Interpretivism and Sensemaking


Prof. Kevin G. Corley & Dr. Alessandra Zamparini


Course contents and objectives

The course aims to provide an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of the main theoretical foundations and central current debates in organisation studies using symbolic interpretivism and sensemaking lenses.

It introduces participants to foundational theories positing that examining organisational phenomena through the subjective and interactive interpretations and meanings constructed by individuals within their contextualised experiences provides insights beyond more traditional behavioural approaches. Drawing from symbolic-interpretive anthropology (Geertz, 1973), symbolic interactionism (Goffman, 1959) and social constructionism (Berger & Luckman, 1966), this view gained prominence in organisation studies following foundational works by authors such as Van Maanen and Weick. These works propose the idea that organisations are interpretation systems where symbols, meanings and interactions shape individuals’ daily enactment of reality.

This perspective remains influential today, offering a non-normative and often processual understanding of organisational phenomena, including organising, organisational and cultural change, managerial cognition, coordination, identity construction, and communication.

The course examines the theoretical-epistemological assumptions of this perspective and its empirical applications across various contexts, covering both foundational works and recent developments.

Furthermore, the course will support the development of participants’ academic skills by emphasising the following objectives:

  1. Enhancing skills in identifying and conceptualising key issues and problems through the application of specific theoretical frameworks.
  2. Improving skills in critically analysing ideas and effectively articulating them verbally and in writing.
  3. Cultivating the ability to pose significant questions and develop viable research approaches.
  4. Fostering the generation of ideas for participants' own scholarly pursuits.
  5. Enhancing academic expression, exposition, and writing proficiency.


Teaching approach and evaluation

The teaching format will be blended, incorporating both in-person and online modules (refer to the detailed plan for specifics). Each module will consist of class discussion sessions moderated by lecturers and co-led by participants, as well as presentations and discussions of students’ research projects. Below are the details of each activity and the course evaluation criteria.

Class participation (50% of final evaluation).

  • Reading the required readings (approximately three readings per module, please refer to the preliminary reading list below). The complete list of readings for each module will be provided in the summer. Be prepared to delve into the main theoretical statements thoroughly, and critically discuss and evaluate empirical studies based on the theories covered.
  • Preparing 1-page “summary memos” on each module’s readings before our discussion sessions (to be submitted the night before each module).
  • Leading and moderating one discussion session with instructors. A detailed plan will be distributed after compiling the full list of participants and prior to the start of the course.

Individual paper (50% of final evaluation)

Each student will be required to write a final individual paper (5000 words max. plus references). The paper should focus on presenting their PhD project or one of the papers from a cumulative dissertation. It must explicitly connect to the theoretical approach covered in the course and incorporate specific references to one or more texts from the course literature.

Evaluation of this component includes an individual presentation of the key ideas of the final paper in progress during the course. This presentation aims to stimulate class discussion on the application of this theoretical perspective to various phenomena and gather constructive feedback from both instructors and participants before the final submission.


Modules plan

The course plan includes seven modules. Each module consists of 4 hours, with 1 hour equivalent to 45 minutes, totaling 28 hours for the entire course.

In person modules*:

  • Module 1 (4 hours). September 26, afternoon.

Theoretical and epistemological foundations

  • Module 2 (4 hours). September 27, morning.

Foundational applications in organization studies

Online modules*

  • Module 3 (4 hours) October 3, afternoon

Applications of perspective - Organizational Culture

  • Module 4 (4 hours) October 10, afternoon

Applications of perspective - Identity and Identification

  • Module 5 (4 hours) October 17, afternoon

Applications of perspective - Crises and Change

  • Module 6 (4 hours) October 24, afternoon

Applications of perspective - Technology

  • Module 7 (4 hours) October 31, afternoon

Recent debates and future perspectives


* This schedule is tentative. The dates are set, but the exact schedule (including specific starting times and locations/online platforms) will be communicated prior to the start of the course. Minor adjustments may occur to the list of topics.

Class materials

The complete list of readings and detailed instructions for each required activity will be distributed in the summer following the closure of enrollment.



The course is organised in the logic of a doctoral course, providing opportunities to grasp and discuss the key discourses and sensitising distinctions of a specific theoretical approach and/or research domain. It is also open to PostDocs who can benefit from such a foundational course.


Required reading

Below is a short preliminary list of required readings.


  • Barley, S. R. (1986). Technology as an occasion for structuring: Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31(1): 78-108.
  • Geertz, C. (1973) “Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”. In Geertz, C., The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays, pp 412-453. NY: Basic Books.
  • Hatch, M. J. (1993). The dynamics of organizational culture. Academy of Management Review, 18(4): 657-693.
  • Pratt, M. G. 2000. The good, the bad, and the ambivalent: Managing identification among Amway distributors. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45(3): 456-493.
  • Maitlis, S., & Sonenshein, S. (2010). Sensemaking in crisis and change: Inspiration and insights from Weick (1988). Journal of Management Studies, 47(3): 551-580.
  • Rerup, C., Gioia, D. A., & Corley, K. G. 2022. Identity transitions via subtle adaptive sensemaking: The empirical pursuit of the intangible. Academy of Management Discoveries, 8(4): 608-639.
  • Whittle, A., Vaara, E., & Maitlis, S. (2023). The role of language in organizational sensemaking: An integrative theoretical framework and an agenda for future research. Journal of Management, 49(6): 1807-1840.
  • Weick, K. E. 1995. Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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