possible sources. But the surge in archival materials now confronts us with the problem of abundance rather than scarcity. There is a nearly infinite availability of data, but our capacity to collect, analyze and theorize these data are finite. While quantitative techniques can hande such large data sets, as qualitative scholars we need to consider how we can manage this abundance throughout the research cycle, from collecting and sampling to analyzing large data sets.
Second, traditional qualitative research emphasizes data created and collected first-hand by one or a few researchers. Archival sources instead confront us with heterogeneity: Out data may have been created by multiple authors or stakeholders (sometimes anonymous), for different audiences, and presented in multiple genres (Orlikowski & Yates, 1994). In addition, digital “texts” are not only written materials; they include videos, audio, visuals; moreover, they can be paired with physical objects as well (Kahl & Grodal, 2015; Phillips & Hardy, 2002). Each text is imbued with cultural meanings that cannot be separated from its medium (Meyer et al., 2013). For example, the meaning of an emoji cannot be adequately captured through verbal description. Archival data are situated social products (Prior, 2003); they may be the subject of study (their contents) or the object of study (who created them, why, under what conditions). For this reason, archival analysis foregrounds epistemological considerations that have become taken-for-granted in qualitative field research. Heterogeneity additionally brings up questions for how we can collect and analyze such data while developing rigorous and parsimonious theories.
These are just some of the questions pertaining qualitative research using archival data that we hope to address in this sub-theme. The first goal of this sub-theme is to create a community of qualitative scholars engaged in with archival methods. Second, we aim to begin a collective conversation about the tools, techniques, and best practices that we need to tackle to collect, analyze, and theorize archival data. Studies in this track may include, but are not restricted to theoretical or empirical papers that cover these topics:

  • Reflections and/or proposed techniques for using archival methods;
  • Studies drawing on historical archives;
  • Studies that rely on contemporaneous and dynamic archives, such as a currently unfolding or ongoing event, e.g., “whistleblower files”;
  • Studies drawing on digital data, such as online discussion forums, social media, “digital ethnographies” or other sources;
  • Studies that focus on archives from a single organization, place, or single event; as well as studies that draw from multiple organizations, broad industries or field, or connect various events together;
  • Studies that use archives as a primary data source, and supplement or combine it with first-hand sources (interviews or ethnographies).


  • Aversa, P., Bianchi, E., Gaio, L., & Nucciarelli, A. (2021): “The Grand Tour: The Role of Catalyzing Places for Industry Emergence.” Academy of Management Journal, first published online on September 10, 2021,
  • Bansal, P., Smith, W.K., & Vaara, E. (2018): “New ways of seeing through qualitative research.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (4), 1189–1195.
  • Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981): “Snowball Sampling: Problems and Techniques of Chain Referral Sampling.” Sociological Methods Research, 10 (2), 141–163.
  • Grodal, S. (2018): “Field expansion and contraction: How communities shape social and symbolic boundaries.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (4), 783–818.
  • Grodal, S., Anteby, M., & Holm, A.L. (2021): “Achieving rigor in qualitative analysis: The role of active categorization in theory building.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (3), 591–612.
  • Kahl, S.J., & Grodal, S. (2015): “Multilevel Discourse Analysis: A Structured Approach to Analyzing Longitudinal Data.” In: K.D. Elsbach, R. Kramer (eds.): Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research. New York: Routledge, 373–381.
  • Kahl, S.J., & Grodal, S. (2016): “Discursive strategies and radical technological change: Multilevel discourse analysis of the early computer (1947–1958).” Strategic Management Journal, 37 (1), 149–166.
  • Langley, A. (1999): “Strategies for theorizing from process data.” Academy of Management Review, 24 (4), 691–710.
  • Meyer, R.E., Höllerer, M.A., Jancsary, D., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2013): “The visual dimension in organizing, organization, and organization research: Core ideas, current developments, and promising avenues.” Academy of Management Annals, 7 (1), 489–555.
  • Orlikowski, W.J0,. & Yates, J. (1994): “Genre repertoire: The structuring of communicative practices in organizations.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 39 (4), 541–574.
  • Phillips, N., & Hardy, C. (2002): Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction. New York: SAGE Publications.
  • Prior, L. (2003): Using Documents in Social Research. New York: SAGE Publications.
  • Ventresca, M.J., & Mohr, J.W. (2002): “Archival Research Methods.” In: J.A.C. Baum (ed.): The Blackwell Companion to Organizations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 805–828.
  • Yates, J. (2014): “Understanding historical methods in organization studies.” In: M. Bucheli & R.D. Wadhwani (eds.): Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 265–283.

Stine Grodal is a Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, USA. Her research focuses on the emergence and evolution of markets, industries and organizational fields with a specific focus on the role categories and their associated labels play in this process. Stine’s work is interdisciplinary and blends theories from sociology and psychology with strategy. She mostly draws on qualitative methods but combines qualitative analysis with quantitative analysis and experiments when necessary. Her work has, among others, been published in ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘American Sociological Review’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Academy of Management Journal’.

Anders Dahl Krabbe is an Assistant Professor at King’s College London, UK. His research focuses the evolution of markets and industries, often with attention to technological change and broader cultural trends in society. In terms of methods, Anders opts for inductive, qualitative approaches, often drawing on archival material. His research has been published or is forthcoming in ‘Research Policy’ and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.

Micah Rajunov is a PhD candidate in the Management & Organizations Department at Boston University, USA. Trained in qualitative methods, his research experience encompasses fieldwork, archival methods, and digital ethnography. Theoretically, Micah is interested in occupations, technology, and the future of work; current projects include an analysis of physicians during the AIDS epidemic, and a study on the careers of competitive video gamers.

Unlocking Archives – Unilever Historical Archives

Yesterday, Unilever kindly hosted (with additional support from the University of Liverpool) a workshop showcasing the amazing material that can be found within business archives. It was a really great day to learn more about how different researchers are using the collections and the great work by archivist who make all of this accessible to the public.

Keynote by Valerie Johnson, Director of Research, The National Archives

Business archives – a bit of a passion killer?

Valerie Johnson opened her keynote by highlighting that business archives are often seen as dull and uninteresting – to the point she was once told by a conference organizers that he had not expected her research talk about business archives to be so interesting. Nothing could not be further from the truth. For almost any subject of interest to researchers, business archives have materials, as companies were often spearheading new developments (e.g. technology), were embedded in social and cultural trends of the day (e.g. the culture of imperialism), design history (e.g. in the Board of Trade archives) to name but a few.

In a whistle stop tour through a wide range of archives, Johnson illustrated the history of women at work through an architectural map in the ING Barings Archive, and the representations of empire in the textiles archive of John Lewis, and the United Africa Company trademarks at Unilever Historical Archives.

To get a better sense of what Unilever Historical Archives do, see their
Instagram site:

Johnson closed by reiterating that business records offer magnificent materials and insights into society, technology and attitudes of the past, not just the records of business operations in the narrow sense. So she closed with highlighting the importance of:

Putting the passion back into business archives!

Snippets from archival research

The day continued with wide-ranging research presentations. The morning opened with Jeanette Strickland introducing the audience to William Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers (one half of the original Unilever), a formidable businessmen and somewhat of a micro-manager.

This was followed by Frank Thorpe, University of Liverpool, talking about advertising and beyond. His presentation is based on his doctoral thesis that investigates the changing attitudes towards personal hygiene, or “BO”, and how
products like deodorant were gendered and stigmatized at times. At Unilever, he
has researched uncatalogued material, but also used a range of online newspaper
archives to understand the context within which these adverts appeared.

Ronnie Hughes offered a different view on Port Sunlight, the location of the Unilever factory and archives, where the workshop took place, by asking a key question:

What must it have been like to live in someone else’s utopia 100 years after they died?

Walking through Port Sunlight village in the morning before the workshop, this is not unlike the question we asked ourselves – would we actually like to live here,
as beautiful as it is? As a heritage site, it has a very distinct and unique
feel, which is unlike other neighbourhoods. Hughes highlights that he has asked
communities questions about what their perfect place would look like before
starting this research project. He blogs at A Sense of Place.

Prof Matt Reed finished the morning session by outlining his search for the ‘origin story’ of the collaboration between Unilever and the University of Liverpool, which dates back to 1906, which was “multi-faceted and sporadic.”
Lever donated money to a number of departments, including Civic Design and town planning. The Department of Industrial Chemistry was particularly well aligned with Lever’s business interests. Reed finished with a reflection of the value
of searching archives versus the self-taught googling that passes for research
outside of archives.

A fascinating tour of the archives at lunchtime that featured highlights such as Marmite pants.

The afternoon sessions kicked off with Dr Rory Miller’s exploration of why David Fieldhouse’s Unilever Overseas is missing a chapter on Latin America – apparently he fell out with his research assistant. 25 years ago, Miller first visited the Unilever archives to find out what was actually available on Unilever’s business in Argentina and beyond. Perusing the directors’ visiting reports, he outlined how Argentinians rarely bought Lifebuoy soap other than to wash their dogs.

In her talk about the design process, Dr Lee Wright highlighted the potential importance of archives for the design practice and the sourcing of design ideas. In her teaching, students reference the past through images they source from Pinterest, highlighting the significance of social media sites in mediating our visual understanding of the past.

The day closed with two fascinating talks, the first by Prof Iain Jackson about the development of urban architecture in Accra, Ghana in the mid-twentieth century. While the National Archives had more material on the European settlements of Accra, within other archives, such as the United Africa Company collection at Unilever, mercantile areas such as Jamestown are much better documented. Some of his collected images are available in an online book available via (search “Accra”) here.

The workshop closed with Claire Tunstall describing their mission and how the archives has to serve many different stakeholders: internal divisions, brands and communications, outreach with schools, partnership with museums and universities and, of course, the Port Sunlight Village Trust, as well as researchers.

Hopefully, more such events, at Unilever or other major archives, will take place in the future. The workshop did not just have great presentations but also offered great opportunities to meet a wide variety of people interested in using and promoting archives.

Conference programme

10 am Registration Tea & coffee  
10.20 Welcome, introductory remarks and housekeeping
– Claire Tunstall and Jeannette Strickland    
10.30 Keynote Dr Valerie Johnson, Director of Research & Collections, The National Archives “What’s the use? Your research and business archives”
10.50 Q&A    
11.00 Refreshments    
11.15-12.30 Session 1 Chair: Prof Stephanie Decker, Aston University
11.15 Jeannette Strickland, Department of History, University of Liverpool, “Finding William Lever, the man behind the myth”
11.30 Frank Thorpe, Department of History, University of Liverpool, “Beyond the ad: filling gaps and finding new gaps”
11.45 Ronnie Hughes, Department of Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology, University of Liverpool, “Looking for Utopia”
12.00 Dr Matt Reed, Strategy Director, Materials Innovation Factory, University of Liverpool, “Turn every page”
12.15 Q&A    
12.30-2.00 Lunch
Tours of Unilever Archives available at 12.45 and 1.10                                                    
2.00-3.00 Session 2 – Chair: Dr Valerie Johnson, The National Archives
2.10 Dr Rory Miller, formerly Reader in the Management School, University of Liverpool, “The Missing Chapter in David Fieldhouse’s Unilever Overseas: Unilever’s Expansion in Latin America in the Mid-Twentieth Century”
2.30 Dr Lee Wright, Senior Lecturer in the History and Theory of Design, Liverpool School of Art and Design, Liverpool John Moores University, “The value of archives and their potential to impact current design practice”
2.50 Q&A    
3.05 Refreshments    
3.20-4.20 Session 3 – Chair: Jeannette Strickland, University of Liverpool
3.20 Prof Iain Jackson, School of Architecture, University of Liverpool, “Traders, speculators, taste makers: the United Africa Company in Ghana”
3.40 Claire Tunstall, Head of Art, Archives & Records Management, Unilever plc, “The research potential of Unilever Archives”
4.00 Q&A  
4.20 Summing up and closing remarks  
4.30 Optional post-workshop drink at the Bridge Inn in Port Sunlight

Research Assistant job

Research Assistant

Expressions of interest by 11 March 2019

What does the role entail?
As Research Assistant your main duties will include:

  • Searching for relevant literature and preparing a literature review on the key topics of the study with guidance as necessary;
  • Organising, collating and coding qualitative data;
  • Working both independently and as part of a larger team of researchers and stakeholders;
  • Supporting research activities, including contributing to research results and outputs and to the generation of independent and original ideas, ensuring a successful programme of investigation;
  • Participating in the research meetings of the research group and presenting research output where appropriate;
  • Contributing to the research culture of the School, where appropriate;
  • Continually updating your knowledge, understanding and skills in the research field.

What will you bring to the role?
As Research Assistant you will have:

  • Masters or on the final stages of the PhD in the subject areas of International Business, Management, Organisation Studies or a closely allied discipline;
  • A strong background in qualitative research;
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills, both written and verbal and the ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders;
  • Well-developed analytical skills;
  • Good time management and planning skills, with the ability to meet tight deadlines;
  • A proven ability to work well both individually and in a team;
  • The ability to work unsupervised and to use your own initiative.


The research assistant will work closely with Professor Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki and Dr Effie Kesidou at Leeds University Business School. For further info, please email:

Period of employment: March 15/03/2019 – 31/07/2019

Archival research fellowships

Archives and Special Collections at the University of Glasgow are pleased to announce that applications for new Visiting Research Fellowships working with our collections are now open. Please could list members pass on the following information about them to any eligible researchers who might be interested?

 Supported by the Friends of Glasgow University Library and the William Lind Foundation, the University of Glasgow Library is pleased to announce new annual Visiting Research Fellowships to support scholars from across academic disciplines to come to Glasgow to work on our unique research collections.

 Glasgow is proud to have an outstanding library of old, rare and unique material, including many illuminated medieval and renaissance manuscripts of international importance, and more than 10,000 books printed before 1601. It also houses extensive collections relating to art, literature and the performing arts, as well as the University’s own institutional archive which dates back to the 13th century. It is also home to the Scottish Business Archive, with over 400 collections dating from the 18th century to the modern day. More information on our collections

 About the fellowships

The Fellowships are competitive peer-assessed awards. They are designed to provide financial support towards the costs of travel and accommodation to enable researchers to work on the unique collections held in the University Library (up to £1,000 each). The successful recipients should spend between two and four weeks over the course of a year working with the collections in Glasgow.

 One Fellowship is offered by the William Lind Foundation to support research into Scottish business history, otherwise the scope of proposals in open to applicants to define.

 How to apply

Applications forms can be downloaded here and should be submitted by email to the Library Business Team by Noon on 19 November 2018.


 Archives and Special Collections
University of Glasgow Library
Hillhead Street, Glasgow, G12 8QE, Scotland, UK

0141 330 5515