Research Fellow

PhD, Department of Organization Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Organizational Ethnography




Thijs Willems is an organizational ethnographer and generally interested in the daily work of people in complex and technological organizations, as well as how they experience their work in the broader organizational context. In his work, he draws on rich, ethnographic empirical data analyzed via practice and process theories.

In 2017, Thijs finished his PhD dissertation that was based on an ethnographic study on infrastructure breakdowns in the Dutch railway system. He then moved to Singapore where he started working at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities under a research program on ‘The Future of the Digital Economy and Digital Societies’. One of the things he currently interested in is exploring the intersection of organization/work and smart urbanism. He do so by focusing on the opportunities as well as challenges that digital technologies bring, how they impact social inequalities, and how specific imaginations of work are produced as being particularly digital and ‘invisible’.

The main lens through which he study this digital work is by zooming in on the relationships between (digital) technologies and embodied work, how both shape and define each other and with what effects on knowledge and skills. Specifically, he is involved in three separate but thematically interrelated studies: i) algorithmic trading in sports betting and how algorithms and human traders ‘collaborate’ in their daily practices; ii) exploring the impact on embodied, material work when such work is mediated by digital technologies, particularly in the realm of digital design and digital crafts; iii) how the notion of mastery and expertise changes for technicians in a sector that is undergoing digital transformation, and how organizations can train more effectively for guarding such expertise.


  • PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Organization Sciences (2018)
  • MSc (cum laude), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Culture Organization and Management (2013)
  • BA in theater, Hogeschool Zuyd Maastricht (2004)


  • Willems, Thijs., van Marrewijk, Alfons., Kuiter, Lizert., Volker, Leentje., & Hermans, Marleen. (2020). Practices of isolation: The shaping of project autonomy in innovation projects. International Journal of Project Management38(4), 215-228.
  • Willems, Thijs., & Graham, Connor. (2019). The Imagination of Singapore’s Smart Nation as Digital Infrastructure: Rendering (Digital) Work Invisible. East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal13(4), 511-536.
  • Van den Ende, Leonore., Willems, Thijs., & Van Marrewijk, Alfons. (2019). ‘Socio-materiality and the Physical Environment of Organizations’, in Ayoko, O. B., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (Eds.) Organizational Behaviour and the Physical Environment. Routledge.
  • Merkus, Sander., Willems, Thijs., & Veenswijk, Marcel. (2019). Strategy implementation as performative practice: Reshaping organization into alignment with strategy. Organization Management Journal, 1-16.
  • Willems, Thijs. (2018). 'Monsters' and'Mess' on the Railways: Coping with Complexity in Infrastructure Breakdowns. Dissertation, VU Amsterdam.
  • Willems, Thijs. (2018). Seeing and sensing the railways: A phenomenological view on practice-based learning. Management learning49(1), 23-39.
  • Poon, King Wang, Chng, Samuel., Willems, Thijs., Haridas, Gayathri, Norhashim, Norakmal Hakim., Subhan, Mohamed Salihin., Gan, Li Hui Sarah., Goh, Zi An Galvyn., Apsley, Holly Lynn., & Vinod, Radha. (2019). Polarising of Job Opportunities – Charting New Pathways and Adopting New Technologies. Singapore: Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, National Trades Union Congress. ISBN: 978-981-14-0858-8
  • Willems, Thijs., & Van Marrewijk, Alfons. (2017). Building collaboration? Co-location and “dis-location” in a railway control post. Revista de Administração de Empresas57(6), 542-554.
  • Merkus, Sander., Willems, Thijs., Schipper, Danny., Van Marrewijk, Alfons, Koppenjan, Joop., Veenswijk, Marcel., & Bakker, Hans. (2017). A storm is coming? Collective sensemaking and ambiguity in an inter-organizational team managing railway system disruptions. Journal of Change Management17(3), 228-248.

Conference Presentations/Proceedings

  • Miyagawa, S., Willems, Thijs., & Hirakimoto, H. (2021, Jul). Ethnography of sake-making in a traditional Japanese sake brewery. 37th Colloquium of the European Group for Organization Studies, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • Willems, Thijs. (2019, Jul). Craftwork or Technician? Exploring Diverging Notions of Knowledge and Skill in a Digitalizing Sector. 35th Colloquium of the European Group for Organization Studies, Edinburgh, UK.
  • Willems, Thijs. (2018, Jul). The Meaning of Craftsmanship in a Digital Age, 34th Colloquium of the European Group for Organization Studies, Tallinn, Estonia
  • Chng, Samuel., Haridas, Gayathri., & Willems, Thijs. (2018, Jun). Developing a framework of technology adoption and resistance for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Poster presented at the International Congress of Applied Psychology, Montreal, Canada.
  • Chng, Samuel., Poon, King Wang, Norhashim, Norakmal Hakim., Haridas, Gayathri., & Willems, Thijs. (2018, Jun). Understanding the employees’ perception of new technologies during digital transformation: A pilot study. Paper presented at the Singapore Congress on Applied Psychology, Singapore.
  • Haridas, Gayathri., Willems, Thijs. (2018, May). The history of manufacturing and the future of work. Technological Innovations and Social Change: The History of Automation and the Future of Work in East-Asia, 1960s-2010s, Hong Kong
  • Willems, Thijs., Chng, Samuel., Haridas, Gayathri., & Poon, King Wang. (2017, Oct). The shifting landscape of work and organisation: Exploring power relations at work in the Digital Society. Paper presented at The Industrial Revolution 4.0: Preparing for Disruptive Technologies in 21st Century Asia, Singapore.