Open purpose: embrace organizations as expressive systems

Stewart R. Clegg, Miguel Pina e Cunha, Arménio Rego, Filipe Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of purpose gained prominence in organization theory in recent years but there are discrepant views of its meaning, which we review as evolving and different perspectives: economic theories of the firm; stakeholder approaches; integrative social contracts; and social mission. We elaborate these perspectives in terms of the ebb and flow of ideas and eras. Against these instrumental views, we revisit the work of Robert Cooper, namely the ever-open purpose of expressive organizations, and contrast this with fixist views of purpose in instrumental organizations. We engage with the logic of open purpose and sketch a way of rethinking purpose as a general orientation that constantly evolves and changes over time in interaction with its ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Expressive systems
  • Instrumental systems
  • Integrative social contracts
  • Open purpose
  • Robert Cooper
  • Social mission
  • Stakeholder approaches
  • Theories of the firm


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