Sub-theme 48: Historical-Evolutionary Organization Studies: Understanding the Past to Shape the Future

Zlatko Bodrožić
Leeds University Business School, United Kingdom
Paul S. Adler
University of Southern California, USA
Thomas G. Cummings
University of Southern California, USA

Call for Papers

In the face of mounting economic, political/social, and environmental crises, there is an urgent need for a deeper understanding of the historical forces underlying those crises. Understanding how the present has emerged from the recent and deeper past enables us to make wiser choices in charting a path for the future. But how exactly can we link this backward-looking historical perspective with forward-looking development of new forms of organizing? Our sub-theme aims to explore, develop, and deploy the requisite theoretical resources to build what we are calling “historical-evolutionary organization studies”.
The historical perspective in organization studies (for a recent overview, see Kipping & Üsdiken, 2014) contributes to our understanding of the past. However, little historical scholarship has sought explicitly to inform those who aim to shape organizations for a better future. In contrast, the field of organization development (e.g., Cummings & Worley, 2018) has focused on guiding organizations to the future, but has been constrained by its lack of historical perspective. It has been almost exclusively focused on overcoming the human problems of bureaucratic organizations, and while this problematic had real traction in the second half of the 20th century, many organizations today face very different problems, and with this shift, the field of organization development entered a period of exploration accompanied by considerable confusion and disagreement.
The net result is that now, in the time of alarming crises, we sorely lack the resources we need to bridge past and future. We need new theoretical and practical tools to help us link a deep understanding of the way historical evolution shapes the present with the theoretical and practical work required to shape the future evolution of organizations. – Please note: We have in mind a broader range of conceptualizations than the variation-selection-retention model that organization theory has borrowed from biology.
While organization studies is yet to incorporate the historical-evolutionary perspective, some scholars in psychology and economics have sought to build comparable bridging fields. In psychology, developmental psychology focuses on the study of and support for the development of individuals. In economics, some evolutionary economists study the long-term processes that transform firms, institutions, and industries with an eye to policy prescriptions (e.g., Carlota Perez, 2002: a “green New Deal”). These two fields are important resources and models for the work ahead for us in building the historical-evolutionary perspective.
Inspired by these bridging fields in related disciplines, this sub-theme aims to spark efforts to establish the historical-evolutionary perspective in organization studies. This viewpoint sees organizations as evolving and developable, and is concerned with identifying and developing scientific means to understand and shape the evolution of organizations. Beyond management history and organization development, many other strands of scholarship are potentially useful in the development of the historical-evolutionary perspective. It will need therefore to be integrative – multidisciplinary, trans-theoretical, and multimethod. We are convinced that in an age characterized by crossing boundaries, we as academics need also to increase our efforts to bridge scholarly boundaries if we want to address the present challenges effectively.
We invite researchers using a wide variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses to join us in this perspective-building effort. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Historically-informed studies, which contribute to our understanding of the past evolution of organizations (e.g., Guillén, 1994; Kipping & Üsdiken, 2014; Godfrey et al., 2016)

  • Organization development, action research, developmental work research and other approaches of engaged scholarship, which contribute means to shape the future evolution of organizations (e.g., Van de Ven, 2007; Cummings & Worley, 2019)

  • Neo-Schumpeterian and evolutionary economics’ views, which contribute to our understanding of the impact of technological revolutions on the long-term evolution of organizations (e.g., Nelson & Winter, 1982; Perez, 2002; Lundvall, 2016; Bodrožić & Adler, 2018)

  • Dialectic views, which contribute to our understanding of the impact of profound contradictions on the long-term evolution of organizations (e.g., Farjoun, 2018)

  • Developmental psychology-inspired views and cultural-historical activity theory, which contribute to our understanding of defining zones of proximal development against the backdrop of the evolution of organizations (e.g., Engeström, 1987)

  • Neo-institutional views, which contribute to our understanding of the role of institutions in the evolution of organizations (e.g., Greenwood & Hinings,1996; Thornton et al., 2012)

  • New-technology-focused research, which contributes to our understanding of the impact of the new generation of ICT on the long-term evolution of organizations (e.g., Benkler, 2006)

We welcome papers that contribute to establishing the historical-evolutionary perspective, and papers that apply it to address current organizational and societal problems. The sub-theme will be kicked off by a keynote from Carlota Perez about her forthcoming book Beyond the Technological Revolution: The Social Shaping of Technology.


  • Benkler, Y. (2006): The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Bodrožić, Z., & Adler, P.S. (2018): “The Evolution of Management Models: A Neo-Schumpeterian Theory.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (1), 85–129.
  • Cummings, T.G., & Worley, C. G. (2019): Organization Development & Change, 11th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
  • Engeström, Y. (1987): Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.
  • Farjoun, M. (2018): “Strategy and Dialectics: Steps towards a Common Journey.” Strategic Organization, forthcoming.
  • Godfrey, P.C., Hassard, J., O’Connor, E.S., Rowlinson, M., & Ruef, M. (2016): “What is organizational history? Toward a creative synthesis of history and organization studies.” Academy of Management Review, 41 (4), 590–608.
  • Greenwood, R., & Hinings, C. (1996): “Understanding radical organizational change: Bringing together the old and the new institutionalism.” Academy of Management Review, 21 (4), 1022–1054.
  • Guillén, M.F. (1994): Models of Management. Work, Authority, and Organization in a Comparative Perspective. Chicagy: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kipping, M., & Üsdiken, B. (2014): “History in organization and management theory: More than meets the eye.” The Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 535–588.
  • Lundvall, B.-Å. (2016): The Learning Economy and the Economics of Hope. London: Anthem Press.
  • Nelson, R.R., & Winter, S.G. (1982): An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
  • Perez, C. (2002): Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Thornton, P.H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012): The Institutional Logics Perspective. A New Approach to Culture, Structure, and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Van de Ven, A.H. (2007): Engaged Scholarship. A Guide for Organizational and Social Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zlatko Bodrožić is a Lecturer in Information Management at Leeds University Business School, UK. His current research focuses on the evolution of technologies, organizational intervention, organizational paradigms, and management models. In particular, he is interested in digital transformation management. He has published on these topics in ’Administrative Science Quarterly’.
Paul S. Adler is currently Harold Quinton Chair in Business Policy at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA. His research and teaching focus on organization strategy and design and business/government/society interactions. He is currently past-President of the Academy of Management.
Thomas G. Cummings is Professor of Management & Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA. He is a leading expert in designing high-performing organizations and strategic change. He has published 23 books, including ”Handbook of Organization Development” and ”Organizational Development and Change”, and more than 70 articles. He has served on the editorial board or as editor for ten journals, including ‘Academy of Management Review’. Thomas served as President of the Academy of Management.