Authors: de Vaujany, François-Xavier; Vaast, Emmanuelle
Publication: Organization Science, May-June 2014
Organizational spaces project claims of organizational legitimacy while also constituting physical environments where work happens. This research questions how organizational space and legitimacy are mutually constituted over time as organizations experience shifts in work and institutional demands.
Building on a qualitative case study of Paris Dauphine University, a French university founded in the late 1960s that has, since its inception, occupied the former North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters, we theorize the dynamic intersection of organizational space and legitimacy over time. The case study demonstrates how spatial practices of appropriation, reappropriation, and disappropriation intersect with and inform what we call “spatial legacies” that function to establish or repair an alignment between organizational space and legitimacy. Spatial practices of appropriation and reappropriation build and manipulate spatial legacies, whereas spatial practices of disappropriation attempt to break away from such legacies. Appropriation and reappropriation involve managing spatial legacies to maintain the alignment between organizational space and legitimacy claims. Disappropriation involves trying to erase or alter these legacies to realign the space to changing legitimacy claims. This research adds to the literature on sociomateriality by adopting a longitudinal perspective that highlights legacies as nondeterministic outcomes of past imbrications of the social and the material, to research on legitimacy by conceptualizing it as a sociomaterial construction, and to research on organizational spaces by revealing the institutional underpinnings of spatial transformations. This research also holds practical implications by highlighting the relationships between space as it is designed and used and an organization’s legitimacy claims and by showing how claiming the immutability or flexibility of a space can be legitimizing for an organization.