Narratives as sensemaking accounts: The case of an R&D laboratory

Dana Landau*, Israel Drori

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose - While conventional wisdom suggests that sensemaking is targeted towards consensual understanding of the organization's intent and action, the objective of this study is to explore a different angle of sensemaking, namely, a situation of change and crisis in which the sensemaking process focuses on presenting the organization's members with an alternative understanding of its worldview, norms, and values. Design/methodology/approach - The paper is based on a three-year ethnographic field study. Data collection was based on the principles of qualitative research: participant observation, induction, interpretation, close proximity and unmediated relationships with the subjects investigated. The ethnographic method enabled collection of rich data, mainly by viewing the organizational context from its members' perspective, essential for studying. Findings - The paper presents multiple cultural sensemaking accounts and the varied ways that the subjects use their diverse cultural resources and repertoires - ranging from intense ideological commitment to pure science to opportunistic views of their scientific work - in promoting their own, as well as their organization's survival. The study indicates that variations of conflict-oriented sensemaking accounts can serve management's strategic quest for hegemony. Research limitations/implications - Qualitative research approaches position the researcher to learn through participative observation. The researcher acts as a participant in the activities under study and instead of attempting to control procedures and measure qualities of outcomes, the researcher becomes part of the target of study itself. Practical implications - This paper shows that conflict and power relations are ubiquitous to sensemaking, and that multiple accounts can be inherent in sensemaking work. We suggest that the study of sensemaking should also consider conflict as an alternative sensemaking mechanism. Originality/value - Sensemaking is usually described as positive and consensual in nature. Yet, as our study shows, when evolving from conflicting viewpoints, accounts and actions sensemaking can support dissension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-720
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Organizational Change Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Defense sector
  • Narratives
  • Organizational change
  • Qualitative research
  • Research and development


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