Sub-theme 52: [hybrid] Perfectly Imperfect Organizing: The Beauty of Incomplete Calculative Practices

Elena Giovannoni
Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
Jan Mouritsen
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Paolo Quattrone
Alliance Manchester Business School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Hybrid sub-theme!
For further information on hybrid sub-themes, please click here.

Organization scholars have for long been interested in the role of numbers, algorithms, quantifications, and metrics as a means for organizing (see, e.g., Kurunmäki & Miller, 2013; MacKenzie, 2006; Miller & O’Leary, 1987). Scholars have attempted to unpack the affordances and powerful effects of calculative infrastructures, as they have come to permeate core aspects of the organization and of its environment (Kornberger et al., 2017). Bit coins, blockchains, IT systems and data management techniques, smart grids and contracts, financial models, pricing and valuation systems, modern accounting, performance metrics, etc., are all capturing the attention of organization and management scholars as these systems and infrastructures are often drawn upon by managers as the ultimate solution to their concerns, transforming objects and organizing problems into data, quantities and calculative accounts that can be ultimately aggregated, combined and, again, transformed (see, e.g., Alaimo & Kallinikos, 2021).
However, the beauty and power of quantifications does not come from the order that their calculative rationality seems to offer, but rather it comes from the possibility for them to connect seemingly unrelated phenomena in never-finite ways, creating stupor and wonder through these connections and through the never-ending discovery that they enable. Rather than coming from perfect and complete structures, prior studies have related discovery and innovation to lacks (Kostera, 2000), silences (Bigo, 2018), absences (Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2018), hiding hands (Hirschman, 1967), incompleteness (Busco & Quattrone, 2015; Yu & Mouritsen, 2020), negativism (Quattrone, 2016), luck (Barney, 1986) and even ignorance (Gross & McGoey, 2015).
A greater effort is needed from organization scholars to uncover the mystery, wonder and illusions behind contemporary calculative structures, exploring the discovery that these structures enable because they are ‘beautifully imperfect’ and not because they ‘define’ – that is ‘bring to an end’ – organization reality. Rather than trying to address gaps and fill lacunae through calculative solutions we need to understand the infinite possibilities that the empty spaces of imperfect structures open, turning imperfection into a pragmatic form of management that have chances to work and persist because it never achieves closure and rather builds on ambiguities and imperfections (e.g. Meyer, 1986).
In this sub-theme, we are interested in imperfect data, numbers, accounts, algorithms, mathematical structures, and calculative infrastructures (Quattrone, 2009; Kornberger et al., 2019) behind contemporary organizing systems (including blockchain, big data, ERPs, accounting techniques, performance metrics, etc.), exploring the beauty of the illusion, wonder, utopia that their imperfection creates. In particular:

  • We are interested in the beauty of incompleteness, and the unintended consequences that emerge from lacks, silences, absences, ambiguity, and ignorance behind 'perfectly imperfect' calculative practices and infrastructures.

  • We welcome ways for studying the ‘negative’ (i.e. what is not there) and turning it into a non-positivist and pragmatic form of management, which works in practice and has chances of delivery because it builds on imperfection.

  • We wish to discuss whether this imperfection may create opportunities for a new form of utopia based on 'perfectly imperfect' numbers and calculations, rather than on the search for perfection, rational choices and taken-for-granted norms of behaviour and social ordering.

By building on these reflections, we are interested in submissions that touch or extend this necessarily incomplete list of questions:

  • How can we understand the infinite word of opportunities, discovery, wonder, mystery, illusion, silence and absences, enabled by the imperfect calculative practices at work within and across organizations?

  • What are examples of imperfect organizing and management calculative practices and how do they really work within organizations?

  • How do organizational members and stakeholders engage with imperfect data and accounts?

  • What are the mechanisms for turning the negative effects of gaps, lacunae and incompleteness into a ‘perfectly imperfect’ organizing?

  • Is a pragmatic form of management based on incompleteness possible? How?

We welcome contributions from a variety of disciplinary, methodological, and theoretical perspectives, and we also welcome critical, historical and interdisciplinary approaches looking into the beauty of incomplete calculative practices from a pragmatic, inherently incomplete, point of view.


  • Alaimo, C., & Kallinikos, J. (2021): “Managing by Data: Algorithmic Categories and Organizing.” Organization Studies, 42 (9), 1385–1407.
  • Barney, J.B. (1986): “Strategic factor markets: Expectations, luck, and business strategy.” Management Science, 32 (10), 1231–1241.
  • Bigo, V. (2018): “On silence, creativity and ethics in organization studies.” Organization Studies, 39 (1), 121–133.
  • Busco, C., & Quattrone, P. (2015): “Exploring how the balanced scorecard engages and unfolds: Articulating the visual power of accounting inscriptions.” Contemporary Accounting Research, 32 (3), 1236–1262.
  • Giovannoni, E., & Quattrone, P. (2018): “The Materiality of Absence: Organizing and the case of the incomplete cathedral.” Organization Studies, 39 (7), 849–871.
  • Gross, M., & McGoey, L. (eds.) (2015): Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies. London: Routledge.
  • Hirschman, A.O. (1967): “The principle of the hiding hand.” Public Interest, 6 (10).
  • Kornberger, M., Bowker, G.C., Elyachar, J., Mennicken, A., Miller, P., Nucho, J.R., & Pollock, N. (eds.) (2019): Thinking Infrastructures. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.
  • Kornberger, M., Pflueger, D., & Mouritsen, J. (2017): “Evaluative infrastructures: Accounting for platform organization.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 60, 79–95.
  • Kostera, M. (2000): “A letter from the empty stage. Studies in Culture.” Organizations and Societies, 6 (1), 1–5.
  • Kurunmäki, L., & Miller, P. (2013): “Calculating failure: The making of a calculative infrastructure for forgiving and forecasting failure.” Business History, 55 (7), 1100–1118.
  • MacKenzie, D.A. (2006): An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Meyer, J.W. (1986): “Social Environments and Organizational Accounting.” Accounting, Organization and Society, 11 (4/5), 345–356.
  • Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (1987): “Accounting and the construction of the governable person.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 12 (3), 235–265.
  • Quattrone, P. (2016): “In search of what accounting is not: Speculations on the future of valuing, transparency, and a new aesthetics for governing capitalism and democracy.” In: B. Czarniawska, T. Söderberg & R. Söderberg (eds.): A Research Agenda for Management and Organization Studies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 11–25.
  • Quattrone, P. (2009): “Books to be practiced: Memory, the power of the visual, and the success of accounting.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34 (1), 85–118.
  • Yu, L., & Mouritsen, J. (2020): “Accounting, simultaneity and relative completeness: The sales and operations planning forecast and the enactment of the ‘demand chain’.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 84,
Elena Giovannoni is Professor of Accounting at Royal Holloway University of London, UK, where she is the Director of the Centre for Critical and Historical Research on Organisation and Society (CHRONOS); she also holds a position as researcher at the University of Siena, Italy. Her research interests focus on accounting and performance measurement systems in their social, cultural, historical and organizing context. Elena’s work bridges critical and historical perspectives on accounting, organizing and material practices. She has published her research in accounting journals and in organization studies.
Jan Mouritsen is Professor of Management Control at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. He is interested in meetings between accounting, technology, knowledge, innovation, information technology, artificial intelligence, and organisational decision making. Jan’s work is interdisciplinary and focuses on the roles and consequences of calculative practices in and between organisations and society.
Paolo Quattrone is Professor of Accounting, Governance and Society at the Alliance Manchester Business School, where he also leads the Centre for the Analysis of Investment Risk, and Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. He is interested in how calculative practices, visualizations and other material practices inform decision-making, shape institutions and define social orders, especially when organizational actors face radical uncertainty and ambiguity. Since September 2021, Paolo is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the EGOS journal ‘Organization Studies’.