Washburn Shops 203
Affiliated Department or Office
The Global School
System Dynamics
School of Management, Victoria Univ. Wellington
B.S Union College 1975
MA Colgate University 1979
Ph.D Syracuse University 1989

Since arriving at WPI in 1990, I have had the great pleasure of teaching a variety of organization studies undergraduate and graduate courses, engaging in organization studies research and theory development, and offering service to the university, the Business School, and my field. With respect to teaching, I have framed my role in the classroom as helping technically-minded students become more cognizant and mindful of themselves and of the human and behavioral dimensions of organization life. I engage students via experiential methods including digital storytelling, classroom-as-organization designs and reflective learning activities. I invite them to process these experiences through journaling, case-in-point listening activities, immunity mapping, and learning memo writeups. I have found that these powerful forms of experiential pedagogy enable students to become more aware of themselves and of the complex human and technological challenges they will encounter at the interface between the future of work and complex organizations. Each term I try to make my classes feel fresh and new and encourage meaningful dialogue among students as they make sense of key concepts and emotions that arise during the term.

With regard to my research, I have published over 50 papers in top journals, conference proceedings, and books on a range of topics including organizational change, classroom and organizational learning, dissent in organizations, high altitude mountaineering (the May ’96 Everest climbing disaster), discourse and narrative in environmental management and strategy, enterprise system implementation, and social entrepreneurship and innovation. These papers have generally assumed a non-realist ontological perspective including critical, critical realist, narrative, aesthetic, dramaturgical, and communications frameworks. Most recently, I have been engaged in research that focuses on social innovation and ethical sensemaking at food banks and other food-related enterprises; inequality in the industrial food system; sensemaking and identity in organizational change; social drama and institutional preservation work; and the role of place in social innovation and environmental management.  

For over 30 years, I have participated in a wide range of faculty committees at the institutional, school, and departmental levels. In 2005, I was a Fulbright Senior Scholar to New Zealand and in 2010 cofounded and now direct (with Ingrid Shockey) the Wellington, New Zealand Project Center. In this role I have helped to develop sponsor relationships and projects that focus on climate change and flooding, sustainability, conservation education, human-wildlife interaction, earthquake and tsunami issues, museum studies, alternative energy innovations, and indigenous Maori concerns. In addition, I founded the Nantucket Project Center on Nantucket Island in 2007 and, since my arrival at WPI since 1990, have been an active advisor at project centers across the globe.  I have received four best paper awards – two in important organization studies journals (Journal of Management Inquiry and Academy of Management Learning and Education) and two at the Academy of Management Annual Meetings (1996 and 2005). I am affiliated with Victoria University in Wellington, NZ, and the Taos Institute.

In May 2022, I was very honored to receive the WPI Board of Trustees Chair’s Exemplary Faculty Award that recognizes a WPI faculty member who excels in all relevant areas of faculty performance, including teaching, research and scholarship, and advising.

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 2: Zero Hunger - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

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SDG 4: Quality Education

SDG 4: Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

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SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

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SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities - Reduce inequality within and among countries

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SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

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SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 13: Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

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SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

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Scholarly Work

Professor Elmes’ scholarship in Organization Studies (OS) builds knowledge around organizational justice, technology, transformation, and change.

Selected publications:

Elmes, M. B. (2022). Paternalism, breach, and dignity: Worker upheaval as social drama in an age of neoliberalism. Organization, 13505084221074040.

Lingo, E. L., & Elmes, M. B. (2019). Institutional preservation work at a family business in crisis: Micro-processes, emotions, and nonfamily members. Organization Studies, 40(6), 887-916.

Elmes, M. B. (2018). Economic inequality, food insecurity, and the erosion of equality of capabilities in the United States. Business & Society, 57(6), 1045-1074.

Elmes, M. B., Mendoza-Abarca, K., & Hersh, R. (2016). Food banking, ethical sensemaking, and social innovation in an era of growing hunger in the United States. Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(2), 122-138. Awarded “Breaking the Frame” Best Paper Award for 2016.

Elmes, M. B., Jiusto, S., Whiteman, G., Hersh, R., & Guthey, G. T. (2012). Teaching social entrepreneurship and innovation from the perspective of place and place making. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(4), 533-554. Selected as Outstanding Article for 2012 in Academy of Management Learning and Education.

Barry, D., & Elmes, M. (1997). Strategy retold: Toward a narrative view of strategic discourse. Academy of Management Review, 22(2), 429-452.

Professional Highlights & Honors
WPI Board of Trustees Chair’s Exemplary Faculty Award, 2022

Title VI grant in Business and International Education (BIE) from the U.S. Department of Education(Climate Resilience Enterprise Opportunities), 2021

Founder and Director, WPI Nantucket Project Center, 2008

Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, 2005

Journal of Management Inquiry, Best Paper Award, 2016

Academy of Management Learning and Education, Best Paper Award, 2012


Worcester Business Journal
Restaurant Revenue Plunged 33% During Six Months of the Pandemic

The Worcester Business Journal sought insight from Michael Elmes, professor of business, for its article.“Given how easily this virus is transmitted via aerosol droplets in closed spaces, it is not clear to me how many customers will risk eating in restaurants in spite of the precautions that restaurants are taking,” he told The Journal.