Multimodality in strategy as practice

Research output: Contributions to collected editions/worksChapterpeer-review


Strategy as practice (SAP) has emerged as a rich stream of scholarship that examines the phenomena of organizational strategy through the perspective of what actors “do”. SAP scholarship has sought to go further into the “doing” to glean theoretical import from how strategy is accomplished. Here, the broad parameters of strategy as practice are well-defined: strategy is “a situated, socially accomplished activity” (Jarzabkowski, Balogun, & Seidl, 2007, p. 7), and this activity is performed through practices as “accepted ways of doing things, embodied and materially mediated, that are shared between actors and routinized over time” (Vaara & Whittington, 2012, p. 287, emphasis added). Hence, a focus on practices enables scholars to gain an understanding of the complexity of the subtle and partly mundane social activities through which strategy is accomplished (Rouleau & Cloutier, 2022), including the discursive, bodily, and material parts of practices (Reckwitz, 2002) involved in strategy-making. Especially through ethnographic work, SAP scholars have made great progress in unpacking this complexity (Kohtamäki, Whittington, Vaara, & Rabetino, 2021). However, our understanding of how these parts – or “modes” – participate and interact in the multimodal accomplishment of strategy remains partial.
Understanding these dynamics gains in significance in light of the broader relevance of multimodal communication. In practice, a growing number of modes are emerging in the practice of strategy for a range of reasons. First, new technologies are entering the domain of organizations prompting new ways of interacting in strategy-making. Email entered in the early 2000s, rendering written, materially mediated communication more dominant in communicating strategy compared to the 1980s and 1990s. PowerPoint became a dominant Microsoft tool in the 2000s (Kaplan, 2011; Knight, Paroutis, & Heracleous, 2018), especially in the field of strategy consulting where “death by PowerPoint” became a famous quip (Knight & Jarzabkowski, 2022). Now the emergence of data visualization and data analytics culminates in new frontiers in multimodal communication, at the same time that old modes of communication find new meaning (Vaara & Fritsch, 2022). The global pandemic of 2019-2022, for example, sensitized strategists more acutely to the world of “remote work” and, by extension, communicating in somewhat constrained ways via video absent embodied interaction.
Should all this matter? The answer as to whether multimodality matters in strategy-making lies in ontological assumptions about strategy as a practice. If strategy is fundamentally about “the doing”, then how the doing takes place through modes of practices and their interactions should elucidate fundamental insights about what strategy is, how it emerges, and the impacts it has within and beyond organizations. Therefore, to understand the doing better is to more directly examine the consequentiality of actions in strategy-making.
This logic looms large in other fields of endeavor where “multimodality” is now an important theoretical construct. For example, in the broader field of management and organization studies, scholars have shown that it is difficult, if not impossible to gain an understanding of the subtle but consequential day-to-day fabric of organizational life without a view on multimodality (LeBaron, Christianson, Garrett, & Ilan, 2016); and that visuals are more than mere expressions of what is said in that they are talking symbols in their own right (Höllerer et al., 2019). In entrepreneurship, scholars have highlighted the importance of gesturing and other bodily movements in influencing investors’ judgments (Clarke, Cornelissen, & Healey, 2019). Somewhat similarly, in finance, scholars have shown that investors respond more positively to visually salient reports (Bose, Cordes, Nolte, Schneider,
3& Camerer, 2022). In turn, marketing scholars have demonstrated that consumers are more receptive to messages when these are conveyed through more than just words and visuals, such as material haptics and scent (Imschloss & Kuehnl, 2019). Though SAP scholars have also highlighted the value of multiple modes in strategy-making, approaches have varied and thus the work is characterized by a degree of fragmentation that constrains theoretical advancement (Dameron, Lê, & LeBaron, 2015). Our goal in this chapter is to organize the work on multimodality in SAP research to date in order to deepen entry points for theoretical advancement. In this respect, we point the way for future research deploying multimodality in strategy-making.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice
EditorsDamon Golsorkhi, Linda Rouleau, David Seidl, Eero Vaara
Number of pages25
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (print)9780521517287
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023