Strategies for Social Change

My PhD dissertation as a whole is concerned with how we, as a society, can change course on key macro issues (e.g., global warming, global poverty) in a democratic way. Some approaches taken by alternative organizations appear counter-productive, unintentionally reproducing and reinforcing the system these organizations mean to change. To address this apparent double-bind, this paper uses Erik Olin Wright’s real utopias approach to distinguish two broad strategies adopted by alternative organizations: the symbiotic and the interstitial strategy. I argue that each strategy is associated with distinct degeneration risks, some of which have not been adequately and systematically addressed in the alternative organizations literature thus far. I then draw on the critical realist morphogenetic approach to understand social change strategies and degeneration risks in terms of structurally conditioned agency in cycles of simultaneous structural reproduction and elaboration. Thus understood, structural reproduction through degeneration does not necessarily preclude simultaneous structural elaboration. I therefore propose a framework for scholars to engage alternative organizations with genuine but constructive critique that accounts for the twin risks they face as well as the promise nevertheless inherent in their diverging strategies.


Shanahan, Genevieve. (2022, August). Two routes to degeneration, two routes to utopia: A critical realist approach to performativity in alternative organizations. 82nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Shanahan, Genevieve. (2021, June). A critical realist framework for understanding cooperative degeneration. 36th KCO-AFMO PhD Workshop, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.

Shanahan, Genevieve. (2020, July). A critical realist framework for understanding cooperative degeneration. 36th European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium (EGOS), Hamburg, Germany.

Shanahan, Genevieve. (2020, January). A critical realist framework for understanding cooperative degeneration. 9th Centre for Social Ontology workshop, Grenoble Ecole de Management, France.