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When does the owl of Minerva spread its wings? Shadow organizing and modes of inquiry

Anders Christian Buch (Department of Learning and Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 26 July 2019

Issue publication date: 4 May 2020



The purpose of this paper is to critique the metaphor of “shadow organizing” in relation to researchers’ allegedly ontological commitment to processual metaphysics.


The paper focuses on the association of “shadow organizing” with post-epistemologies that are grounded in process ontology. The investigation examines aspects of relational thinking and is guided by John Dewey and Arthur Bentley’s genealogical reconstruction of modes of inquiry.


Inquiry is construed in either substantialist or relational ways by researchers. By using the metaphor of “shadow organizing,” the relational aspects of organizational phenomena are prioritized for explorative purposes. Other research objectives are aided by substantialist modes of inquiry. It is the argument of the paper, however, that relational research approaches need not make commitment to process ontology, and that the relational ambitions imbued in the metaphor of shadow organizing are in fact better honored for their methodological virtues.


The paper’s original contribution consists in critiquing post-epistemological attempts to ground organization studies in ontological first principles of process metaphysics. The paper argues that the metaphor of “shadow organizing” is a promising concept that is better appreciated as a methodological move than an ontological commitment.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the EARLI 14 Conference in September 2018, held in Geneva, Switzerland. The author would like to thank Stephen Billet and Laurent Filletaz for inviting the author and a group of authors to the symposium on shadow organizing, and Silvia Gherardi for arranging the symposium.


Buch, A.C. (2020), "When does the owl of Minerva spread its wings? Shadow organizing and modes of inquiry", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 108-120.



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