Sub-theme 30: Realizing the Potential of Historical Organization Studies

Stewart Clegg
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Mairi Maclean
University of Bath, United Kingdom
Roy Suddaby
University of Victoria, Canada

Call for Papers

The present status of historical organization studies is that of emergent academic movement rather than established community of practice. For more than two decades organization theorists have pointed to the need for more and better research that recognizes the importance of the past in shaping the present and influencing the future (Kieser, 1994). Some have identified a distinct historic turn in organization studies led by scholars who perceive the field to have been constrained by its orientation towards contemporary cross-sectional studies covering limited periods of time (Clark & Rowlinson, 2004). By historicising organizational research, it is argued, the contexts and forces bearing upon organizations might be more fully recognized and analyses of organizational dynamics might be improved.
But how, more precisely, might this be done? What might history tangibly contribute to our knowledge of management and organizations? How might a traditionally empirically oriented discipline like history be incorporated into a traditionally theoretically oriented discipline like organization studies? What might history bring to the management and organization theory party (Clegg, 2006; Clegg & Courpasson, 2007)? These and related questions have been the topic of extensive debate in recent years, giving rise to a number ground breaking publications and avenues for future exploration (Bucheli & Wadhwani, 2014; Maclean et al., 2016; Rowlinson et al., 2014).
The first main contribution of this literature has been to specify the problems inherent in reconciling disciplinary traditions when developing a new academic paradigm. In terms of history and organization studies these are summarized by Rowlinson, Decker and Hassard as three epistemological dualisms: in organization studies the prioritization of analysis, self-generated data and simple chronology differ fundamentally from the prioritization by historians of narrative, documentary sources and periodization.
The second main contribution of this foundational literature is to demonstrate how these differences might fruitfully be overcome. Kipping and Üsdiken (2014) suggest three modes of correspondence between history and organization theory: history as a means of testing theory, informing theoretical perspectives, and lending complexity to theorization. Building on these insights, Maclean, Harvey and Clegg (2016; 2017) elaborate the idea of historical organization studies – organizational research that draws extensively on historical data, methods, and knowledge to promote historically informed theoretical narratives attentive to both disciples. To accomplish this these authors identify five principles of historical organization studies designed to promote a closer union between history and organization theory. These are: dual integrity, pluralistic understanding, representational truth, context sensitivity and theoretical fluency.
The convenors of the sub-theme believe that we are now entering into a new phase in the establishment of historical organization studies as a distinctive methodological paradigm within the broad field of organization studies. Already, there are strong examples of original theorization based on historical analysis and historical sources:

  • Suddaby, Foster and Quinn Trank (2010) have put forward the construct of rhetorical history as a potentially valuable, rare, inimitable and malleable resource to affirm the importance of a company’s history in shaping opinion and influencing action; with implications for organizational ‘re-membering’ and identity work (Suddaby et al., 2016).

  • Suddaby, Foster and Mills (2014) draw attention to the need for an enhanced sensitivity to the inherent historical nature of institutions in developing the notion of historical institutionalism.

  • Mutch (2018) uses history as a means of reframing of institutional logics.

  • Vaara and Lamberg (2016) emphasize the importance of understanding the historical embeddedness of strategic processes and practices.

  • Harvey et al. (2011a) put forward a transactional model of entrepreneurial philanthropy based on Bourdieu’s capital theory in an examination of the life of Andrew Carnegie.

  • Drawing similarly on Bourdieusian theory, Harvey et al. (2011b) explore how tastes are formed, transmitted, embedded and reproduced across generations.

  • Wadhwani and Jones (2014) underline the role of historical reasoning as a means of illuminating key aspects of the entrepreneurial process by addressing temporal assumptions explicitly and reflexively.

  • Wadhwani (2018, p. 571) also proposes the concept of historical framing as a means of promoting a ‘historically situated understanding of the literature on framing, social movements and institutional change’.

These examples and many others have lent fresh momentum to the project of historical organizations studies. We invite colleagues in the EGOS community, which has done so much to foster this initiative, to share in our excitement for the future. It is timely now to extend and deepen what has already been accomplished. We invite papers that contribute to the sub-theme in one or more of three ways:

  1. Empirically founded research with a theoretical focus. We are still at an early stage and believe that it is time now to practice more extensively what has been proposed. We are keen to include papers that draw extensively on archival data.

  2. Methodological research. We encourage papers that draw explicitly on historical methods for the study of management, organizations and institutions that demonstrate methodological novelty.

  3. Critical and theoretical research. We welcome contributions that help make a further step change in articulating new critical and theoretical vistas in historical organization studies.

Potential topics for submission might include (but are not limited to):

  • What new insights can we draw from the literature on rhetorical history and the uses of the past?

  • The deeper structures and key components of a company’s rhetorical history, and their implications for organizational identity

  • Historical sensemaking, how the past impinges on the present (and future) in organizational and institutional life

  • In what ways might micro-historical perspectives and processes help to recast hegemonic meta-narratives?

  • How might research on organizational processes and dynamics be advanced through historical analysis?

  • Applying historical constructs in organizational research

  • The importance of history and time in corporate strategizing

  • The role of interpretive agency in (re-)constructing an organization’s history

  • How practically might business history expand its reach to embrace organizational issues with far-reaching social impact and engage with societal challenges?

  • Archival methods in historical organization studies: uses, advances and challenges

  • Novel historical methods for the study of management, organizations and institutions

  • How might historical perspectives enable the rethinking of organizational theories?



  • Bucheli, M., & Wadhwani, R.D. (eds.) (2014): Organizations in Time. History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Clark, P., & Rowlinson, M. (2004): “The treatment of history in organisation studies: Towards an ‘historic turn’?” Business History, 46, 331–352.
  • Clegg, S.R. (2006): “The bounds of rationality: Power/history/imagination.” Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 17, 847–863.
  • Clegg, S.R., & Courpasson, D. (2007): “The end of history and the futures of power.” Twenty-First Century Society, 2, 131–154.
  • Harvey, C., Maclean, M., Gordon, J., & Shaw, E. (2011a): “Andrew Carnegie and the foundations of contemporary entrepreneurial philanthropy.” Business History, 53, 424–448.
  • Harvey, C., Press, J., & Maclean, M. (2011b): “William Morris, cultural leadership and the dynamics of taste.” Business History Review, 85, 245–271.
  • Kieser, A. (1994): “Why Organization Theory Needs Historical Analyses – And How This Should Be Performed.” Organization Science, 5 (4), 608–620.
  • Kipping, M., & Üsdiken, B. (2014): “History in organization and management theory: More than meets the eye.” Academy of Management Annals, 8, 535–588.
  • Maclean, M., Harvey, C., & Clegg, S.R. (2016): “Conceptualizing historical organization studies.” Academy of Management Review, 41, 609–632.
  • Maclean, M., Harvey, C., & Clegg, S.R. (2017): “Organization theory in Business and Management History: Current status and future prospects.” Business History Review, 91, 457–481.
  • Mutch, A. (2018): “Practice, substance, and history: Reframing institutional logics.” Academy of Management Review, 43, 242–258.
  • Rowlinson, M., Hassard, J., & Decker, S. (2014): “Strategies for organizational history: A dialogue between historical theory and organization theory.” Academy of Management Review, 39, 250–274.
  • Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Mills, A.J. (2014): “Historical institutionalism.” In: M. Bucheli & R.D. Wadhwani (eds.): Organizations in Time. History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 100–123.
  • Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Quinn-Trank, C. (2010): “Rhetorical history as a source of competitive advantage.” In: J.A.C. Baum & J. Lampel (eds.): Globalization of Strategy Research. London: Emerald, 147–173.
  • Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Quinn-Trank, C. (2016): “Organizational re-membering: Rhetorical history as identity work.” In: M.G. Pratt, M. Schultz, B.E. Ashforth & D. Ravasi (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 297–316.
  • Vaara, E., & Lamberg, J.-A. (2016): “Taking historical embeddedness seriously: Three historical approaches to advance strategy process and practice research.” Academy of Management Review, 41, 633–657.
  • Wadhwani, R.D. (2018): “Poverty’s monument: Social problems and organizational field emergence in historical perspective.” Journal of Management Studies, 55, 545–577.
  • Wadhwani, R.D., & Jones, G. (2014): “Schumpeter’s plea: Historical reasoning in entrepreneurship theory and research.” In: M. Bucheli & R.D. Wadhwani (eds.): Organizations in Time. History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 192–216.

Stewart Clegg is Distinguished Professor of Management and Organization Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. A sociologist, he has published widely in leading journals in sociology, management and politics. Widely acknowledged as one of the most significant contemporary theorists of power relations, Stewart is also one of the most influential contributors to organization studies, recognized as such by the award of the 2017 EGOS Honorary Member.
Mairi Maclean is Professor of International Business at the School of Management, University of Bath, UK. Her research interests include business elites and elite power, entrepreneurial philanthropy, and historical organisation studies. Mairi is the author of four books, including “Business Elites and Corporate Governance in France and the UK” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and editor of a further four. Recent publications include contributions to the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organizational Research Methods’, and ‘Work, Employment and Society’.
Roy Suddaby is Winspear Professor of Management at the University of Victoria, Canada, and Research Professor at Newcastle University Business School, UK. He researches processes of organizational and institutional change with a current focus on history and change. Roy’s research has received best paper awards from ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, Grief Centre for Entrepreneurship Studies, and the Management History Division of the Academy of Management. He is a past editor of the ‘Academy of Management Review’, and recognized as among the world’s top cited authors in business and economics by Thompson Reuters from 2014 to 2017.