Artfulness in the organisational playground – an introduction by Rob Warwick.

‘Artfulness in the organizational playground’ is the subject of the special issue, Issue 1 2022 of the Action Research journal. A school playground and artfulness may seem to be unusual topics when it comes to organizational life.

What follows is a summary of Special Issue team’s original call for papers. It outlines and contextualizes the special issue which we began three years ago. Our invitation was in part as follows: 

“As communities of people working toward a shared purpose, organizations play a vital role in creating and nurturing regenerative and sustainable societies (Bradbury et al., 2019). We bring our entire selves to our organizational and community work, not only the rational and logical parts of who we are, but also our creative, intuitive, relational, and artistic abilities in their many forms.

We are interested in what Heron and Reason call ‘wider ways of knowing’ (Heron & Reason, 2008) under the banner of being artful in organizational life. Chris Seeley and Ellen Thornhill capture this in their publication the Artful Organization when they pose the broad question of ‘how we come to know, how we cultivate our imaginative and perceptual capacities and what we allow to inform our decision-making in pursuit of creating more sustainable systems, structures and organizations?’ (Seeley & Thornhill, 2014, p. 7). That is not to say that our creations are always sustainable or good, and there too we can have a debate particularly around the ethics of our choices.
In the organizational playground, what if we were to see the participants’ practices as a form of artistry?

The term playground is used to illustrate the point that organizations are not entirely rational places (Flyvbjerg, 1998) driven by logic. On the one hand they can be creative, imaginative, and childlike places, but for some it might bring memories of coercion, oppression, and power.

There are a number of connecting facets to this invitation to explore and show; these include:

• How our organizational life can be influenced and understood by our appreciation and creation of paintings, music, sculpture, and other art; also how we can use our understanding of organizational life to influence art ( Becker, 2008; Klee, 1925; Taylor, 2004).

• How we bring our entire selves to the work that we do, when we enter a room and strike up a conversation; in short, how we hone ourselves as an instrument of our artful practice with others (Sennett, 2008).

• How we pay attention beyond the purely logical and rational, for example fear, hope, excitement. They too are a part of what it is to be human (Bloch, 2013; Samra-Fredericks, 2004; Smollan et al., 2010).

• How we can pay attention to different facets of artful knowing beyond episteme of scientific knowledge for example delicate empiricism, phronesis, metis, abduction, tacit knowing, withness ( Hahn & Vignon, 2019; Letiche & Statler 2005; Mullins 2002; Polanyi, 1958; Shotter, 2005). For example, how we pause and to create space for conversations that might not otherwise happen and to notice their effects.

• And, as a meta theme, how our reflexive choices that come to influence thought and practice come to influence our declarations of truth (Cunliffe, 2009; 2016; Johnson & Duberley, 2003).”

Three years on, we are delighted to see how author-finalists responded to our invitation. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work closely with all the contributors of this Special Issues.

On AR+ you’ll find the team’s editorial, along with interviews and performances from some of the authors, plus blogs that describe the papers, each with links to the five finalists’ papers:

We hope that these will inspire your own artful action research! We now invite you to read the special issue editorial and the papers of the special issue here:

The editorial team

  • Rob Warwick, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, University of Chichester, UK
  • Sujata Khandekar, Founder Director, CORO-India
  • James Traeger, Director of Mayvin and Professor of Practice in Leadership and Management at Ashridge-Hult Business School, UK
  • Maria Soledad Riestra, Doctoral student at Ashridge-Hult Business School, UK

Becker, H. (2008). Art Worlds – Updated and Expanded (25th Anniv). University of California Press.
Bloch, M. (2013). Types of Shared Doubt in the Flow of Discussion. In M. Pelkmans (Ed.), Ethnographies of Doubt – Faith and Uncertainty in Contemporary Societies. I.B. Tauris & co.

Bradbury, H., Waddell, S., O’ Brien, K., Apgar, M., Teehankee, B., & Fazey, I. (2019). A call to Action Research for Transformations: The times demand it. DOI: Action Research17(1), 3-10

Bradbury, H., Glenzer, K., Ku, B., Columbia, D., Kjellström, S., Ortiz, A. O., Warwick, R., Traeger, J., Apgar, M., Friedman, V., Hsia, H. Chuan, Lifvergren, S., & Gray, P. (2019). What is good action research: Quality choice points with a refreshed urgency. Action Research, 17(1), 14–18.

Cunliffe, A. (2009). The philosopher leader: on relationalism, ethics and reflexivity-a critical perspective to teaching leadership. Management Learning, 40(1), 87–101.
Cunliffe, A. L. (2016). On becoming a critically reflexive practitioner. Journal of Management Education, 28(4), 407–426.
Fisher, K., & Phelps, R. (2006). Recipe or performing art? Action Research, 4(2), 143–164.
Flyvbjerg, B. (1998). Rationality and Power – Democracy in Practice. Chicago University University.
Hahn, C., & Vignon, C. (2019). Management education from episteme to phronesis: The contribution of French didactic theory. Management Learning, 1–18.
Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2008). Extending epistemology within a co-operative inquiry. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research (Second). Sage Publications.
Johnson, P., & Duberley, J. (2003). Reflexivity in Management Research. Journal of Management Studies, 40(5), 022–2380.
Klee, P. (1925). Pedagogical Sketchbook. Faber and Faber.
Letiche, H., & Statler, M. (2005). Evoking Metis: Questioning the logics of change, responsiveness, meaning and action in organizations. Culture and Organization, 11(1), 1–16.
Mullins, P. (2002). Peirce’s Abduction and Polanyi’s Tacit Knowing. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 16(3), 198–224.
Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal Knowledge – Towards a Post – Critical Philosophy. Chicago University University.
Samra-Fredericks, D. (2004). Managerial elites making rhetorical and linguistic “moves” for a moving (emotional) display. In Human Relations (Vol. 57, Issue 9).
Seeley, C., & Thornhill, E. (2014). Artful Organisation. Ashridge Business School.
Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftman. Penguin. 
Shotter, J. (2005). Understanding Process From Within: An Argument for ’Withness’-Thinking. Organization Studies, 27(4), 585–604.
Shotter, John. (2005). Goethe and the Refiguring of Intellectual Inquiry : From ‘ Aboutness ’ -Thinking to ‘ Withness ’ -Thinking in Everyday Life. Janus Head, 8(1), 132–158.
Smollan, R. K., Sayers, J. G., & Matheny, J. A. (2010). Emotional Responses to the Speed, Frequency and Timing of Organizational Change. Time & Society, 19(1), 28–53.
Taylor, S. S. (2004). Presentational Form in First Person Research. Action Research, 2(1), 71–88.


Picture Credit: On and On, 1951 (serigraph), Gershgoren, Milton (1909-89) / Dallas Museum of Art, Texas, USA / Tom Gooch Memorial Prize (Dallas Print Society, Dallas Art Association and Leon A. Harris, Jr.), 1st Annual Dallas National Print Exhibition, 1953 / Bridgeman Images