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Héloïse Berkowitz PhD defense

Do meta-organizations make Sustainable Development performative? Collective strategies in the oil and gas sector

Thesis to be defended on the 7th of October at 2:00pm and it will take place at Reid Hall, 4 Rue de Chevreuse, Paris 6ème (Salle de Conférence).


Drawing on research in strategy and organization theory, this thesis focuses on the way an idea that was formulated by international instances as an imprecise doctrine – sustainable development, still managed to deeply change firms’ strategy, practices and even nature.

This research uses the concept of performativity, i.e. the capacity of a theory to create the reality that it describes. However, all theories or doctrines do not necessarily succeed to perform behaviors and the thesis identifies three conditions of performativity. When the conditions are met, two performativity processes can occur, a framing and an overflowing process.

Sustainable development can perform practices if it becomes actionable principles (first condition), if these principles are incorporated in devices at different levels, from meta-organizations to micro-local instruments in firms (second) and if these devices are efficient or irremediable (third). Among the studied devices, the thesis emphasizes the role of meta-organizations, organizations which members are themselves organizations.

The thesis constitutes the first empirical survey of this collective action device’s role in an industrial sector, the oil and gas. Using a comprehensive methodology, data collection consisted in 80 semi-structured interviews, constructing a database of about 100 meta-organizations and setting up an intervention-research device on the emerging issue of marine sound.

The thesis highlights new forms, thematic and multi-stakeholder, that act like an inter-organizational negotiation space, as a strategic device for the legitimization of firms’ activities, and as a normalizing device participating to a distributed governance of business conduct and society. The thesis clarifies the concept of performativity by identifying its conditions of success and the two processes it can follow. The thesis also contributes to the literature on meta-organizations by showing its empirical diversity and by identifying types that we knew little about before. As such, the thesis has managerial implications for collective strategies of firms.


Franck Aggeri Professeur, HDR, Mines ParisTech rapporteur
Nils Brunsson Professeur, Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research rapporteur
Marie-Laure Djelic Professeur, HDR, Sciences Po Paris examinateur
Rodolphe Durand Professeur, HDR, HEC Paris examinateur
Jean-Pascal Gond Professeur, Cass Business School, City University London examinateur
Hervé Dumez Directeur de recherche au CNRS, Ecole polytechnique directeur de thèse