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A theory of (research) practice makes sense in sensemaking: Applying Bourdieu’s critical social theory to the study of sensemaking change

Adriana van Hilten (Faculty of Business, Athabasca University, Athabasca, Canada) (Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 30 December 2019

Issue publication date: 16 September 2021




The purpose of this paper is to introduce Bourdieu’s social theory, and its “thinking tools” of habitus, doxa, field and capital, as a sensemaking theory.


The emic research studied, for a particular group, the firm-wide implementation of a new system. The study used data occurring naturally in the organization (executive newsletters), and externally (third-party surveys), as well as 23 participant interviews to structure the social space (field) and determine what is of interest (identity). Interviews were coded for habitus, doxa, field, capital, symbolic violence and strategies to re-assert interviewees’ own doxa versus logic imposed by the powerful.


A unique, esteemed identity was being erased through executive attempts to introduce a new culture at the firm, and the new systems represented a challenge to this valued identity. Participants used strategies to re-assert their identity through not participating in the logic of the new tool: discussing misuse, lack of use, relative unimportance and low priority of the new tool.

Practical implications

Change that threatens an esteemed, valued identity is more likely to be resisted. The logic of an established practice or system (beyond merely gathering user requirements) is beneficial in understanding potential reactions to a new system. Change in systems that occur simultaneously with the imposition of a new culture, particularly where the system is seen as being a representation of that imposed culture, may be resisted through non-practice (misuse or lack of use) of the new system.


The paper demonstrates the applicability of Bourdieu’s social theory to organizational studies, providing a sensemaking of change and acts of resistance.



van Hilten, A. (2021), "A theory of (research) practice makes sense in sensemaking: Applying Bourdieu’s critical social theory to the study of sensemaking change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 794-809.



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