On the reinforcement of inequalities during a pandemic lockdown

Download (1)

In their timely new article “Privilege and burden of im‐/mobility governance” published in Gender, Work and Organization, Laura Dobusch from the Radboud University und Katharina Kreissl from the university of Salzburg analyze how the Austrian lockdown has reinforced social inequalities already in place. They argue that in order to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic, governments mainly focused on regulating mobility: certain mobility restrictions were enforced, while simultaneously some forms of mobility were maintained or even enhanced in order to keep the system running in crisis mode. With a special focus on Austria, they identify specific politics of im‐/mobilities concerning the organization of paid work and show how the socio‐spatial conditions of who is permitted, denied or urged to work are inextricably linked to inequalities.

For instance, people with lower paid jobs such as supermarket cashiers or care personnel – often women and migrant workers – were urged to go to work because of their ‘system relevance’ and thereby exposed to health hazards. On the other hand, people – disproportionately men without migration background – employed in better paid knowledge work and desk jobs could stay home and work from there.

It becomes apparent that while in principle all bodies are equally dependent on collective social relations and enduring infrastructure such as health care provision, food supply or public transport, not everybody contributes equally to their maintenance. In fact, the governance of im‐/mobilities follows and reinforces already prevalent inequality regimes based on class, gender and migration relations, thereby differentiating between bodies perceived as highly valuable and worth protecting and those categorized as less valued and potentially disposable. The authors emphasize that it’s not enough to acknowledge our collective interdependence, but that forms of (political) organizing are needed that reflect and acknowledge such interdependence on egalitarian terms from the start.

Talking about Organizations: Podcast on disasters and crisis management


I have blogged before about the 63th episode of the TaO podcast which focused on the Hudson’s Bay Company which went faced numerous pandemics during its early existence. Also the 64th episode of the podcast relates directly to the Covid-19 pandemic. With a focus on disasters and crisis management,  it discusses two management articles and their different takes on risk and resilience: one is the 1990 piece “The vulnerable system: An analysis of the Tenerife air disaster” published by Karl Weick in the journal of management studies; the other is the more recent 2009 article “Reclaiming resilience and safety: Resilience activation in the critical period of crisis” published by Edward Powley in Human Relations.  Together, by zooming on on different phases of crisis, these articles provide an processual perspective on the structures and mechanisms that make organizations vulnerable and, potentially, resilient.

Democratizing and decommodifying work after Covid-19


Under the hashtag #democratizingwork, more than 3,000 researchers from over 600 universities worldwide have united to publish an op-ed in 36 newspapers in 31 countries on the 16th of May, issuing an urgent call (here The Guardian version) for rewriting the rules of our economic system to create a more democratic and sustainable society. Spearheaded by three scholars, Isabelle Ferreras, Dominique Méda, and Julie Battilana, the call centers on the way we work and organize production: exploiting humans and the natural environment in order to maximize shareholder profits. While this model has long been criticized not just by left-leaning politicians and civil society, but also from within the business community, the Covid-19 crisis has made disturbingly clear how deeply we are in a health, social, climate and political crisis. The call paves an alternative path forward, following three core principles: democratize (firms), decommodify (work), and remediate (policies) in order to respect planetary boundaries and make life sustainable for all. Will our leaders seize this historical opportunity in the right direction?

Grand challenges and the role of government

Download (2)

In this video interview, economist Mariana Mazzucatto explains her view on the role of government and public policy in shaping economy and society. Her talk links to the themes tackled in this course in several ways. First, she addresses the need for governmental decision making – not just in crisis – to be strategic and driven by missions. This is the opposite of garbage-can-like, short-term oriented decision making dominating in crisis situations as discussed in lecture 1.  Second, she clearly argues that policy makers need to think about societal grand challenges and the UN SDGs as interrelated, a point made in class 12. This also means that policy makers need to move beyond departmental silos – the dominant way of how (see class 3) public bureaucracies are organized – towards interconnected decision making, most importantly regarding public investment decisions as well as public procurement. As discussed in lecture 10, basing public procurement decisions on the basis of fair trade and environmental standards is one important mechanism of organizing our global economy towards sustainability.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes

Download (1)

The Schulich School of Business in Toronto has a great interdisciplinary webinar series on “Shaping the Post-Pandemic World” not unlike our course, which I try to follow as much as possible. Today I listened to business history professor Matthias Kipping, whom I got to know and value during his research stay at FU Berlin. In his talk, Kipping provided an important historical perspective on the Covid-19 crisis, with several important lessons.

Lesson 1: “History doesn’t repeat itself – but it rhymes.” There are patterns that tend to happen again and again. One such pattern is that pandemics happen to humankind again and again. This teaches us is that we should invest more in preemptive action, i.e. the development of vaccines and medications which (my addition: for profit reasons) have not received enough attention so far, starting with antibiotics research to cure tuberculosis, a major killer with 1.5 million deaths/year or malaria (killing about 400k children/year) and, of course, coronavirus vaccines, which could have been a focus of research since SARS and MERS. One thing is certain from history: There will be another pandemic.

Lesson 2: “It will eventually get you”, meaning globalization is not to blame. Yes, maybe today’s mobility helped the virus to spread more rapidly, but also the historical pandemics, like the Justinian plague or “the” plague, spread widely around the globe.

Lesson 3: “Roosevelt vs Mussolini”. Looking at the past, our future can go in two directions, and you can find both directions as frames used by our political leaders. One option would be to enter a kind of “post WWII reconstruction” area, forming the basis for a new global economy and possibly reaching a new, green as well as social “New Deal”. Another, bleaker option would be to enter into a post WWI “wild twenties” period followed by a Great Depression and marked by nationalism, protectionism and a dismantling of the global order. However, even this path might lead to a “New Deal”, as the one forged by Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

Lesson 4: “So far, populists have fared poorly” – but who has done well? On the one hand, intrusive and oppressive surveillance regimes like the Chinese one; and on the other hand democracies with empathetic leaders listening to science – with New Zealand’s Arden, Germany’s Merkel or Taiwan’s Tsai being prime examples.

History has shown that humankind can beat killer diseases like the smallpox through science – but whether Covid19 will turn into a comparable success story crucially depends on our leaders. Only history will tell us who’ll win.

Urban and spatial perspectives on the Covid-19 crisis


The Berlin-based urban geography and policy consultancy Multiplicities has started a new blog compiling urban perspectives of dealing with the crisis. The authors argue that urban policy responses need to go through three phases: co-developing urgent medical and practical equipment and other relevant infrastructure to save lives; developing secondary equipment, material infrastructures and small-scale interventions to cope with physical distance over longer periods; and co-developing tools, infrastructures and services to restart the urban economy. In all phases, models of urban co-creation and collaborative creative practices, such as those well-known from Berlin, play a key role – although also these models now need to find new formats in line with the premises of “social distancing”. To date, examples are presented from Berlin, Birmingham and Lisbon on the blog.

photo by: Bastian Lange

Talking about Organizations: Podcast on The Hudson’s Bay Company


The “Talking About Organizations” podcast is always worth listening to. It does what it promises to do: engaging in conversations about management and organization studies, usually on the basis of foundational publications and theories, but then veering into their contemporary relevance. In it’s most recent episode, it discusses the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, a 17th century trading firm which faced multiple pandemics during its early existence.  Based on two publications – O’Leary, Orlikowski, and Yates’ 2002 chapter titled Distributed work over the centuries: Trust and control in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1826” and Hackett’s Averting disaster: The Hudson’s Bay Company and smallpox in Western Canada during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries published in 2004 in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine – it discusses parallels to today’s pandemic.

Lessons from crisis management: Rapid innovation

In this video, Saïd Business School (University of Oxford) professors Andrew Stephen, Anette Mikes and Marc Ventresca reflect on the challenges involved in situations rife with technical complexity, public anxiety and political issues, using evidence from the Chilean Mining Rescue and the Kursk submarine disaster, and discuss ways in which crisis can give way to innovation.


New guest lecture on Youtube channel


We welcome our first guest lecturer, Professor Markus Reihlen from the Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany.  Professor Reihlen has recorded a lecture on crisis management for his Strategic Management class at Leuphana, which of course also had to be digitalized this term. He kindly shared his recording, which is a great complement to our classes because it gives a basic introduction into different kinds of crises and also an outlook on the strategic management of crisis. You find the lecture on our Youtube channel here.