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Boundary work among groups, occupations, and organizations: From cartography to process

Journal article
Authors Ann Langley
Kajsa Lindberg
Bjørn Erik Mørk
Davide Nicolini
Elena Raviola
Lars Walter
Published in Academy of Management Annals
Volume 13
Issue 2
Pages 704-736
ISSN 1941-6520
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Business Administration
School of Design and Crafts
Pages 704-736
Language en
Subject categories Business Administration


© Academy of Management Annals. This article reviews scholarship dealing with the notion of “boundary work,” defined as purposeful individual and collective effort to influence the social, symbolic, material, or temporal boundaries, demarcations; and distinctions affecting groups, occupations, and organizations. We identify and explore the implications of three conceptually distinct but interrelated forms of boundary work emerging from the literature. Competitive boundary work involves mobilizing boundaries to establish some kind of advantage over others. In contrast, collaborative boundary work is concerned with aligning boundaries to enable collaboration. Finally, configurational boundary work involves manipulating patterns of differentiation and integration among groups to ensure that certain activities are brought together, whereas others are kept apart, orienting the domains of competition and collaboration. We argue that the notion of boundary work can contribute to the development of a uniquely processual view of organizational design as open-ended, and continually becoming, an orientation with significant future potential for understanding novel forms of organizing, and for integrating agency, power dynamics, materiality, and temporality into the study of organizing.

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