Kerstin Sahlin

EGOS Honorary Member 2020

Laudatio by Marie-Laure Salles-Djelic

Dear Kerstin, dear friends and colleagues,
I cannot say how happy and emotional I feel about this moment. I have been asked to pronounce the laudatio in honor of Kerstin Sahlin as she is becoming an EGOS Honorary Member 2020.
As a good Weberian, I should disclose from the start where I come from – Kerstin Sahlin has been for many years now one of my closest co-authors, intellectual partner and friend. I owe her an amazing number of positive turns and developments in my own career and life. In fact, I often think of her as a sister. This does not mean, I can assure you, that this Laudatio will be “biased” in any way – it will just help you understand why I feel so happy and emotional about pronouncing it. And I would like to thank my colleagues and friends on the EGOS Board for giving me the opportunity to do it.
There are many sides to Kerstin that need to be brought to the fore in an exercise like this one. And I will try to do so in a very limited amount of time.
I will start with Kerstin, the researcher. There is a very long thread of contributions and publications in Kerstin’s resume – all of it being highly relevant, and I would even say sitting at the core of our EGOS intellectual community. Let me just give here an impressionistic view of these contributions. First, there is the Kerstin that has made a huge contribution to the field of decision making in Public Management and Public Administration, building there on a wellestablished Scandinavian tradition and contributing significantly to our understanding of this important turn when private solutions to issues of decision making and organizing have come to progressively colonize the state and public administration. As Kerstin shows in her work, what we now general call the New Public Management turn has a longer history and started before NPM was itself formulated, packaged and diffused as a complex dispositif. While working on the mechanisms through which this colonization took place, Kerstin has become one of the major pillars and contributors to what has come to be termed and known as “Scandinavian Institutionalism”. She has made huge contributions to a sophisticated understanding of diffusion processes and paths that reconciles diffusion with concurrent processes of hybridization, localized appropriation and creolization – she has been key in the development of what some of you may know as translation theory.
Both through empirical observations and key theoretical pieces, she along with a few others has brought significant sophistication to early neo-institutional theory, which for those of you too young to remember used to be rather simplistic initially in its theoretical propositions. Neoinstitutionalism as we know it today – and it undeniably has a huge impact within our community – would not be what it is without Kerstin’s contributions. Kerstin’s contributions have had a strong impact in Europe naturally but also on the North American neoinstitutional family, many members of which are regular attendees at EGOS Colloquia.
A third thread of work I would like to mention here is the one on Transnational Governance – which we developed in part together. The idea was to apply the same kinds of theoretical tools and frames to the dynamics of rule-making beyond national borders. Again, this has become an influential perspective within our community. I could go on for quite some time but let me finish by underscoring Kerstin’s very important contributions to our understanding of institutionalization and de-institutionalization dynamics in our own world, the world of academia and universities. Here again this is an important theme for our community, and Kerstin has made major contributions there, both empirical and theoretical.


I would like now to say a few words about Kerstin the community builder and community actor. Kerstin creates and animates communities. If I was pushed to summarize who she is in a few words this is what I would focus on. All her PhD students, post-docs and young colleagues present in our virtual room today could testify to her amazing qualities at fostering nurturing spaces and dynamics – where all benefit from rich and inspiring intellectual exchanges and collaborations but also from a very comforting and human spirit. Some would use words that I refuse to mobilize here – but Kerstin knows how to create communities that generate a sense of security and well-being for participants, allowing them as a consequence to take risks and give the best of themselves. She nurtures a spirit of collaboration that stays on between members of those groups even when she is not around anymore… It’s those qualities of community builder and engager that explain the strong role that Kerstin has played in the world of European academia and universities, beyond the intellectual contributions I mentioned before.
In parallel to her hugely important contributions to research, Kerstin has always been involved in different kinds of management and organizing positions. She was the Director of Score – The Stockholm Center for Organizational Research – for a number of years, she was Deputy-Vice Chancellor of Uppsala University, Secretary General of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Representative at the European Science Foundation Standing Committee for the Social Sciences, and she is currently the Chair of the large Humanities and Societies Initiative of the WASP (Wallenberg Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous System and Software Program) within the Wallenberg Foundation. Kerstin has also been one of the major actors behind the development of SCANCOR (Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research) where she was for many years member of the Board. She has also been a very active driver of the development of the Scandinavian Academy of Management Community. She has been sitting on numerous boards of universities (CBS, Oslo…) and scientific councils of multi-disciplinary and often international research projects or doctoral schools…
I really cannot do justice here to all her many engagements. But I want to underscore how connected all this is to our EGOS community. Kerstin is a long-standing EGOSian. In a very direct way – she has been regular presenter throughout the years, she has run sub-themes, she has been involved in pre-Colloquium activities of different kinds, she sat on the EGOS Board for a number of years. But she has contributed even beyond this very direct involvement – her role at SCORE, SCANCOR and in many other places that I mentioned before or failed to mention because of lack of time have all contributed to build up, enlarge and make more solid our EGOS community.
For all these reasons, Kerstin is more than fully deserving of this honor that EGOS bestows upon her today. A few years ago, our dear friend Royston Greenwood was calling Kerstin “The Queen” – yes, she is one of the Queens of our community! The only thing I regret is that I cannot stand today physically next to you, Kerstin, in Hamburg, to express our gratitude to you, the gratitude of an entire community – to which I would like to add a bit selfishly my own personal gratitude and indebtedness – and finish this off with a warm hug. I realize how totally anathema this would be in those days of social distancing – but I strongly regret it.
Thank you, Kerstin, for your highly important intellectual contributions, for all you have done for all of us, the EGOS community and well beyond, and thank you even more simply for who you are – an amazing scholar, an engaged community builder, a very generous and nurturing human being, one of my best friends!