Engaged yet excluded: The processual, dispersed, and political dynamics of boundary work

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Abstract

What happens when people try to ‘transcend’ organizational boundaries and engage with so-called outsiders? Current boundary-work literature does not fully account for the processual, dispersed, and political dynamics triggered by such efforts. To address this shortcoming, this article builds on an ethnographic study of a professional care provider’s attempts to engage local citizens within one of its care homes. We analyze how actors negotiate the parameters of outsider engagement – that is, how they interactively (re-)erect and (re-)efface boundaries between actors (Who is engaged?), issues (What is their engagement about?), and positions of authority (Does local engagement affect central decision-making?). We contribute to extant theorizing by, first, explicitly scrutinizing boundary work’s temporal and spatial dynamics. Testifying to the importance of analyzing temporal sequences, we show how attempts at transcending boundaries intensified boundary work on multiple organizational platforms. Paradoxically, inclusionary efforts evoked exclusionary effects (and vice versa) as actors came to contest and, eventually, redefine ‘appropriate’ insider–outsider relations. Second, our analysis highlights how the political effectiveness of an inclusive and non-hierarchical approach still, ironically, depends on ongoing hierarchical support and managerial enforcement. Third, our article makes a case for the adoption of long-term, multi-sited methodologies when studying the everyday dynamics of boundary-work processes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019

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Keywords

  • boundary work
  • boundaryless organization
  • organization-environment
  • organizational boundaries
  • stakeholder engagement

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