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The physical and material aspects of space, such as geographical distance or boundaries, have social and symbolic consequences that impact how people influence and are influenced by institutions. Social actors can however contest how space is conceived, perceived and lived, thus making space a crucial lever in the disruption and defense of institutions. However, we lack understanding of the spatial aspects of such institutional struggles. In exploring how space is leveraged in institutional work, our study foregrounds the socio-political nature of space, building on and expanding the theorization of Lefebvre. We draw on an in-depth longitudinal analysis of the material, social and symbolic aspects of the spatial dimensions of disruptive and defensive institutional work over the past twenty years in Venezuela’s art world. Following the Bolivarian Revolution in the late 1990s, the incoming government transformed the organization of the national cultural landscape, resulting in a prolonged period of institutional disruption and defense. We demonstrate that actors use the material, social, and symbolic dimensions of space to challenge and maintain their key values and practices, and that those three dimensions are intertwined.
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Making Space for Art:
A Spatial Perspective of Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
in Venezuela’s Art World
Victoria Rodner
University of Stirling
Thomas J. Roulet
University of Cambridge
Finola Kerrigan
University of Birmingham
Dirk Vom Lehn
King’s College London
Forthcoming at the Academy of Management Journal
Acknowledgement: The authors sincerely thank associate editor Eero Vaara and the three
reviewers for their thoughtful feedback and guidance throughout this journey. We are
immensely grateful for your ongoing patience and unfailing support for our paper. We would
also like the thank the insightful suggestions from experts in the field, including Paul Tracey,
Sabina Siebert, Alexis Pokrovsky, Michael Gill, as well as the participants of the OTREG
Seminar in January 2017 at Imperial College London. We are grateful as well for the feedback
we got at invited seminars at HEC Lausanne, the University of Amsterdam, the University of
Liverpool, the University of Exeter, and the ETHOS Seminar at Cass Business School.
The physical and material aspects of space, such as geographical distance or boundaries, have
social and symbolic consequences that impact how people influence and are influenced by
institutions. Social actors can however contest how space is conceived, perceived and lived,
thus making space a crucial lever in the disruption and defense of institutions. However, we
lack understanding of the spatial aspects of such institutional struggles. In exploring how space
is leveraged in institutional work, our study foregrounds the socio-political nature of space,
building on and expanding the theorization of Lefebvre. We draw on an in-depth longitudinal
analysis of the material, social and symbolic aspects of the spatial dimensions of disruptive and
defensive institutional work over the past twenty years in Venezuela’s art world. Following the
Bolivarian Revolution in the late 1990s, the incoming government transformed the
organization of the national cultural landscape, resulting in a prolonged period of institutional
disruption and defense. We demonstrate that actors use the material, social, and symbolic
dimensions of space to challenge and maintain their key values and practices, and that those
three dimensions are intertwined.
The “spatial turn” in organization studies (Dale & Burrell, 2008; Elsbach & Pratt, 2007)
is particularly relevant to understanding the dynamics of institutional work (Glückler et al.,
2018), that is, how actors purposefully drag institutions in differing directions (Hampel,
Lawrence & Tracey, 2015). Institutions are “enduring elements in social life” which “have a
profound effect on the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of individual and collective actors”
(Lawrence & Suddaby 2006: 216). Spatial aspects of institutions help enact or constrain said
social interactions (Vaujany & Vaast, 2014; Siebert, Wilson & Hamilton, 2017). We have some
understanding of how the interplay between the disruption and defense of institutions can
trigger boundary shifts, thereby determining actors’ access to material and non-material
resources (Gieryn, 1983; Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010; Lamont & Molnár, 2002). More recently,
material boundaries, particularly those isolating physical spaces or distributing actors’
positions in space, have been central to studies on institutional work (Weinfurtner & Seidl,
2018). Our research unpacks how space is leveraged in the disruption and defense of
institutions. Specifically, we ask: What role does space play in this disruption and defense of
institutions? And, how do dimensions of space interact in this disruption and defense of
While places - specific locations - shape and are shaped by institutional work
(Lawrence & Dover, 2015) and can support the maintenance of institutions by triggering
relevant emotions (Jones & Massa, 2013; Siebert et al., 2017), less attention has been given to
the spatial aspects - using distance, isolation, and boundaries - of defensive and disruptive
institutional work. This emerging research stream is yet to flesh out the role of materiality when
institutions are in conflict (Monteiro & Nicolini, 2015). The conceptualization of space by the
philosopher and sociologist Henry Lefebvre (1974/1991) lends itself particularly well to
tackling this question. According to Lefebvre (1991), space is tightly woven with the political
economy and mediating social relations, including conflicting relations. Building on
Lefebvre’s argument, we articulate material (positioning of actors in space), social (how actors
plan space utilization and negotiate power relations) and symbolic (how space is perceived
figuratively and discursively by actors) dimensions of space to demonstrate how space is used
to challenge or preserve institutions.
We adopt an in-depth longitudinal case study approach to examine the disruption (and
subsequent defense) of the Venezuelan art scene following an extreme shift in national policy
orientation during the Bolivarian Revolution. Our empirical material consists of semi-
structured interviews with stakeholders in the Venezuelan art world between 2009-2012 and
2016-2017; non-participant observational fieldwork in art galleries, art fairs, museums and
exhibitions; and additional material, including government pamphlets, media interviews and
excerpts. We observe how the Chávez administration reclaimed the official space for art,
namely the country’s museum framework, national galleries, and art salons, in an effort to
reshape the Venezuelan art world and align it with their political ideology.
In our study we empirically demonstrate how space is ‘representational’ (Lefebvre,
1991). Space evolves and is manipulated in line with socio-political shifts, so that actors
strategically use available space to enable or constrain social interactions and change
institutional perceptions. Specifically, we discern the fracturing of the Venezuelan art world
through spatial tactics to disrupt or defend institutional configurations. On the government side,
disrupting actors attempted to align the art world to the dominant political party-line. Defensive
actors, in the meantime were preserving field-specific values and practices. From this fracture,
there emerges a “socially negotiated consensus” (Greenwood, Suddaby, & Hinings, 2002: 59),
which materializes in a secluded alternative physical space where defensive actors continued
to enact their previously institutionalized practices and beliefs. One participant poetically refers
to this alternative physical arena as a bubble of freedom - a space within which defensive actors’
institutional efforts remain shielded from disruptive pressures and a hostile macro-environment.
In particular, our research shows that the control of space where institutions are enacted, such
as museums, does not necessarily grant actors the ability to change institutions. We thus offer
future avenues of research around the divergence between spatial, physical and material aspects
of institutions.
Our study focuses on identifying how actors use space to disrupt and defend institutions.
In the following section, we elaborate on our conceptualization of space, so that it can frame
our data analysis. We combine recent discussions about the relationship between space and
organizations (cf. Taylor & Spicer, 2007; Dale & Burell, 2008; Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2018)
and space and institutions (Glückler et al., 2018) with the classical work of philosopher and
sociologist Henry Lefebvre (1947/1991).
Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
Institutions can be considered enduring elements in social life (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006)
providing society with stability and meaning (Scott, 2013). They are however not static in
nature (Dacin, Goodstein & Scott, 2002). Institutions rely on social agents to give value and
meaning to practices and activities in the field (Friedland & Alford, 1991). Institutions can thus
be strategically manipulated by individual actors (Oliver, 1991): individuals and organizations
can actively participate in and influence the wider institutional environment (Lawrence et al.,
2013; Wright & Zammuto, 2013; Hampel et al., 2015). Institutional work is understood as the
action of “influenc[ing] those higher-order ideas directly or through the institutionalization or
deinstitutionalization of local practices and discourse that represent and embody those higher-
order ideas” (Lawrence & Dover, 2015; 372; Micelotta & Washington, 2013).
When institutions are disrupted, other actors may defend them, provoking a struggle
between those actors (Maguire & Hardy, 2009; Lefsrud & Meyer, 2012). Institutions can be
purposefully disrupted (Toubiana & Zietsma, 2016), with exogenous shocks potentially
instigated by outsiders (Clemente, Durand & Roulet, 2017). This disruption can be met with
defensive work aimed at protecting existing institutions (Lok & De Rond, 2013; Wright et al.,
2015), or efforts aimed at directly countering disruptive institutional work (Maguire & Hardy,
Institutional work suggests a focus on the ‘how’ (Lawrence et al., 2009), and might
imply attempting to shift or amplify existing boundaries (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010), as set
boundaries demarcate “unequal access to unequal distribution of resources” (Lamont & Molnár,
2002: 168). Most research has concentrated on boundary maintenance (Suddaby & Viale,
2011), overlooking those mechanisms through which boundaries are reconstructed or
reconstituted after an exogenous shock (Suddaby et al., 2016). Material boundaries (Lawrence
et al., 2013; Jones & Massa, 2013), in particular, play a crucial role in understanding how
resources are mobilized for institutional work (Glückler et al., 2018). Those material
boundaries have however often been conceptualized in locational terms (Lawrence & Dover,
2015; Siebert et al., 2017) rather than in more abstract spatial terms (Weinfurtner & Seidl,
2018). Acknowledging the use of space in institutional work enables us to consider strategies
that more subtly affect the social, political and spatial nature of institutions and how those
dimensions are interlinked.
Space and Institutions
Space has remained an undercurrent of institutional theorizing and our understanding of
organizations (Halford, 2004). In their study foregrounding place in institutional work,
Lawrence & Dover (2015) note the development of spatial consideration in organization
studies. The recognition of space in its geographical nature, and places as key locations, has
already informed institutional theory (Jones & Massa, 2013; Siebert et al., 2017). But beyond
this work, spatiality in institutions remains latent rather than manifest in much institutional
literature both theoretically and empirically (Glückler et al., 2018).
Before unpacking the role of space in institutional theory, we first consider the
distinction between space and place within this field of study. Places and spaces have often
been used interchangeably (Gieryn, 2000), but they fundamentally differ, and this distinction
is key to understanding the role of spatiality in institutions (Lawrence & Dover, 2015). Some
existing work focuses on the role of places - defined locations, buildings, and set areas– in
shaping and being shaped by institutional work (Jones & Massa, 2013; Lawrence & Dover,
2015). While place is inevitably located in a fixed geography, space can incorporate dispersed
geographies otherwise interrelated (Massey, 2005). A spatial approach requires a more abstract
(Lawrence & Dover, 2015: 374) focus on boundaries, isolation, distance, movement and
geographical repartition (Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2018).
In organization studies, within the school of socio-materiality of space (De Vaujany &
Vaast, 2014; Siebert et al., 2017), there is a broad acceptance that physical boundaries act as
objects that recursively feed and are being fed by social interactions (Dale & Burrell, 2008;
Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2018). According to Weinfurtner & Seidl (2018) boundaries can
spatially demarcate actors, which conditions engagement with institutions. Thus, the
institutionalization of practices relies heavily on the physical context in which they are enacted
(de la Chaux, Haugh & Greenwood, 2018).
Accounting for space in institutional work acknowledges the clout of social actors
depending on their physical and geographical positions (Glückler et al., 2018). Previous
research has shown how buildings carry symbolic value and thus can play an important role in
maintaining institutional prescription by enacting relevant positive emotions (Siebert et al.,
2017; Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2018). Less attention, however, has been paid to the spatiality
of institutional work, and the role of space in defending and disrupting institutions. More work
is needed to understand how actors use space in its geographical sense to erect physical, social
and symbolic boundaries, specifically in contexts and situations in which institutions are in
tension (Monteiro & Nicolini, 2015), and in which space is inevitably being shaped as a
consequence of this tension (Massey, 2000).
Space can enable or prevent social relationships (Elsbach & Pratt, 2007) depending on
boundaries and intersection between other geographical arenas. Weinfurtner & Seidl (2018)
illustrate how space can be distributed (expanding from the central axis), isolated (sheltering
themselves from others), differentiated (physically or discursively) or intersected (offering an
‘inbetweenness’), therefore acknowledging the dynamic nature of space. Siebert et al. (2017),
who explore the “material basis” of space, note how physical isolation can lead to a perceived
loss of power and feeling of disconnection. In contrast, Rao & Dutta (2012) argue that isolation,
rather than proximity, can foster a new ‘free’ space to emerge, through being purposefully
isolated from a potentially hostile macroenvironment. In this sense, purposeful spatial isolation
can be a crucial lever for social actors to defend their own vision of institutions. Building on
Evans’ (1979) work on social movement, Weinfurtner & Seidl (2018: 14) argue that isolation
provides “actors with a secure arena in which to interact and express their voice”. Similarly,
Castilhos & Dolbec (2017) stress the emancipating power of space when it offers distance from
other actors, and thus leeway for subversion, fostering societal critique from afar, reinforcing
collective identity and temporarily liberating actors from social order.
Spatial manipulation can also impact how material and symbolic resources are
circumscribed and acquired to influence institutions (Jones & Massa, 2013; Siebert et al., 2017).
Defensive agents may use space to isolate values and beliefs endangered by institutional
disruption. Inversely, the spatial configuration can be radically transformed to defend
alternative practices and beliefs, as agents use and manipulate positions in space to preserve a
particular institutional vision. Dale & Burrell (2008) conceptualize this use of space by
inhabitants as enactment. To further our understanding of a spatial conceptualization of
institutions, and how space has both instrumental and symbolic roles for inhabitants (Elsbach
& Pratt, 2007), we next turn to Lefebvre (1991) to unpack the socio-political ethos of space.
The Dimensions of Space and its Socio-Political Nature
The work on the conceptualization of space by the philosopher and sociologist Henry Lefebvre
(1991) has already strongly influenced organization studies (De Vaujany & Vaast, 2014; Dale,
Kingma, & Wasserman, 2018). Lefebvre’s (1991) theory of ‘the production of space’
foregrounds the socio-political nature of space and need for understanding the role of the
political in the use of space. Similarly, Rodman (2003) views space as underpinned by socio-
historical, cultural, and political meaning. Massey (2005) presents space as a product of
interrelations inadvertently exposed to politics. Thus, representations of space reveal “the
history of ideologies” (Lefebvre, 1991: 42), as plans for space change over time, dependent as
they are on a dominant logic. Soja (1989) notes the role of space in facilitating the production,
reinforcement and challenging of ideas. Power relations may be woven into broader spatial
scales (Spicer, 2006), so that institutional actors engage with stakeholders beyond their
immediate geographies.
Malleable in nature, space can be dominated as it can be “closed, sterilized, emptied
out” (Lefebvre, 1991: 165). When appropriated, a space is modified to “serve the needs and
possibilities of a group” (Lefebvre, 1991: 165), most likely the socio-politically dominant
group. De Vaujany & Vaast (2014) expand on this in that appropriation of space implies that
actors build on and manipulate spatial practices, whereas disappropriation suggests a
breakaway from legacies and subsequent realignment of space with changing claims.
Therefore, space – as socially constructed – is used to impose one’s own definition, meanings,
values and rules onto a situation. A spatial analysis can help locate and identify social and
knowledge interactions, capturing the locale where power discourses actively take shape
(Rabinow, 2003; Baldry, 1999). Conceptualizing space around power and relationships
foregrounds how social actors can shape spatial aspects to defend (or disrupt) a political or
institutional agenda.
Understanding the role of the political in demonstrating the use of space has been key
to Lefebvre’s (1991) theorization of the production of space. Lefebvre (1991) presents three
interlinked dimensions, which he defines as conceived (conçu), perceived (perçu), and lived
(vécu) space. Firstly, representations of space relate to how space is conceived by planners and
these conceptions will subsequently impact the materialization of space and help reinforce
power relations (Taylor & Spicer, 2007). Materialization of space in the form of physical
structures, distance and boundaries acts as a signifier to the wider public, communicating
hierarchies, and appropriate behavior (Siebert et al, 2018). Secondly, perceived space is
understood as how people imagine and experience space through discourse and symbolism
(Lefebvre, 1991; Schmid, 2008). The distribution of positions in space can be used as a
symbolic exercise of power to impose one’s own definition, meanings, values and rules onto a
situation (Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2018). Lastly, lived space describes the spatial expression of
practices, i.e. the ways in which space is used by inhabitants through embodied behaviors.
Therefore, lived space bridges the gap between the people’s perception of space and the
experiencing of space (Lefebvre, 1991). In our own analysis, we expand on Lefebvre’s (1991)
dimensionality of space to help articulate the disruption and defense of institutions within our
case study analysis of Venezuela’s art world.
Next we unpack the politics that have shaped and reshaped the local art scene in
Venezuela before analyzing the spatial aspects of the disruption and defense the country’s art
world under Chávez.
The art world – understood as the network of cooperating people who share an understanding
of how art should be produced, legitimized and consumed (Becker, 1982) – is an ideal context
within which to study institutions (Ertug et al., 2016). Struggles around values and practices
are common in a field characterized by subjectivity rather than objective universal standards
(Khaire & Wadhwani, 2010). Stakeholders working within the confines of the ‘art world’
collectively award an object the status of art (Danto, 1964). This collective conferral of value
depends on the interconnectivity and interdependency of institutional actors as meaning makers
(Becker, 1982) both locally and globally (Rodner & Thomson, 2013).
Like other institutional realms, the art world has discernable boundaries, in particular
material ones (Lamont & Molnár, 2002). A space designated for art, such as a museum or
national gallery, demarcates what is and is not considered art, enabling space to be used for its
symbolic power. Firmly embedded into its institutional environment, an art space builds upon
persistent practices and shared rules to ensure its legitimacy and permanency. If we understand
institutions as in flux (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010), the role of this sense of legitimacy and
permanency of art venues as meaning makers may come into question. Museums are
themselves contested venues, as they enable the promulgation and negotiation of dominant
cultural discourses (Low & Lawrence-Zuniga, 2003).
Control of space is crucial in establishing dominance in the arts (Ertug et al., 2016).
Governments can be particularly influential as they reclaim and reimagine official spaces such
as public museums and national galleries, particularly at key moments of political change
(Bhabha, 1990). Incoming governments, as holders of systemic power (Lawrence & Buchanan,
2017), may impose new institutional prescriptions more ideologically aligned with their own
preoccupations (DiMaggio, 1988), especially in fields where they provide resources (Reay &
Hinings, 2005; 2009). Governments can thus replace recipients or those who manage resources
within organizations as a means of institutional control (Reay & Hinings, 2005). As major
resource providers, governments can shape institutions in this field due to the symbolic
resources they can derive from it (Bourdieu, 1993).
In our study we reveal how the incoming government imposed a new vision for the arts
in the country that better harmonized with the overarching party line, whilst strategically
marginalizing existing actors from the space where institutional roles were carried out.
Art under Chávez: The impact of the Bolivarian Revolution on the Venezuelan art world
Venezuela’s highly polarized art world lends itself well to understanding what role space plays
in disrupting and defending institutions and how dimensions of space interact in the disruption
and defense of institutions. To better understand the impact of a change of political direction
which resulted in significant disruption of the art field in Venezuela, it is important to locate
our study within the socio-historical context.
From its colonial origins, the country’s art world had mimicked a globally ‘accepted’
Western model of art practice. From the mid-20th century onwards, oil became Venezuela’s
“fundamental motor for the economy” (Barrera-Tyska, 2016:15), enabling the country to invest
in cultural institutions. Subsequently, the structure of Venezuela’s art world - consisting of
state-run museums, art schools, salons, public collections, cultural foundations - became a
benchmark in Latin America. This infrastructure benefited from the emergence of specialist
actors (curators, critics, docents, researchers, managers, and art restorers), with the necessary
training and accreditation. It also relied on a strong commercial network to support the growing
arts market. Cultural production, dissemination, legitimation and consumption, however,
remained in the hands of a cultural elite, and the country was still challenged by acute socio-
economic inequalities (Silva-Ferrer, 2014).
By embracing a populist rhetoric, Hugo Chávez promised to solve the country’s
concentration of power and share it equally among his people. This powerful discourse secured
his landslide election in 1998 (following his imprisonment for a failed coup d’état in 1992),
cementing his presidency until his untimely death in 2013. Chávez pioneered new socialist
ideals, adopting the role of a post-colonial Venezuelan revolutionary with his aptly named
Bolivarian Revolution1. Well versed in the “language of class war” (Carroll, 2013: 60), Chávez
used rhetoric to support his Revolution (Silva-Ferrer, 2014). By doing so, he generated rife
1!Chávez positioned himself as a modern revolutionary hero, equating his efforts to those of the War of
Independence hero - Simón Bolívar who led and won many battles across Latin America against the Spanish
crown during the 19th century.!
ideological polarization between existing actors and the supporters of his political agenda. His
rhetoric supported the exclusion of art professionals from cultural institutions based on their
opposition to the dominant Bolivarian ideology.
Art under Chávez was overhauled: management of cultural institutions was centralized,
new bureaucratic tiers were introduced, museum spaces were reclaimed, private and third
sector organizations were expropriated, curatorial programming was changed, new branding
initiatives were introduced, and most significantly, established institutional actors were
replaced with government officials (see Figure 1 for a timeline). The now displaced
institutional actors tried to circumvent this disruption by creating a new space for legitimizing
and disseminating the arts, made up of private galleries and art centers, where they could
distance themselves materially, symbolically and socially from the government. This role of
space in the disruption and defense of institutions lies at the heart of our investigation.
Data Collection
We collected data between 2009-2012 and 2016-2017. The first data collection was timely as
we could observe the consequences of key policy changes to Venezuela’s art world, introduced
in the first half of the 2000s by Chávez’s government and his newly appointed Minister of
Culture, Francisco Sesto. Our second data collection allowed us to better capture the context
of government disruption, mapping out more clearly how the Venezuelan art world responded
to these shifts in policy.
Our data consists of interviews, non-participant observation, and secondary material
(referred to as SD in our Findings2). Together, these rich data sources helped to capture the
material and physical aspects of space and the “lived experience” (Lefebvre, 1991). It also
2!For space limitations, our full reference list for secondary data materials is available upon request.!
helped empirically apprehend the symbolic power (Jones & Massa, 2013; Weinfurtner & Seidl,
2018) that space has on institutions (see a summary of our data sources in Table 1). Secondary
data, in particular, helped us narrate the government’s side of spatial change in the country’s
art world. To further complement this material, visual data (approx. 200 photographs) were
also collected as a means of better understanding how space was used by warring actors in the
production and dissemination of the arts in the country.
Insert Table 1 around here
From these data, we could map out the significant changes to cultural policies
introduced by Chávez’s government, and the reactions to these new policies by local art actors.
Figure 1 captures in a visual timeline “who did what when” (Langley, 1999: 692) in
Venezuela’s tumultuous art world.
Insert Figure 1 about here
We conducted 40 semi-structured interviews with key players within the Venezuelan
art world, each lasting between forty minutes and two hours. We concluded interviewing once
theoretical saturation was reached (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The transcribed interview material
amounted to just over 800 pages of primary data, which we manually coded and translated
from our participants’ native Spanish into English. Interview material, when not presented in
data tables, appears in our Findings section in italics to distinguish it from our secondary data
sources. Our sample included individuals with considerable art world experience, who continue
operating within the Venezuelan scene (and at times overseas) in both the public and private
sphere. As experts in their field, our research participants included museum and independent
curators, art critics and writers, art managers and cultural producers, docents and researchers,
visual artists, art restorers, art dealers, auction house specialists and galleristas.
Like other scholars of Venezuela (Silva-Ferrer, 2014; Kozak Rovero, 2008) we
encountered a reluctance of government officials to speak openly in interviews. Furthermore,
as managerial and ministerial level actors tended to have limited tenure, they had little time to
experience the local art world and develop their field level skills at the time of our data
collection. Nevertheless, we were able to interview actors who had worked (or continue to
work) for government institutions including museums, the Ministry of Culture, state-run art
and cultural foundations, and in the education sector. We complemented our data with rich
secondary materials (as noted in Table 1) to capture the government’s side of our spatial
change narrative. These sources include official material such as policy documents; interviews
with ministers and presidents of cultural foundations; a wide range of newspaper articles;
government web material; and Venezuela’s new Constitution, amounting to just under 100
secondary sources.
Through non-participant observation at various field settings, namely state museums
and private art venues, we were able to: apprehend government-driven changes that impacted
the space where art is produced and disseminated; gauge the socio-political polarization; and
further our understanding of the workings of the art world more generally. Given our research
context, it was important to conduct most of the fieldwork in Venezuela (with some instances
of international data collection, see Table 1), to experience the realities of a country subjected
to an ideological shift. Thus, public murals, political propaganda, media coverage, and
Venezuelans day-to-day lived reality fed into our data collection and analysis.
Data Analysis
Moving between our theoretical lens, our data and emergent themes (Gioia et al., 2013), it
became clear that both disruptive and defensive actors relied on space as a strategic lever.
Underpinned by an inductive ethos, our observation and analysis of the data resulted in
formulating our research questions: What role does space play in the disruption and defense of
institutions? And how do dimensions of space interact in this disruption and defense of
Phase 1: Coding the use of space in institutional disruption and defense: We systematically
coded our transcribed interview material, generating “informant-centric terms and codes”
(Gioia et al., 2013: 18). From this initial coding, we developed 1st order concepts from the
accounts of our participants. Considering our research questions, our analytical focus centered
around the notion of boundaries, distance and movement (Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2018). We
identified a rift between the disruptive institutional work undertaken by government officials
and the defensive institutional work conducted by the now marginalized art world actors. This
rift is particularly apparent in how actors position themselves within, and perceived space, so
that our analysis led us to unpack the geographical distribution of actors and practices (Mengis,
Nicolini & Gorli, 2018). Our emergent codes reveal the government’s efforts to use space to
break from prevailing institutional norms to align the country’s art world with current political
ideology. Additionally, our codes captured how the country’s art professionals reacted to this
government-led shift in art practice, carrying out their own spatial effort to maintain the status
quo. Our visual material helped us contrast the two approaches to space and how they conveyed
disruption and defense of institutions. From this distinction of the contesting forms of
institutional work, we moved to memo-writing, which helped us cut new analytical paths
through our findings (Charmaz, 2006), leading to our 2nd order themes. Finally, mapping the
different positions of actors in space (see Figure 2), helped us better understand the purposeful
effort of actors around distancing and demarcation in the geography of Caracas.
Insert Figure 2 about here
Phase 2: Coding the dimensions of space: We then raised the analysis from a dichotomous
account of government officials and art professionals to themes encapsulating the spatial
dimensions of the work undertaken by these institutional actors. We went back and forth
between the existing literature on space and our data to further sharpen the constructs and how
they were connected. Building on Lefebvre’s (1991) model and work on space in organization
studies allowed us to foreground the socio-political ethos of space and how actors leverage
space to disrupt and defend the status quo. From our analysis, we highlighted three dimensions
of space, namely, the material, social and symbolic, which together enable (or constrain)
institutional work.
The material use of space in institutional work, concerns the positioning of actors in the
art world and how they use distance or proximity to either isolate or connect themselves with
one another. This first theme, therefore, centers round the physical and material qualities of
space. Second, we elaborate on the social context of space, focusing on how actors plan the use
of space and negotiate power relations with stakeholders within space. We articulate the
‘embodiment’ of space, examining how actors inhabit and work within a given space; and the
‘enactment’ of space whereby space enables interactions between social actors. There is an
important difference between embodiment and enactment. Embodiment signals meaning-
making within the constrained boundary of a space usually relying on a link between an actor
and a space (actors represent the space and inversely). In contrast, enactment conveys the
ability given to actors by space and how space is mobilized and used. Finally, we assert that
space plays a symbolic role because of how it is perceived visually and discursively by actors.
The ‘expressiveness’ of space encapsulates incidents of when space is used to project and
disseminate discourses and symbolic meanings. Together, these themes demonstrate the role
space plays when institutional actors carry out disruptive or defensive work. To demonstrate
the rigor of our data analysis (Gioia et al., 2013) and bridge the gap between data and theory,
in Figure 3 we illustrate how our tangible codes led us to our emergent theory on the role of
space in the disruption and defense of institutions.
Insert Figure 3 about here
As well as presenting our data analysis visually, our Data Tables (Table 2, 3 and 3)
illustrate the changes that have impacted the Venezuelan art world and subsequent institutional
work undertaken by both sides. Our iterative approach of analyzing data and generating
theoretical constructs in line with existing conceptualizations of space helped us craft a
compelling story. Our rich empirical context on Venezuela’s contending institutional actors
yields insight into how spatial dimensions interact in this disruption and defense of institutional
Our findings elucidate three intertwined aspects of space in disruptive and defensive
institutional work: material, social and symbolic. We first empirically considered boundaries,
isolation, distance, movement and geographical repartition as social actors demarcate space as
a form of institutional work. We then go on to explore the social use of space through the
embodiment of space, that is, how actors inhabit a spatial boundary; and the enactment of space,
which refers to how space enables interactions between social actors. Finally, alongside the
material and social, we note how space has symbolic value in disrupting and defending
institutions, in that space is expressive, and is used to project and diffuse discourses.
The Material Use of Space in Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
In this first section, we show how our contentious actors utilized material resources in creating
new boundaries, therefore achieving proximity or distance as a means of disrupting and
defending institutions.
Insert Table 2 about here
The demarcation work of disruptive actors
Like other international cultural hubs, Venezuela had (during the mid-20th century) clustered
the country’s major art venues - museums, galleries and educational institutions - at Museum
Plaza3 in downtown Caracas (see Caracas’ Cultural Map in Figure 2). The positioning of this
cultural quarter is central to the disruption and defense of the institutions. Before the Bolivarian
Revolution, this quarter acted as a demarcated space for the arts, concentrating physical
buildings in close proximity and containing cultural capital necessary for legitimizing the local
art scene. Art curator and docent, Fermin, commented on the purposefulness of this cultural
“Museums were concentrated in the capital…a very small and closed nucleus… within
500 meters you could find the National Gallery, the Fine Arts Museum, the Science
Museum, the Carlos Cruz Diez Print and Design Museum, the Contemporary Art
Museum, the Children’s Museum… all of this is happening around Museum Plaza…
EVERYTHING was concentrated there” (Fermin).
The incoming government benefitted from this agglomeration of cultural institutions, as their
disruptive work could be concentrated in a defined, identifiable and highly visible space
(Apóstol & González, 2013; SD2).
The new government centralized control to underpin its disruptive work. Despite the
close physical proximity of these venues in Caracas’ Museum Plaza, there had been an ethos
of autonomy in previous years, with museums being independently managed. Under Chávez,
sectoral restructuring saw the creation of the National Museum Foundation (Fundación de
Museos Nacionales) in 2005 which replaced the previous National Culture Council. With the
Fundación de Museos Nacionales, the government reclaimed this material space for art by
3!Museum Plaza is still home to Venezuela’s three major art institutions: the National Gallery (Galería de Arte
Nacional, GAN), the Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes, MBA), and the Contemporary Art Museum
(Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, MAC), as well as non-art museums, theaters and the city’s Athenaeum (a
privately-run, non-profit cultural association).!
centralizing museum programming, budgeting, and management, so that museum profiles,
which had previously been materially bounded and curatorially distinct from one another,
would blend into one (Table 2/ 1). Our participants referred to the loss of identity of the
country’s museums with their transferrable collections, exhibitions, programs, curatorial
profiles, and staff. The now displaced art actors objected to this loss of institutional identity,
highlighting key differences between the two concepts: “an exhibition hall is not the same as
a museum: a museum has a permanent mission [statement] and an aim to research, disseminate
and share its collections” (Fermin; see also Table 2/ 2).
Alongside this homogenization of museums, we saw how the government imposed new
uses of existing venues whilst merging others. One such initiative was housing new museums
within already existing physical venues, for instance placing the new Museum for Popular Art
within the premises of the Contemporary Art Museum. The creation of such “parasite”
museums within established venues further blurred institutional profiles, creating physical and
financial burdens on existing museums. Other museums were transformed into venues for
alternative cultural activities, largely unrelated to museum work. For instance, the Jacobo
Borges Museum (or MUJABO) became a creative arts college; its permanent collection moved
to the National Gallery’s (GAN) warehouse; and all curatorial and educational programming
was cancelled. Stripping MUJABO of its identity and permanent collection eroded the
museum’s profile within the local art world. This disruptive work evinces how space can be
used to blur boundaries between individual places, erasing diversity in cultural production.
The centralization of museum operations through the creation of the Fundación de
Museos Nacionales constituted disruptive work in demarcating boundaries around official
venues for art. This isolated the work of government-run spaces from the global art world,
allowing government officials now working within the museum framework to distance
themselves (physically) from the previous generation of art world professionals. In parallel, the
international presence of the new government’s actors in the art sector is mostly by official
representation at international biennials, which are more symbolic in value. Art events - like
the renowned Venice Biennale - play a cultural role in positioning Venezuela internationally
(Table 2/ 3). As one of the few countries with a permanent national pavilion within the
renowned Giardini (gardens) of the Venice Biennale, Venezuela’s participation at this
prestigious event is always secured.
On the positioning of defensive actors
We found that Venezuela’s now displaced art actors demarcated a new space for art by
amalgamating commercial galleries, art centers, temporary exhibition spaces, and privately-
run art foundations, in what local art curator Armando refers to as a bubble of freedom”.
Aware of the benefits of working in close proximity, the art professionals behind these private-
run venues strategically clustered themselves in commercial and upmarket residential districts
of Caracas. Some actors went further and bundled individual art venues together in a single
space, a prime example being the Galpones (or ‘warehouses’) Art Center, opened in 2005. The
Galpones offers visitors eighteen small venues in a tropical garden with bookshops, cafés,
eateries, and designer boutiques, alongside commercial galleries, artist-run venues, and
independently curated exhibition areas making this space more accessible and multifarious
than the typically intimidating, white-cube gallery setting located in uptown Caracas (see
Image 1). Attesting the perceived legitimacy of this new art space, and the benefits of art
professionals working in close proximity, since our data collection, two privately-run galleries
have migrated from independent venues to be included under the umbrella of Galpones.
Insert Image 1 about here
Although the new physical and geographic boundaries of this collective bubble of freedom
meant that these art venues were protected from government disruption, it also meant that they
were isolated from a broader public. Unlike the centrally located Museum Plaza, the
geographical positioning of privately-run venues is a disadvantage as they are relatively
inaccessible, elitist in nature, and physically intimidating to a wider audience (see the Cultural
Map in Figure 2). Independent curator and writer, Fernanda comments how people from lower
income households and peripheral communities would not visit private galleries in the city’s
commercial or financial district, known as the “Opposition’s Heartland” (Carroll, 2013) (Table
2/ 4). Although Museum Plaza was once “a natural meeting place” [Bianca, art critic] for art
professionals, students and enthusiasts, our informants noted it is now a no-go zone for many
middle- and upper-class people worried about personal safety. This concern comes from the
presence of a growing slum in the surrounding area, which continues to become more violent
as does the likelihood of being politically targeted (Table 2/ 5).
Alongside the emergence of new art venues and the amalgamation of venues, such as
Galpones, some already established private galleries have refurbished their premises to mimic
the physical setting of a museum. Freites Gallery, for instance, houses five stories of exhibition
space, with a large atrium, ample halls, and a sculpture garden on the roof. Gallery manager,
Elizabeth, indicated that the gallery achieved museum-quality design (Table 2/ 6).
Nevertheless, art professionals acknowledge the lack of material resources for disseminating
artists’ work and the limitations of the physical space itself. Museum curator turned gallery
manager, Leopoldo, argues how museums [not galleries] have the tools to pull off major
exhibits”, bemoaning the added challenges in this new curatorial role. Unable to amass large
art collections, venues within the bubble of freedom fail to replicate museums spatially. Co-
founder and manager of a new gallery space, Amapola notes how a gallery no matter how
large its scope may be – never really substitutes for a museum: “a museum has a collection, a
defined profile and an array of qualities that galleries simply lack”. Now distanced from the
museum framework, the marginalized actors working in the bubble of freedom idealized the
space they once inhabited, particularly regarding available material resources they once had.
Defensive actors use satellite galleries overseas as an effective way of inserting local
artists into the global art world. Transcending geographical boundaries, some Venezuelan
commercial galleries have opened permanent satellite galleries in the USA, Europe and other
countries in Latin America (like Panama, a financial and residential hub for many expatriated
Venezuelans). These international venues not only provide a space where institutional roles
can be played, in isolation from disruptive actors in Venezuela, but also help actors
circumnavigate economic challenges such as hyperinflation. However, having a second
permanent venue is costly, so many galleries opt to maintain global visibility through
participating in international art fairs (Table 2/ 7).
Where disruptive and defensive work met: The fractured space of the Michelena Art
The case of the locally recognized Michelena Art Salon vividly captures how a single space
for art can be the theater of an institutional struggle between disruptors and defenders of
institutions and end up fractured into two opposing views. Hosted in the Athenaeum in
Valencia (in Carabobo State) since 1943, the state-run Michelena Art Salon showcased, judged,
and awarded prizes to young contemporary artists. Based on the Parisian École des Beaux-Arts,
it was considered the place to be for upcoming artists. Regular judge at the event, Rigoberto
explained how artists valued the institutional clout of art salons - such as the Michelena - for
disseminating their work and gaining recognition (Table 2/ 8). Troubles at the Michelena Art
Salon started in 2005 when an artwork entitled “I signed” (“Yo Firmé”) was awarded a prize
by the salon. Making a direct reference to a petition against President Chávez, this award
triggered criticism of the salon on behalf of government officials depicting it as a politicized
space. The state-run venue was subsequently closed for the 2007 edition of the event
(Rodríguez, 2007; SD2). By 2008, two Michelena Art Salons had appeared on the scene: a
government-run event that occupied the original building (the Athenaeum in Valencia) and an
alternative Michelena Salon run by members of the Michelena Foundation (i.e. the cultural
sector), which was dispersed across several venues in the same city. Although the event hosted
by the Michelena Foundation had the necessary social and symbolic resources, it clearly lacked
physical presence and legitimacy, spread out as it was across several venues. This fracturing
of the salon generated great confusion for visual artists and the general public: which space
was, in fact, institutionally legitimate, the “chávista4 or “opposition” one? Not wishing to get
involved in a political battleground, some artists opted to boycott both spaces (Table 2/ 9).
Attesting to the precariousness of the situation, Fermin wondered; “how long can an event of
this caliber operate in this fractured state, not being hosted at its official headquarters [i.e. the
Antheneum]?” This example of the Michelena Salon encapsulates how spaces may compete
in their promotion of divergent visions of institutions, epitimizing the fragmentation which
took place in the Venezuelan art world post Chávez.
The Social Use of Space in Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
We previously revealed how actors demarcated space as a form of disruptive or defensive
institutional work but such demarcation shapes and is shaped by social relations, and the
following sections will unpack the social nature of space as demonstrated by our analysis.
Insert Table 3 about here
The embodiment of space as disruptive and defensive work
4!A term used to refer to supporters of the Chávez administration.!
Our data reveal that Chávez inherited a cultural and artistic sector consisting of highly skilled
museum curators, cultural managers, docents, researchers, and restoration specialists (Apóstol
& González, 2013; SD2). Contemporary artist, Jacobo, noted how museums had acted as
training centers for the country’s art professionals (Table 3/ 10). The embodiment of these
actors within the country’s museums, national galleries and education centers ensured the
legitimacy and art world relevance of this space. In reconfiguring the country’s institutions, the
incoming-government purposefully pushed highly skilled actors out of this official space
through mass dismissals. One way of reconfiguring existing space was by breaking the patterns
of accepted behavior and institutional links between these actors operating within the official
space for the arts. After these mass-dismissals, the government populated museums with actors
whose activities better harmonized with the ethos of the Bolivarian Revolution (Table 3/ 11),
thereby reclaiming this space for the arts. The mass-dismissal of accredited institutional actors
from the public sphere, stripped this space from its social link to the international art world.
As the new regime reclaimed this space, our participants reported that qualified
museum personnel (curators, educators, directors, and senior management) voluntarily left or
were forced to leave their posts within the museum field. A 2001 televised dismissal of cultural
institutional heavyweights was seen to symbolize the government’s war on ‘elitist’ culture and
subsequent reclaiming of the cultural field (Table 3/ 12, 13).
Meanwhile, displaced art professionals migrated to the private sector, creating and
expanding their operations by liaising with other key actors of the field using those venues as
platforms. With this displacement of professionals, there was a palpable migration of
institutional expertise and social connectivity needed to confer value on the arts. Venezuela’s
art actors demarcated the boundaries of their art activities and conferred value onto their art
world within their new space, by continuing to engage in curatorship in the bubble of freedom.
Somewhat sheltered from the hostile macroenvironment, this new space for art embodied those
marginalized actors and gave them representation to connect with other key social actors. The
enabling role of the physical space within the new bubble of freedom coupled with the
embodied knowledge and connections of the inhabitants, allows contemporary artists to
continue showcasing their work and accruing the necessary symbolic and economic value
needed to ensure their presence on the local art scene.
The enactment of space as disruptive and defensive work
The enactment of space, understood as how inhabitants use and mobilize space, plays a crucial
role in the defense and disruption of institutions. The incoming government used the space
available to break with the prevailing institutional order and practices of the art world, while
actors working within the bubble of freedom collaborated to uphold previously legitimized art
Alongside the mass dismissal of institutional actors from the museum framework, the
new regime brought a rejection of previous practices and values. Those values were presented
as elitist, bourgeois or simply foreign (Apóstol & González, 2013; Kozak Rovero, 2015; both
in SD2). The new actors appointed by the government focused on forging new institutional
partnerships, which harmonized better with the ideals of the Revolution. Artists and artisans
from like-minded nations (e.g. Cuba or Iran) were invited to showcase their work at
Venezuela’s major museums, evincing the politicized purpose of this official space for the arts.
On this note, Fermin says that “the arts are a diplomatic tool for governments, so that the new
regime sets new strategic priorities”. Curatorial partnerships with sympathizers of the
Revolution meant that new museum officials purposefully distanced themselves from
institutional actors working in epicenters of the art world, as well as distancing themselves
from the local private sphere for arts legitimization (Table 3/ 14).
At the other end of the spectrum, we know how the defensive work of those operating
within the bubble of freedom focused on the maintenance, rather than reconfiguration, of art
world practices. Therefore, actors working within this new space aimed to reinforce rather than
break institutional ties with global art world players. Gallery manager Amanda underscores the
need to retain international visibility at art fairs, noting how her presence at renowned events
has brought her (and her featured artists) recognition: “At ARCO [Madrid’s premier art fair] I
had people from the Reina Sofia Contemporary Art Museum, the Museo de Arte Vigo [Galicia]
and the MUSAC [Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Castilla y León, Spain] approach me about
my artists. Bringing our artists to these events is a big deal. Gallery owner, Alejandro Freites
cooperates with foreign museum professionals to arrange local shows (Table 3/ 15). These
actors use their space for art to insert themselves into the global playing field, mainly by
participating in international art fairs and events, forums, organizing exchanges, and inviting
international counterparts to Venezuela. Private venues enact the value conferring practices of
a museum onto artists whilst positioning them physically and socially within the contemporary
art scene.
The Symbolic Use of Space in Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
The contentious institutional actors of our case study present opposing images of the local art
world in the space they have inhabited, one tightly enmeshed with the political ideology of the
revolution, the other aligned to the global field of art. Whilst the government’s appropriated
space focused on fostering inclusion in the production of art, art professionals used the space
they demarcated to advocate a distinction between art and non-art.
Insert Table 4 about here
Politicized curatorship as disruptive work
The symbolic appropriation of museums and public galleries was through reconfiguration of
curatorial programming. Our interviewees noted how over-inclusion rather than distinction
contradicts the norms of the prevailing institutional order of the art world. In practice, this
inclusion meant that major exhibitions within the country’s art museums showcased artists with
non-artists without distinction, taking little consideration of artists’ trajectories and artistic
narratives when positioning their work within this official space (Table 4/ 16, 17). This
inclusive initiative was most evident with the launch of mega-exhibitions at the start of the new
millennium, a crucial moment of institutional change during Chávez’s regime. The first edition
of Mega Exposición (2002-2003) saw a massive amalgamation of artworks irrespective of
genre, technique or era, viewed by the established art elite as lacking curatorship (Table 4/ 18;
see also Rodner & Preece, 2016), which in turn symbolically altered the expressive nature of
the space. Our data reveal how the second (and final) edition of this event (2003-2004) made
an impact on the cultural panorama: Mega Exposición II was a mass call for professional and
amateur artists to settle in the museum and public art space and exhibit across the national
museum network. Officially, this artistic expression would offer everyone the “opportunity” to
take part in cultural production, according to the Minister of Culture, Francisco Sesto (Table
4/ 19). If a selection criterion is essentially ‘excluding’ some artists over others by prioritizing
certain artistic discourses, events such as Mega Exposición fully embraced a message of
equality, not in the consumption of art but rather in the production and dissemination of art,
explains local arts manager and independent curator, Paloma. This narrative of curatorial
inclusivity was spread across the country’s museum network. Although museums are
essentially open venues of art consumption, they are not necessarily spaces of open arts
production (Table 4/ 20), so that mega-exhibitions were favored by amateur artists and artisans,
but dismissed by the “serious artist”, who felt that association with a poorly curated event
“lowered the status and value of their work” laments visual artist Isaac.
Alongside this ethos of inclusivity, there were visible rebranding initiatives aimed at
symbolically repositioning the role of official spaces within the minds of the people. For
instance, the Contemporary Art Museum, previously named after its founder and head curator,
Sofia Imber, was rebranded in 2001, removing her name from the museum and symbolically
demonstrating a clear breakaway from previous generations of art professionals. Rebranding
of art venues was instrumental for the new regime to project a new image for the nation. In
2017, the Contemporary Art Museum was rebranded again, adopting the name of renowned
local Modernist artist, Armando Reverón. Art professionals in Venezuela complained as the
link between a Modernist artist like Armando Reverón and a contemporary art institution
seemed incongruent and created confusion (Table 4/ 21). Such renaming initiatives further
evince the blurred identities of museums under the Chávez administration.
Under the new administration, museums focused on defending the incoming
government’s vision for the nation (Khan, 2013; SD2). This was enabled due to the curatorial
and administrative centralization of museum spaces, under the above-mentioned Fundación de
Museos Nacionales. Despite having material and physical control of the country’s official
space for art, the incoming government struggled to legitimize their new organizational praxis
- an over-inclusive approach to art aligned with their political ideologies. Their curatorial
activities and social networks were isolated from the overarching order of the global art world.
By stripping Venezuela’s museums of their symbolic credentials, the government made them
empty “mausoleums” according to corporate arts curator Tamara.
Preserving art world discourses and practices as defensive work
With the symbolic legitimacy of museums and public art galleries eroded due to the removal
of their skilled inhabitants, the bubble of freedom acted as the new legitimate arena for
institutional activities, namely the conferral of value onto art through curatorship. As well as
weaving their artists into relevant curatorial narratives, actors working within the space of the
bubble of freedom symbolically projected a distinct image of the country’s local art scene.
Unlike the blurred lines of the museums, which became homogenous exhibition halls,
the venues that make up the bubble of freedom established specific profiles for themselves.
Collectively, they underscored the need to carve out distinct profiles for each venue which
would consequently project a specific image for their featured artists. Local artist, Jacobo,
comments on the backdrop that Amanda’s gallery creates for its featured artists:
It’s a gallery that is in a garage in a house with a pretty austere structure and [the
gallery] has positioned itself at a high symbolic level, in the sense that they work
with artists with a good professional profile because this is what [the gallery owners]
see as truly ‘decisive’ for the success for the artist.
Careful curatorship means that art professionals working within this new space could
confer value onto artists. Immersed in the prevailing practices and discourses of the global art
world (as mentioned above), these defensive actors continued weaving Venezuelan artists into
a relevant art narrative, so that through the symbolic use of space, these actors could distinguish
art from non-art. As museums lose their symbolic position on the local cultural panorama,
bubble of freedom aims to cover the void that has been left, explains museum director-turned-
gallery manager Leopoldo, so that those working within this space for art try to fill the
institutions’ shoes as best they can, according to art critic and scholar, Rigoberto (see also
Table 4/ 22).
In response, actors working within the bubble of freedom venture into new territory.
They focus their efforts on mobilizing their space to curate exhibits, engage in art criticism,
liaise directly with other institutional actors, and produce in-house publications of gallery
catalogues picturing their exhibition halls. They also organize artist residencies, workshops,
charitable auctions, forums, and lecture series to discuss matters of art and culture. These
activities are undertaken to distinguish the exhibition venues from purely mercantile roles
(especially the commercial galleries), as this new space attempts to confer both symbolic and
financial value onto visual artists, thereby becoming a new cultural hub (Table 4/ 23, 24).
Despite these curatorial efforts, our participants note the symbolic presence of museums
(lacking in private galleries): You can be any alternative space in the city… [have] any amount
of [exhibition] spaces and it’s never the same as a museum that legitimizes a work of art,
legitimizes an artist. And that has been lost”, laments Mauricio. Others worry that an over
dependency on the private sector to symbolically legitimize the arts has jeopardized the
country’s overall artistic credibility. Nevertheless, where the bubble of freedom lacks the key
material resources of the country’s museums, the space does retain the necessary symbolic
resources to confer value onto and curate their local art scene. In their defensive work, the now
marginalized actors who run this new space for art replicate – as best they can – the prevailing
institutional order of the global art world.
Although some of our participants questioned the sustainability of the newly emerged
bubble of freedom as alternative art venues with curatorial power, they remained determined
to continue connecting their local art world to the global contemporary narrative, wanting to
remain relevant on the global (art) panorama.
From our study, we have formulated a theoretical model (Figure 4) to articulate the role space
may play in the disruption and defense of institutions. In doing so, our model explains how the
dimensions of space - the material, social and symbolic – interact when mobilized for
institutional work. Understanding how those three dimensions enable and reinforce each other
is key to understanding the role of space in institutional theory.
Insert Figure 4 about here
Through our spatial approach, we have shown as a first step how actors use the material
dimension of space to demarcate their institutional work. Demarcation involves distancing and
isolating themselves from other social actors who have conflicting views of institutions. This
spatial “emancipating” (Castilho & Dolbec, 2017) involves a clustering (Taylor & Spicer,
2007) and in our case we see a clustering of art venues within a bubble of freedom far from
Museum Plaza (Figure 2), the official space for art. With this clustering, we show how actors
erect boundaries that create a “free space” (Rao & Dutta, 2012), so that they remain protected
from a hostile macro-environment such as that experienced in Venezuela under the Bolivarian
Revolution. As a space, the bubble of freedom offers distance from disruptors who occupy the
official space for art, whilst allowing subversive actors to exclude and isolate themselves from
the political scene. This geographic positioning helps shield the activities of these actors from
the incoming government’s disruption of the local art world, so that the country’s art
professionals can work towards the maintenance of their practices. But living in a bubble is a
double-edged sword as our findings reveal how these displaced art actors subsequently cut
themselves from wider art audiences. At the other end of the spectrum, our study reveals how
the incoming government appropriated existing space (namely museums and national galleries)
and that in their appropriation, these disruptive actors aimed to draw on the “spatial legacies”
(de Vaujany & Vaast, 2014) of these venues. The government’s overreliance on the material,
that is, the physical appropriation of an official space for art, did not enable them to convince
all audiences to follow their ideological vision of these cultural institutions.
Once the actors have demarcated - i.e. isolated from actors defending a different
institutional prescription - a space where they can pursue their aims, our research shows, that
space can (i) enable social interactions between actors within those new boundaries but also
with international counterparts, and (ii) symbolically project and support discourses supporting
or challenging existing norms, values and beliefs (center of Figure 4). For those defensive
actors, demarcating a space for art enable them to remain institutionally relevant and legitimate
(Weber, Davis & Lounsbury, 2009) particularly in relation to the wider, global field. They
reinforced their links with their global counterparts by using their spatial position as an anchor
and the space itself as an area of socialization to make themselves visible as prominent
institutional actors (Muzio, Brock & Suddaby, 2013) to key audiences beyond their local
counterparts (Zietsma et al., 2017). They instantiated the space linking themselves with an
existing material form – to create visibility and meaning around their social role, and the space
also allowed them to engage in key social interactions.
Using the symbolic ability to grant value onto art, the emerging cluster of private
galleries and art spaces, adopted the curatorial role that museums once played, aligning
curatorship with the practices of the global playing field. The curatorial activities of those
working within the bubble of freedom enabled them to attract art audiences from museums and
public art galleries - which were now deemed culturally obsolete. Because of the shifts in
activities in Venezuela’s museums, traditional museumgoers eventually de-populated the space
colonized by the government in the museum district, leaving it deserted. As a means of
remedying this lack of attendance, the government launched over-inclusive “mega exhibitions”,
a key ephemeral spatial vehicle built on physical grandiosity and visibility, to promote their
values and practices in alignment with their political ideologies. However, their initiatives
failed to accrue symbolic resources (Lawrence & Dover, 2015) or carriers (Lepoutre & Valente,
2012) associated with the field of art.
Those three dimensions of space interact with each other when space is used for
institutional work. While the three dimensions of space can sustain themselves, the social and
the symbolic use of space in institutional work mutually reinforce one another (right end side
of Figure 4). When space is used by actors to develop and maintain their social network (e.g.
in the case of displaced actors using their galleries to establish links with the global art world)
it also reinforces its ability to grant symbolic value to art. In this sense, those who inhabit a
space give it symbolic power. Inversely, space that can project symbolic discourses - such as
museums in our study - can also draw crowds that will give them a social role. The social and
symbolic role played by space as part of defensive and disruptive institutional work is however
conditioned by the material and physical aspect of the space mobilized but the latter also
conditioned the access to resources. The art galleries created by the displaced actors in
Venezuela struggled for resources, their existence temporally bound by the amount of financial
support those actors had been able to secure. Despite playing a crucial symbolic and social role,
private art galleries struggle to establish a stable physical manifestation. In contrast, the
museums and public galleries claimed by the government actors in downtown Caracas,
continued as physical entities, potentially enabling the enactment of institutional practices and
values in the long-term (Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2017).
Drawing on a longitudinal study of the disruption of the Venezuelan art world with the arrival
of the Chávez administration, our findings establish how space is strategically used by actors
with opposing visions on what role art should play in the country. Our inductive model (Figure
4) shows how demarcating spaces by leveraging distance or proximity precludes the social and
symbolic use of those spaces for institutional work. The social and symbolic use of space
mutually reinforce each other to disrupt and defend institutions, as the relationships enacted in
space can strengthen the symbolic messages put forward. We demonstrate how the demarcation
and use of space can directly contribute to the disruption and defense of institutions, as
institutions are enacted within and supported by physical spaces (Gluckler et al., 2018). Once
actors have shaped space and settled in a position and configuration, their ability to impose
their own visions of institutional praxis will depend on their access to key resources –material
and symbolic (Dacin et al., 2010) but also social (Rabinow, 2003).
In the following, we detail our contributions to the literature on space and institutional
theory, in particular by elaborating on the implications of considering space as a strategic lever
for institutional work. The study of space in institutional theory gives us an opportunity to
consider the crucial role of resources in disruptive and defensive work. Finally, we consider
the limitations of our work and the future research areas it opens. We encourage future work
to explore the interaction of time and space and the implications it can have for power
relationships in the context of institutional struggles.
Leveraging space as institutional work
We inform the literature on institutional work and institutional change in a number of
ways. First, unlike previous studies on deinstitutionalization (Maguire & Hardy, 2009;
Clemente & Roulet, 2015) where one institution replaces another, our study highlights that two
divergent institutional prescriptions can co-exist, here, in competing spaces, with differential
access to material and symbolic resources. Instead of radical institutional change, we show, in
our case study, a co-existence of contending actors (Van Wijk et al., 2013) with different views
on what the institution should be, and consequently leveraging space to best suit their
institutional needs. In doing so, we find that the examination of space at the level of material,
social and symbolic, allows us to understand the nuances of institutional change in such
contexts where divergent institutional prescriptions co-exist and compete.
Second, this paper contributes to research on the material aspects of institutional theory
(Monteiro & Nicolini, 2015; Jones & Massa, 2013). In particular, we focus on the role of space
in institutional work, complementing and building on the emerging literature on place and
institutional work (Lawrence & Dover, 2015; Siebert et al., 2017). Lawrence & Dover (2015)
showed how places shape and are shaped by institutional work and Siebert et al., (2017)
focused on the role of place in institutional maintenance. We elaborated on the abstract
dimensions of space - geographical boundaries, distance, and proximity (Weinfurtner & Seidl,
2018) - by contrast with an analysis of places - defined locations and set areas (Lawrence &
Dover, 2015). We built on existing conceptualization of space in philosophy (Lefebvre, 1991),
anthropology (Rabinow, 2003), geography (Massey, 2005) and organization studies (Taylor &
Spicer, 2007; Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2018). We acknowledge that the study of institutional work
invariably relies on a joint understanding of space and place, including buildings, monuments
and defined locations (Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2018). The control of space and places has
implications for access to material, social and symbolic resources and, thus, for the control of
institutions (Siebert et al., 2018). Yet controlling places that play an institutional role (such as
the museums in our case) does not equate to the control of institutions, something which the
Chávez government discovered when it struggled to reframe the values and beliefs of the sector.
Our study thus elaborates on the relationship between institutional work, space and the political
macro-environment, by showing how a spatial analysis makes visible the power relationships
at play in institutional struggles (Lawrence & Buchanan, 2017).
We stressed the role of space and contention around institutions, in other words when
institutions are challenged and disputed, and thus in flux (Monteiro & Nicolini, 2015). Our
contribution lies in proposing a comprehensive model that conceptualizes the material
demarcation of space and the use of space as a social and symbolic enabler for conflicting
forms of institutional work. We have established that demarcating spaces can be a form of
institutional work aimed at creating physical boundaries but also distance and isolation to
disrupt or defend institutions. Such boundaries create a space in which new or existing practices
can be promoted (Cnossen & Bencherki, 2018), potentially shielding them from alternative
institutional prescription (Greenwood et al., 2002). Actors can use space as a resource to shield
and isolate themselves and their actions from events in the macro-environment, to defend
institutions against more powerful actors. This is a form of “physical” boundary work (Zietsma
& Lawrence, 2010) that preconditions potential work on the social and symbolic aspects of
institutions (Zilber, 2002; Zilber, 2006; Green et al., 2009). In fact, our model of the role of
space in institutional work provides avenues to better disentangle the different aspects of space
and their interlinked influence on institutions, acknowledging the material, social and symbolic
carriers of institutions (Lepoutre & Valente, 2012).
Bridging the gap between organizing in space, resources and institutions
More broadly our work also contributes to theorizing the links between organizations, spatial
resources, and institutions. The displaced actors who populated this new distant and isolated
space in Venezuela started legitimizing different organizational forms in a similar way to what
DiMaggio (1991) describes, thus capturing new resources. The organization of those places
and how they are interlinked are purposeful, since they are used and positioned in space to
coordinate and obtain visibility and link up with different spatial levels or scales the local,
the national and the global institutional orders (Spicer, 2006). Even when relegated to the
periphery, marginalized organizations can still play a crucial role in shaping institutions (Fan
& Zietsma, 2017). Previous research suggested that such “new space for economic enterprise
or social activity” (Suddaby & Viale, 2011: 428) can foster collective empowerment,
potentially challenging more resourceful actors (Rao & Dutta, 2012).
Symbolic resources (Lepoutre & Valente, 2012; Maguire, Hardy & Lawrence, 2004)
and social interactions (Zilber, 2002; Green et al., 2009; Wright & Zammuto, 2013; Fan &
Zietsma, 2017) are necessary to support (de)institutionalization processes but such resources
are often made accessible by spatial position or because of spatial boundaries (Siebert et al.,
2017). Instead, a free space (Rao & Dutta, 2012), isolated from disruption, materializes where
defensive actors preserve their values and practices. Some institutional roles are traditionally
played in a dedicated space – in our case the museums, clustered in the center of Caracas. But
the control of such space does not guarantee the control of institutions. Inhabitants may struggle
for legitimacy (Scott, 2013; Suchman, 1995) even when the defined places themselves hold
symbolic value (Siebert et al., 2017). In fact, the marginalized actors of our story played an
institutional role from their isolated space – the bubble of freedom - as they continued
conferring value onto art. Those operating within the bubble of freedom retained the social and
symbolic resources (Dacin et al., 2010) aligned with the global art world. This ‘free space’
(Rao & Dutta, 2012) protected them from a hostile wider political macro-environment and
provided “actors with a secure arena in which to interact and express their voice” (Weinfurtner
& Seidl, 2018: 14). The material isolation from the reconstituted official art world, resulting
from shifting the previous art professionals out of established art venues, resulted in a fractured
art space within Venezuela.
Limitations and Future Research
The first limitation of our study is the scope of our case across time and space. Our theoretical
model does demonstrate the benefits of studying the spatial (Lawrence & Dover, 2015),
material (Monteiro & Nicolini, 2015), social (Zilber, 2002; Wright & Zammuto, 2013) and
symbolic (Siebert et al., 2017) aspects of institutional work together. In fact, our study of the
disrupted Venezuelan art sector suggests that these aspects can hardly be disentangled. As the
interaction between space and time plays a crucial role in the necessary sedimentation of
practices (Oborn et al., 2019), institutional work needs to play out over a longer period of time
to efficiently affect institutions (Granqvist & Gustafsson, 2016). Even if temporal organizing
can play a role in challenging or supporting institutions, the way a space supports institutions
may develop over several decades (Delacour & Leca, 2011) or even centuries (Siebert et al.,
2018). Future work could look at the interaction of time and space over longer periods of time.
Such work could further our exploration of multimodal institutionalization and legitimation
mechanisms (Zilber, 2017; Jancsary, et al., 2017). Sensemaking and narratives around
institutions are not only discursive (Maguire & Hardy, 2009) but cannot, in fact, be
disentangled from their socio-material elements (Rantakari & Vaara, 2017). Therefore,
discourses underlying (de)institutionalization processes can also be enacted visually and in
space. Our spatial theorization of disruptive and defensive institutional work acknowledges the
visual construction of meaning, and how this material process is intertwined with social and
political aspects. “Strong” multimodal approaches (Zilber, 2017: 70) can avoid the pitfall of
“collaps[ing] the material into the discursive”. Here, we focused on how our spatial artefacts
(e.g. galleries and museums, biennales and fairs) constrained and enabled meanings and actions.
Future studies making space a theater of meaning-making and source of multimodal artefacts
(Colombero & Boxenbaum, 2018), could further the “practice approach” of multimodal inquiry
(Höllerer et al.. 2019: 62-71):
Our boundary conditions relate to the characteristics of our disruptive and defensive
actors. In our case, we observed actors being forcefully excluded from the space they inhabited
as a result of disruptive institutional work. One condition for such an extreme form of
institutional pressures is the potential power imbalance between institutional actors (Furnari,
2016; Roulet, 2019). As we have seen, governments are particularly powerful disruptive actors
(Reay & Hinings, 2005), with the ability to withhold physical resources, which translates into
controlling the management of publicly financed fields. Similar to Wright & Zammuto’s
(2013) study of cricket, our findings apply mostly to mature fields where more established
actors have secured institutional influence (Fligstein, 1997). They can push for forceful
institutional disruption due to a power imbalance based on resource and control – in particular
the control of space (as a physical area in the geographical core of human activities) and places
(buildings, monuments and defined enclosures). In our analysis we show that space is overtly
political (Lefebvre, 1991) and that an institutional analysis that focuses on space reveals the
underlying political relationships at play. Our spatial perspective makes visible the power
relationships within institutions (Lawrence & Buchanan, 2017) and future research could
further unveil the link between power, space and resources from an institutional perspective.
Despite the power imbalance in our case, we do not observe radical moves, such as the
destruction of places and space as a form of institutional work. As noted by Siebert et al. (2017)
and Czarniawska (2009), depriving actors from a building can significantly modify their ability
to engage in the interactions that underlie institutions. However, we clearly establish that using
space to enable social interactions may aid displaced actors in remaining institutionally
legitimate even when spatially isolated and circumscribed. The destruction of places and
absence of space to support institutional practices (Giovannoni & Quattrone, 2018; Cnossen &
Bencherki, 2018) offer fruitful opportunities to uncover how actors can undermine material,
social and symbolic “carriers” of institutions (Lepoutre & Valente, 2012: 285).
Our study of the disrupted Venezuelan art world reveals how space can be leveraged to disrupt
and defend institutions. Once actors have demarcated space, playing on geographical proximity
or distance and isolation, they can enable social interactions and project discourses to challenge
or maintain key values and practices. The social and symbolic aspects of space mutually
reinforce each other in contributing to the defense or disruption of institutions. In our case, the
clustering of art venues in a metaphoric bubble of freedom allows actors to continue conferring
value onto the art world in Venezuela and strategically position local artists on the global
playing field, given that the societal function of museums has been temporarily challenged.
Paradoxically, a nation that has undergone a thorough Socialist makeover in the last two
decades, has seen its local art scene migrate almost entirely to the private sector. How these
new art galleries, strategically positioned but spatially constrained, will stand the test of time
remains to be seen, especially as they continue to struggle for material resources in a deeply
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Public response to mass
dismissal in local press;
disgruntled local /
international art critics
condemning mass
dismissal of museum
personnel and and gov.
takeover of art
2002 - 2003 2003 - 2004
1st edition of
Mega exposición
2003 Francisco
Sesto appointed
President of
2nd edition of
Mega exposición
(professional and
amateur artists
exhibited in all-
inclusive art
Counter exhibit to
Mega exposición
led by local visual
artist - ‘The Super
Exclusive Marcel
Duchamp Art
New dual-purpose
(curatorial/commercial) art
venues; existing galleries
expand their premises and
activities to accommodate artists
and include non-commercial
Galleries set up satellite spaces
overseas; participation at
international art fairs; actors
circumvent currency / export
restrictions via bank accounts
2007 - 2008
Military takeover of
Ateneo de Valencia
(venue for Michelena Art
Salon since 1948)
State-run Art Salons
rebranded as biennials
with only 1 or 2 editions
Centralization of art
colleges under umbrella
institution (UNEARTE)
Foundation director
alternative venue
with locally
recognized art critics
Artists unsure which
venue carries
symbolic weight,
some opt out entirely
Artists selected for
Venice Biennale
feel negatively
portrayed by
Venezuelan press
Gov. takeover of
Ateneo de Caracas
(cultural center)
Forum organized
by art professionals
to debate selection
criteria for the
Venice Biennale,
no gov. officials
participate in the
Takeover of
Jacobo Borges
rebranded as
art college
2005 - 2006
Poor curatorship
of mass-collective
hinders reputation
of established
visual artists
Displaced art actors’ defensive work
Government’s disruptive work
2005 Replacement of
CONAC with Ministry of
2005 Creation the National
Museums Foundation with
executive, budgetary and
curatorial centralized
control of museums
Parasitical museums invade
institutional spaces
Public dismissal of the
country’s curators and
other members of staff
from country’s main
museums; expropriation
of private art collections.
Type of data
Use in the analysis
First round 2009 2012
31x interviews with art professionals
(museum directors, public and
independent curators, art critics and
historians, educators, galleristas, arts
producers, foundation managers and
artists) working in the Venezuelan art
world. Interviews took place in Caracas
(Venezuela), at the Venice Biennale,
and in London and Paris at international
art fairs and/or satellite galleries.
Gather data on the workings of Venezuela’s local art and
how artists are promoted/represented overseas (at
official biennials, art fairs, satellite galleries); examine
ideological and structural changes that occurred with the
incoming government; explore the emergence of an
alternative art space; map out the migration of
institutional actors from the public sector; assess the dual
roles of art professionals working in the private sector.
Second round 2016-2017
9x Interviews (4 follow up interviews)
with informants who worked or
continue to work in state run institutions
and the public sector for the arts; and
with Latin American Studies scholars
specializing in Venezuelan political
Gather further data from professionals working in the
public sector; obtain insider/unbiased information on
government-driven changes and motivations; balance
empirical data with the government’s side of the story;
triangulate findings on socio-political polarization;
create a timeline of events that have impacted the local
art scene.
SD1 - Publications on Venezuela under
Hugo Chávez (Bruce, 2008; Jones,
2008; Carroll, 2013; Chávez and
Guevara, 2006; Kobbé, Brown and
Givern, 2016; Chávez, 2009; Brading,
2015; Cannon, 2009; Marcano &
Barrera Tyszka, 2005)
Underpin ideological motivations of the Chávez
administration; understand the goals of the ‘revolution’;
track structural changes to institutions; assess the
language used by the incoming government to ‘other’
the opposition.
SD2 - Local/international press,
publications & media on changes to the
cultural sector under Chávez (Apóstol
& González, 2013; Esteva-Grillet, 2009,
2010a, 2010b; Falcón, 2010a, 2010b,
2010c, 2010d, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c,
2011d, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c; Davila-
Villa, 2008; Delgado-Aguirre, 2009; El
Universal, 2017a, 2017b; El País, 2005,
2017; Sánchez Amaya, 2017; Kozak
Rovero, 2006, 2015; Bermúdez &
Sánchez, 2009; Khan, 2013; Ramos,
2012; Propuesta-s dos, 2009;
Rodriguez, 2007; Zavarce, 2010)
Track structural changes to the country’s cultural sector;
set the context of the study and map out these
government-driven changes to create a timeline of key
events that have impacted cultural institutions and
subsequently triggered the emergence of alternative art
spaces; assess the motivations behind such changes;
observe the reactions of professionals working within
the cultural sector; observe how socio-political
polarization directly affects the arts.
SD3- Government promotional
material/publications (leaflets from
Venice Biennale, material from
museums in Caracas, web material from
the Ministry of Culture, New
Constitution; Ley Orgánica de la
Cultura, 2005; Wisotzki, 2006
Interview with the Minister of Culture;
government media sources).
Unpack and map out government-driven change; assess
ideological motivations behind these changes; examine
use of language as a means of ‘othering’ and
delegitimizing previous institutional work whilst
reinforcing new curatorial discourses and programming;
access official side of the story.
SD4 - Press coverage on Chávez’s death
[2013] (Barrera Tyszka & Marcano,
Unpack the way Chávez is perceived; examine
government strategies to perpetuate political ideals
Table 1. Data Material Table
2013; Carroll, 2013b; Últimas Noticias,
2013a, 2013b; El Universal, 2013; El
Nacional, 2013).
through vice-president Maduro as ‘son’ of Chávez;
assess the future without Chávez.
SD5 - Publications on incidents of
government censorship & expropriation
(Almasy, 2017; Wyss, 2017; Vasquez,
2017; Barbarani, 2017; El Pais, 2007);
government reaction to media coverage
on censorship (Radio Nacional de
Venezuela, 2016; Republica Bolivariana
de Venezuela, 2017; Rosati, 2017).
Capture both sides of the story regarding incidents of
censorship and expropriation in Venezuela; assess the
language adopted by the government to defend their
actions and target the opposition locally or foreign
media; observe how the national and international press
covers such events; set a backdrop of government-driven
changes that have impacted the workings of the country;
triangulate facts and observations on socio-political
polarization in the country.
2009 - Venice Biennale
Venezuelan pavilion, other national
2010 - Caracas, Venezuela
Visiting national museums and
galleries, established and new
commercial galleries, alternative art
venues, foundations and corporate
London & Paris (2009-2012)
Visits to art fairs, auctions, satellite
Understand workings of art event; compare sponsorship
of national pavilions (private/public) to Venezuela’s
government-only support.
Unpack the context of the local art scene; observe
government-driven changes to art institutions; visit
public and private art spaces; compare curatorship,
audiences, dissemination of public/private art spaces; get
a sense of socio-political polarization; observe political
Assess how artists are disseminated on the international
art scene via private sector art venues (including
secondary market).
Figure 2. Mapping Caracas’ art world.
Image 1. Individual venues clustered in a single art space
at the Galpones Art Center
The area highlighted in red represents Museum Plaza, the city’s cultural quarter that was reclaimed by the
Chávez administration. The areas in yellow and blue are the ones in which the displaced art actors
established the “bubbles of freedom”. The area highlighted in yellow is the commercial district of the city
with a dense concentration of commercial galleries, privately-run art spaces, and where the local art fair
FIA (Feria Iberoamericana de Arte) is hosted every year. Other nearby spaces include the Odalys Auction
House and the Faria-Fabregas Gallery. In blue we find new art spaces including the Galpones Art Center
and La Cuadra Gastronomica, both located in a high-class residential area.
Figure 3. Data Structure
Demarcation work of disruptive actors
1.!Local curator, Federica Palomero, fears that the creation of FMN will add more layers of unnecessary
bureaucracy to the museum framework: “It just multiplies bureaucracy [and] makes people feel even more
distant from the decision-making process at the museums. Because there’s no one better than the museum
staff itself, which knows the collection, the public, the [museum] profile, to decide what is best for the
institution” (our translation, cited in Méndez, 2007; SD2; and in Rodner & Preece, 2016)
2.!For art curator and promoter, Gerardo Zavarce, museums “represent much more than large, neutral and
numbing white walls arranged to exhibit and display the whims and caprices of the bureaucracy, or elite in
power. A museum, especially in the context of our latitudes, should be a critical project, whose premises
should be restricted to the idea of a collection.” (our translation, Zavarce, 2010; SD2; and in Rodner & Preece,
3.!Nelson, a local artists and arts producer who has collaborated on several biennial proposals notes how
“getting selected to go to Venice is a big deal … it raises an artist’s profile… it puts them out there - on the
global stage where they might get noticed”
Positioning of defensive actors
4.!Given the geographic location and structure of some of the new art spaces, located in financial or residential
districts of the city instead of downtown Caracas (like the state-run museums) the venues at bubble of freedom
can be intimidating and inaccessible for many: someone from Catia or Petare [Caracas’ largest slums] isn’t
going to say ‘Hey, let’s go to Las Mercedes (high-end commercial district) comments curator and art writer
Fernanda, well aware of the acute socio-economic inequalities in a country like Venezuela.
5.!Art manager Rocio feels that the country’s socio-political polarisation impedes her from visiting this public
space for art since: it’s an area where we are no longer welcomed, it’s a shame to say it, but perhaps because
of my physical appearance or from what people can see, they quickly judge me and even attack me. Obviously,
I cannot go somewhere where my personal safety and wellbeing is put at risk.
6.!I tell people that I work in a little MoMA or a little Pompidou because I feel like this [new gallery space]
went beyond the limits of what a private gallery should be… I feel that it [the space] is a work of art in
itself. Just take a look at the natural light, with the glass pyramid and all the high quality materials… a
beautiful floor that doesn’t compete with the works of art because it’s unpolished granite… it [the new
gallery space] was purposely built to showcase … to highlight the works of our featured and guest artists,
explains gallery manager Elizabeth.
7.!On attending international art fairs, gallery manager Amanda explains how a process of market consolidation
starts to take place, because the artists are being seen by the most important collectors in the world, and [if
works of art] are being bought by them even better. Without a doubt [art fairs] act as a legitimizing force
for artists.
The fractured space of the Michelena Art Salon
8.!Art salons acted as talent scouts for visual artists, explains former curator and art scholar, Felipe: They award
a young artist and that sets him apart from the rest, from the bunch… if in another 2 or 3 salones, his work
is recognized he wins another award, then he reaches a certain status [within the art field]… third place,
second place, first place at Salón Michelena and whathaveyou, and ‘vroooooom’ he becomes a recognised
young artist.
9.!The last time I participated, there was only 1 [salón] Michelena, because two years later it turned into 2
[salones] Michelenas The [salón] Chavista Michelena and the [salón] Escualido [term used by Chávez to
refer to middle-class, Opposition supporters] - so, I said no, I won’t take part in either of them. I don’t want
to support any of that … get into that, laments visual artist and restorer Carmelo.
! !
Table 2. Data TableMaterial Use of Space
Table 3. Data TableSocial Use of Space
Embodiment of space
10.!There is a whole generation - our cultural field is dominated by the generation that trained in the museums
[…] everyone I have mentioned from a science of art point of view… ALL ALL ALL of them worked in the
museums. In other words, the museums were like their schools where they learned the trade according to
visual artists Jacobo.
11.!“Cultural policies are elitist policies, made by and for the elite. And in previous governments, [those cultural
policies] made sense…Culture for the elite and cheap entertainment for the people… We cannot claim that
the management of culture in the past was bad, no, it was perverse… We inherited a public institutionalism
designed to satisfy the demands of a few families … most of which were concentrated in Caracas… the vast
majority [of the population] was being neglected by the public management of culture.” (our translation,
Francisco Sesto cited in Wisotzki, 2006: 6; SD3)
12.!President Chávez announced over his live televised talk show ‘Aló Presidente’ the dismissal of the country’s
main museum curators, including founding director Sofia Imber from the Museum of Contemporary Art
(MAC), Maria Elena Ramos from the Fine Arts Museum (MBA) and Clementina Vaamonde from the
National Gallery (GAN): “The time has come to propel the creative and liberating cultural revolution […]
but it is hard in the world of culture [because it] has been made elite […] princes, kings, heirs, families have
taken over state institutions [believing that] they are autonomous.” (our translation, President Hugo Chávez,
Aló Presidente, No. 59, 21.01.2001; SD3)
13.!“[By] replacing all of the most powerful people in the Venezuelan cultural sector … Chávez displayed his
own position as the ultimate authority in the new Venezuela, while simultaneously ensuring that those who
would take over control of state cultural institutions would be loyal to his new regime and would manage the
cultural sector following the Bolivarian tenets of popular participation and instilling socialist values.”
(Brown, 2016: 45; SD2)
Enactment of space
14.!There used to be a solid fusion of public and private support for the arts, but now as soon as the private
sector peeks its head out, it must quickly pull back because of economic recession is severe and they are
afraid of being expropriated or shut down…. It is really hard explains corporate art curator, Tamara.
15.!We invited two very important museum directors: Gloria Zea, from the Museum of Modern Art in Bogotá
(MAMBo) and Consuelo Ciscar, head of the Instituto Valencia d'Art Modern (IVAM). Thanks to these
meetings, two exhibitions took shape a Jacobo Borges show at the MAMBo, and we are setting up a Baltasar
Lobo show for IVAM […] that was the same as what he had on display here” (our translation, Alejandro
Freites cited in Falcón, 2011c; SD2).
Table 4. Data TableSymbolic Use of Space
Politicized curatorship
16.!Collective shows hosted at the country’s major art museums feel like, according to gallery and art fair
manager, Nicolas, a sell-out of the museum network where they used Caracas’ museums to showcase the
work of anyone that wanted to take part, without any kind of quality control or consideration of artistic
17.!Thanks to new socio-political directives… the country’s museums only focus on mass-collective shows
according to art writer and curator Fernanda.
18.!They mixed (art) movements and genres, or they mixed people that did very basic, naïve work, or people
that were artisans with artists with a certain career and reputation… creating a feeling of uneasiness
… It was a big mishmash, comments visual artist Isaac
19.!“Culture is not made by governments nor by the states nor by institutions. Culture is made by the people
[whereby] all, absolutely all of us have the capacity to be creative. It is part of our human condition… We
decree the time of inclusion, to include all of us. We are all in […] without distinction” (our translation,
Francisco Sesto in Wisotki, 2006: 22 - 24; SD3)
20.!“Inclusion does not mean that any artist, artisan or art enthusiast can exhibit at museum level, it is a trick for
these people from usually a humbler background, who are lacking the intellectual tools to notice that they
are being manipulated in a Populist and demagogic manner. Not everyone can exhibit at the museum. Art is
in itself, an elitist production. There are few artists that have the gift, the talent, […] we are not all artists”
(our translation, Federica Palomero cited in Méndez, 2007; SD2)
21.!“It’s nonsense. Reverón has nothing to do with contemporaneity, but rather modernity. But the issue goes
well beyond the name change. It shows once again that the museums are disjointed with the country itself.
They are no longer a legitimizing institution,” lamented local gallery owner and art fair organizer, Nicomende
Febres (our translation, cited in Sánchez Amaya, 2017; SD2).
Preserving art world discourses and practices
22.!For us as a gallery it has been a challenge and a great responsibility - the work that we are doing. It’s a risk,
a challenge and an incredible responsibility because in some way we have positioned ourselves as THE
gallery that promotes… that showcases contemporary Venezuelan art. We are the reference for [the local]
contemporaneity at an international level… because no other [local] gallery is doing it explains gallery
manager Amanda
23.!“[…] they are making a real valiant effort to create new spaces so that those [contemporary] artists do not
become orphans… a space to showcase the artwork and so that the artwork continues to progress, develop,
and so that the spectator continues to have a place to experience the artwork so that critics continue to
have a place to see and assess the artwork… and so that artists continue to have a place to display it” (our
translation, Rafael Rangel in Propuesta-s dos, 2009 DVD; SD2)
24.!“There is a very interesting movement in Caracas, very dynamic and which shows us that there is a public
and that there are artists. People have been moving from the public to the private [sector] and from the
museum zone which is now deteriorated from an urban point of view to the eastern areas that are much more
agreeable […] Beyond the commercial aspect, which is legitimate, the galleries have been taking over spaces.
But it is not enough because museums house collections and operate at another level” (our translation,
Federica Palomero cited in Méndez, 2007; SD2).
! !
Figure 4. An Integrated Model of Space in Disruptive and Defensive Institutional Work
Victoria Rodner ( is a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of
Stirling and her main research areas include brand narratives, consumer culture, institutional
change, value creation, and the visual arts market. Her most recent research, funded by a
British Academy / Leverhulme grant, focuses on religious and spiritual consumption in
Brazil, where she explores the phenomenon of spirit possession. She has published her work
in the European Journal of Marketing, the Journal of Marketing Management, the Journal of
Macromarketing, as well as other marketing and sociology journals.
Thomas J. Roulet ( is a faculty in organisation theory at the Judge
Business School, and the Fellow in Sociology & Management Studies at Girton College, both
at the University of Cambridge. He is also affiliated to the Society & Organization (SnO)
Research Center at HEC Paris where he obtained his PhD in 2014. His work provides
institutional and stakeholder perspectives on negative evaluations (stigma, scandals) and
social change.
Finola Kerrigan ( is a Professor in Marketing and Consumption at
the University of Birmingham. Finola's research is in the field of marketing, specifically
marketing within the arts and cultural industries. To date her research has focused on
production and consumption issues in film and the visual arts, topics related to social media
and branding. Finola is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and President of the
International Society of Markets & Development.
Dirk Vom Lehn ( is Reader in Organizational Sociology at the
King’s Business School, King’s College London. His research examines the organization of
work practice and interaction in museums, optometric consultations, on street markets, and in
dance lessons. He recently published (with Will Gibson) “Institutions, Interaction and Social
Theory” (2018, Palgrave).
... Yet, a more encompassing analysis of contexts is yet to tackle with how places -such as cities, streets, buildings-are critical to how and why embedded actors engage in meaningmaking and action (Courpasson et al., 2017;Jones et al., 2019;Rodner et al., 2020) and navigate local socio-political systems (Ozcan and Gurses, 2018). Specifically, the current emphasis on the symbolic/discursive aspects of category dynamics has discounted the highly material nature of these contexts where actors engage in the social interactions and contestations (Durand and Khaire, 2017). ...
... Lastly, bounded places in-of-themselves are socio-political i.e. a place potentially "evolves and is manipulated in line with sociopolitical shifts, so that actors strategically use available space to enable or constrain social interactions" (Rodner et al., 2020(Rodner et al., : 1055. Actors can mobilize places as sites for resistance and innovation to create new solutions for local issues, shaped by the material endowments, constraints, and relationships within cities (Awad, 2022), streets (Cnossen et al., 2020), neighborhoods (Fernández et al., 2017), or organizations (Cnosson and Bencherki, 2019). ...
Full-text available
Recent studies suggest a critical yet unexplored role for local places such as cities and communities in category research. In this study, I investigate how places, as the nexus of cultural, political, and material influences, can shape category dynamics, especially in the early phases of category emergence. I synthesize insights from category work with recent conceptualizations of places as geographically bounded spaces, imbued with meanings and material forms. I conduct an in-depth qualitative field study of the emergence and expansion of a new category, transitional micro-housing villages, also known as Tiny Home Villages, in Eugene, a mid-size city in the United States in 2011 - 2019. The study unpacks the role of nested places in triggering, enabling, and constraining actors and their work to create, legitimate, and expand a category. Specifically, I highlight the role of local material forms and how actors can mobilize local spaces, technologies, and practices to advance their goals in contested category dynamics.
... It can be argued that the emergence, change, and decline of institutions requires institutionalized practices and arrangements to be made visible (Clemente & Roulet, 2015;Washington & Ventresca, 2004). Studies of institutional emergence, for example, have shown that increasing visibility of the limits or general failings of present institutional arrangements can lead to a mobilization of power and collective action by "champions of new practices and forms" (Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2017, p. 284; see also Hoffman, 1999;Rodner, Roulet, Kerrigan, & Vom Lehn, 2020;Zietsma, Groenewegen, Logue, & Hinings, 2017). As practices become habits and objectively accepted by the masses, they become visible and in other terms identifiable (Tolbert & Zucker, 1999). ...
... Il existe quelques archétypes et heuristiques pour réfléchir à ces liens.Le miroirC'est une approche que j'utilise souvent pour mon propre travail, en particulier pour m'aider à améliorer la structure des papiers : j'essaye de répliquer un enchainement des arguments qui fonctionne dans le reste du papier. C'est par exemple une structure choisie pourRodner et al. (2020). Dans ce papier, je reprends la structure de la revue de littérature pour exposer le positionnement du papier. ...
... For this study, a similar approach adopted by Rodner et al. (2020) is applied for data collection. To unravel senses and map out relationships and structures in the context of this study, data collection was based on qualitative methods including primary and secondary data collection and analyses. ...
Purpose This study aims to understand the characteristics and formation of artists’ production sensibilities and relations with other actors within an emerging hybrid art market structure. Design/methodology/approach To unravel senses and map out relationships and structures in the context of this study, qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews and analysis of secondary data sources, were applied. Findings The authors describe three art production sensibilities and market-based relationship logics rooted in the artist and the artwork’s diverse role in the market. Practical implications The findings suggest that artistic sensibilities motivate managers working in the hybrid art market to develop a more nuanced positioning of artists and their creative outputs to improve harmony and collaboration. Originality/value This study demonstrates that the hybrid structure of art markets allows for the harmonious separation and collaboration of non-market (artistic) and market logics. This study uncovers how artists combine their non-market creative position with market needs in the process of marketization and hybridization
... In-group relations eventually lead to the development of a collective identity, which positions a group as opposed to others and their interests and further encourages disruptive attempts against other groups and reproductive performances within the group (Symon et al., 2008). Disruptive relations with other groups and reproductive relations within the group reconstruct the divide between groups (Lefsrud & Meyer, 2012;Rodner et al., 2020). The divide ensures that especially less powerful groups can protect their norms and practices by preventing an integration or assimilation. ...
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This study examines how projects are successfully conducted and how project management is maintained as an institutional practice within the complex and dynamic environment of the healthcare industry in Turkey where many different actors and departments are involved. The study follows a qualitative case study design with participant observations and in-depth interviews in the sales, service, and project management departments of a major healthcare company in Turkey and analyzes the collected data through grounded theory approaches. It explores the interdependent operation of rules/norms and relations in project management. It highlights the importance of being flexible in the implementation of rules and developing multiple norms acceptable for different departments. It also emphasizes building trust and reciprocity and using conditional positions of dominance. The study shows that creating an informal environment based on inclusive rules/norms and reflecting them in relations through trust/ reciprocity and role reversals are critical for the success of project management. It develops suggestions for companies to improve and ensure the long-term maintenance of project management. ÖZET Bu çalışma, farklı pek çok aktörün ve departmanın rol oynadığı, karmaşık ve değişken yapıdaki Türk sağlık sektöründe projelerin nasıl başarılı bir şekilde yürütüldüğünü ve proje yönetiminin kurumsal bir pratik olarak nasıl muhafaza edildiğini incelemektedir. Çalışma örnek olay olarak Türkiye'de sağlık sektöründe faaliyet gösteren en büyük firmalardan birinde, satış, servis ve proje yönetimi departmanlarında yapılan katılımcı gözlemlere ve derinlemesine mülakatlara dayanan nitel bir araştırma tasarımı takip etmekte ve toplanan verileri gömülü kuram yaklaşımlarıyla çözümlemektedir. Çalışma, proje yönetiminde kuralların/normların ve ilişkilerin bağlantılı şekilde kullanılmasını konu edinmektedir. Kuralların uygulanmasında esnekliğin ve değişik departmanlarca kabul görecek çoklu norm sisteminin yanısıra, karşılıklı güvenin ve durumsal güç pozisyonlarının önemine işaret etmektedir. Çalışma, kapsayıcı kurallara/normlara dayanan ve bu kapsayıcılığın karşılıklı güven ve rol değişimleriyle ilişkilere yansımasını sağlayan gayri resmi bir ortamın, proje yönetiminin başarısı için gerekli olduğunu göstermekte, firmaların proje yönetim pratiklerini iyileştirebilmeleri ve uzun dönemde muhafaza edebilmeleri için öneriler sunmaktadır.
This study aims to throw some theoretical light on the relationship between institutions and the buildings housing them, particularly in the context of institutional change. Drawing on my ethnographic study of the UK Parliament buildings in London, I put forward a framework for analysing the effects that buildings and the artifacts within them may have on institutional change. This framework consists of three elements: (1) buildings enabling or constraining the activities performed inside; (2) spatial hierarchy; and (3) buildings as a resource. My intention is to draw scholars’ attention to the notion of buildings as sites of contestation – places where conflicts over nature and the extent of institutional change are played out. I conclude that redesigning buildings might be seen as a stepping stone to change, but also that buildings can be used to resist change and maintain the status quo. Although buildings ‘inhabited’ by institutions may appear to stand still, they never do; they change in time, both enabling and constraining those who use them and they have an ability to ‘act back’.
We present a systematic review of empirical articles investigating the role of place and space within the organisational and institutional change literature. In taking stock of the change literature, our aim is to better understand the nature and degree of scholarly engagement with concepts associated with place and space to inform a future research agenda. Our systematic review identified 290 empirical articles published between 1979 and 2020 that attended to organisational or institutional change and also engaged with space or place. Our analysis generated four archetypal perspectives that represent qualitatively different ways of viewing the role of place and space in how organisations and institutions change: functional perspective, situated perspective, experiential perspective, and mutually constituted perspective. We synthesise the four perspectives into a typology that reveals different levels of attention to change as process and to place and space as lived or physical phenomena, and cast light on different assumptions about the relationships between change and place or space that can guide future research.
In this paper we examine how the use of space shapes the dynamic between openness and closure in open strategizing. To do this, we draw from research that has defined organizational space as a process that is both a social product and produces social relations. We analysed the use of space in open strategizing in the Danish TV series and political drama Borgen. In our analysis we focused on three building blocks of space: boundaries, distance and movement, that allowed us to elaborate how the dynamic between openness and closure is shaped. Drawing on our analysis, we revealed three spatial features – physical visibility, strategizing artefacts, discursive designation – that play a role in the dynamic between openness and closure in strategizing. We constructed a conceptual framework that shows how these spatial features, and their different combinations, are associated with pivots between openness and closure. Thus, our findings advance prior open strategy research by providing potential explanations of why openness turns to closure, despite the attempts to keep the strategizing process open. We argue that taking space seriously provides a more nuanced understanding to some of the contingencies and possibilities related to the dynamics of openness and closure in strategizing.
The experience of temporariness is increasingly prevalent across the world, both for transient populations such as refugees and in work life characterized by precarious employment relationships. In this article, we examine how local institutional work can shape people’s experience of indeterminate temporariness and mitigate its pernicious effects. Our qualitative, inductive study is set in refugee camps in Lebanon, where indeterminate temporariness created an oppressive experience of time among Syrian refugees. We document the efforts of an NGO to help refugees rebuild meaningful lives by developing small-scale entrepreneurial ventures—efforts we conceptualize as “sheltering work”. Our analysis points to the potential for sheltering work to alleviate the oppressive effects of temporariness by bounding, containing, and structuring individuals’ day-to-day lives. Although sheltering work reshaped refugees’ experience of time, it did not eradicate the oppressive effects of indeterminate temporariness; instead, oppressive and reclaimed experiences of time co-existed, with individuals shifting between them. Our study theorizes sheltering work as a potent form of modest, local institutional work in the face of immutable institutions, and elaborates how individual experiences of time influence embedded agency.
Based on participant observations in life drawing classes at an art academy in Jerusalem, this article examines the diverse ways artists‐in‐the‐making work out the boundaries between “art” and “non‐art.” First, the classes serve as a rite of passage in which actors deploy discursive, spatial, and sensorial practices to relate to and represent the live model as a unique object of art. Second, using the model evokes moral deliberations through which students attempt to articulate how an “artistic” way of seeing the body differs from other uses of an exposed (mainly female) body prevalent in society. Third, students positioned as religious others negotiate their participation in this Western artistic tradition, using their alterity to destabilize the art/non‐art boundary. These various negotiations demonstrate how the “art” category and art students’ sense of an artistic self, body, and belonging are formed through a pragmatic, relational, and multifaceted boundary work.
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Why does professional misconduct persist in the face of media scrutiny? In this study, we explain how professional norms can be at odds with societal norms and how the behaviours they trigger can be perceived as misconduct. Most audiences tend to disapprove of wrongdoings, but specific stakeholders may interpret this disapproval as an indication of the focal organization’s level of adherence to professional norms. Building on mixed methods, we explore the case of the investment banking industry during the financial crisis and suggest that corporate customers were favourably biased by the reporting of banks’ misconduct in the print media as they linked it to the banks’ quality of service. We capture the extent to which banks are associated with misconduct, signalling their adherence to negatively perceived professional norms. We then look at how such signalling affects the likelihood for banks to be invited into initial public offerings syndicates. Our findings show that the more banks are disapproved of for their wrongdoings, the more likely they are to be selected to join a syndicate. This study suggests that the coverage of misconduct can actually act as a positive signal providing banks with incentives to engage in what is broadly perceived as professional misconduct.
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Where do new organizations come from, and how do they persist? Based on an ethnographic study of two creative hubs in Amsterdam, in which creative independent workers rented studio space, we show how space plays a role in constituting new organizations and making them last. Focusing on challenging moments in the development of these two creative hubs, we propose that space, understood as a material assemblage, participates in providing endurance to organizing practices. It does so because space and practice reflexively account for each other. In other words, space may constrain or enable practices, and provide them with meaning, as the literature abundantly illustrates, but practices also define and shape space. Rather than emphasizing either of these two options, we argue that they should be understood as integral to each other. Furthermore, it is precisely their reflexive relation that contributes to the emergence of new organizations. Our study contributes to the literature on the communicative constitution of organizations, and more broadly to the knowledge of organizing in the creative industries.
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The relationship between geography and the creation, use, and reproduction of knowledge has been at the core of this book series. The previous twelve volumes have focused, among other topics, on the role that creativity, culture, power, networks, science and universities have in cultivating an understanding of how the social process of knowing unfolds in space. They all draw attention to ways in which this process is situated in places and how learning connects people across places. Centering on institutions, volume 13 presents yet another perspective on the spatiality of human knowledge. Across the social sciences scholars have been attributing to institutions a major part in social, political, cultural, and economic development. Although there is agreement on the importance of institutions, there are several understandings of what institutions are and how they influence social life. The purpose of this volume is to examine a rather neglected and only recently acknowledged dimension in institutional theory: the spatiality of institutions, the spatiotemporal dynamics of institutional change, and the role of institutions in the creation and reproduction of knowledge and related social outcomes in bounded territories.
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How can we take multimodalities (the discursive, material, spatial, visual, emotional, embodied, etc.) of institutions seriously? In contemplating the implications of the "multimodal turn" (broadly defined) for institutional inquiry and theory, I first situate it within its intellectual current in the social sciences more broadly. I then use three ethnographic vignettes from Israeli high-tech conferences, all centering on "place" (as a - presumably first and foremost - geographical and material reality) to highlight the shortcomings of a "weak" multimodal approach and the promise of a "strong" one. Finally, I suggest ways to capture multiple modalities within an integrated account and discuss the challenges entailed in an institutional inquiry undertaken to acknowledge, and conceptualize, non-linguistic realities. Copyright © 2018 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
Institutional maintenance work refers to actors’ deliberate effort to maintain an institution. This paper examines how actors use authentication, i.e., the relational constitution of an artifact as original or as a genuine expression of a particular type, style or person, to accomplish institutional maintenance work. We investigated contemporary adjustments to six listed buildings. These works were undertaken to keep these buildings functional while at the same time protecting their listing; by doing so they contributed to maintain the institution of Architectural Heritage. Our analysis identifies three forms of authentication: Material Consolidation, Crafts Mobilization and Character Enhancement. We elaborate on each of them and explain their institutional underpinnings and outcomes. The paper concludes with an articulation of authentication as a potent form of institutional maintenance work. Taking its starting point in materiality, authentication is a relational practice that helps maintain institutions relying on irreplaceable artifacts for their maintenance. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the role played by the visual arts in expressing and shaping the nation brand. In doing so, it establishes the centrality of visual discourse in nation branding; illustrating that discursive strategies can directly alter the nation brand’s perception. Design/methodology/approach This single case study drawing on in-depth interviews, field observation and secondary/historical material, applies mediated discourse analysis and critical discourse analysis to capture a transitional period in the cultural policies and nation branding rhetoric across a time frame of 60 years. Findings This study establishes the visual arts as a significant carrier of meaning, thus reflecting changes in the national discourse. This analysis illustrates that publicly supported visual arts can articulate policy aspirations and provide insight into the power of competing national discourse which co-exists, thereby shaping the internal and external nation brand. Research limitations/implications The study focuses on the visual arts and the context of Venezuela. Future research could expand this to look at the visual arts in other national or regional contexts. Practical implications The paper establishes visual art as central to expressing national identity and policy, and a tool for examination of national identity and policy. More broadly, the paper establishes public support for the (visual) arts as central to nation-branding projects providing insight for those engaged in such campaigns to prioritize arts funding. Originality/value The authors’ study indicates the marketing relevance of visualization of the nation through the arts and establishes the visual arts as a central tenant of the nation brand.
We examine an organizational form that has received little attention despite its social significance – the refugee camp. From an in-depth case study of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya we explain how these organizations maintain social stability even though refugees live for decades in them and are deprived of the freedom to move or work outside the camp’s boundaries. Our analysis finds that refugee camps are characterized by a parallel organizational structure in which the institutional worlds of (primarily Western) camp officials and (in our case, primarily Somali) refugees coexist. Mutual dependence between camp officials and refugees enables the use of a respected space of reciprocal tolerance and minimal intrusion, and a listening post that is perceived as a legitimate communication arrangement and that acts as a safety valve. These complementary mechanisms provide the means by which to allay the otherwise high potential of severe discontent.