Sub-theme 08: (SWG): Historical Perspectives in Organization Studies

Matthias Kipping
Schulich School of Business, Toronto, Canada
Lars Engwall
Uppsala University, Sweden
Behlül Üsdiken
Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey

Call for Papers

Taking stock: Researching actors, organizations and fields from a historical perspective


This new standing working group (SWG) tries to respond to a growing call for a renewal in the way we study organizations and organizational fields and aims to explore and expand the potential that a historical perspective – understood in the broadest possible sense – might have in this respect. Building on earlier initiatives (at EGOS as well as the Academy of Management and EURAM), this particular sub-theme hopes to take stock of the extant research by (a) organizational scholars working on issues related to history and (b) historians attempting to draw more broader generalizations from their particular studies of organizations. This is intended to serve as a basis for the subsequent sessions of the SWG.

Hence, we hope to bring together researchers from a wide range of backgrounds and foment dialogue among them. Those who have attended our sessions in the past will know that we always reserve significant space for discussions. As noted in the title, we welcome approaches – both empirical and more conceptual – that cover very different levels of analysis – actors, organizations and organizational fields – and their dynamics over time as well as their interaction.


Specific individuals have tended to play a dominant role in much of the historical research on organizations and organizational fields, but they are also examined by management scholars studying issues of leadership, entrepreneurship and, more recently, 'institutional entrepreneurship'. The idea here is to critically examine the nature and influence of these actors, consider how embedded they are in different contexts, and how they might shape these contexts. We also want to reflect more broadly about the relationship between structure and agency – an age-old question in management and organization research – in a dynamic, historical perspective.


There is widespread recognition that organizations are influenced by their past, which is seen as embedded in their 'corporate culture', 'administrative heritage' or 'routines'. Since it is socially constructed and difficult to imitate or substitute, an organizational history might, on the one hand, become the source of a sustainable competitive advantage or, on the other, operate as a constraint in terms of 'path dependencies'. We would like to discuss and compare these approaches with views that see organizational histories, written by historians, as narratives in a post-structuralist sense or, by contrast, as legitimizing tools. We would also welcome studies that demonstrate how the concept of organization itself has evolved over time.

Organizational fields

Organizational fields are once again seen as heavily influenced by their historical origins, conceptualized for example as 'foundation conditions'. They are also seen as subject to dynamic processes of 'institutionalization' and 'de-institutionalization'. An important issue concerns the openness of development, namely the question what alternatives were available at certain historical junctures and why certain modes of structuring a particular field prevailed over others. This approach needs to be contrasted with more teleological perspectives (which often analyze the past from the present) and the notion of 'counterfactuals' (how would the world look like, if…). We would also like to see papers comparing the notion of field itself with the supposedly narrower conception of industry or sector used by many historians.


Matthias Kipping 
Lars Engwall 
Behlül Üsdiken