Sub-theme 01: [SWG] Organization & Time: Understanding the Past (and Future) in the Present

David Chandler
University of Colorado Denver, USA
Majken Schultz
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Roy Suddaby
University of Victoria, Canada, & University of Liverpool, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Contemporary organizations operate increasingly according to a logic of speed and instantaneity, while at the same time increasing their temporal spans to either draw upon their histories or to cope with distant future challenges (Schultz & Hernes, 2013). Within widely varying “temporal depths” (Bluedorn, 2002), different organizational actors carve out wide combinations of temporal structures (Ancona et al., 2001) and trajectories (Lawrence et al., 2001) that shape the organizations themselves and their relationships with other organizational actors. Recent work in organization theory has begun the search for ways to analytically and empirically handle the temporal complexity that organizational actors face (Hussenot & Missonier, 2016). This sub-theme aims to extend this work through joint inquiry.

Within organization theory, many of the actions and outcomes we study are the result of processes that occur over long periods of time (Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988; Goodman et al., 2001; Lee & Liebenau, 1999). These processes reach into the distant past, but also stretch into the unknown future. In spite of this, within much macro-level research, temporal issues are rarely theorized rigorously. As such, we seek to host a discussion among colleagues from across the range of organization theories to (a) more comprehensively theorize the past, present, and future in relation to organizations and organizing, and (b) stimulate work on theories of time itself (Pierson, 2004). This discussion, we believe, will have profound implications for our understanding of organizations and how they evolve. In particular, this sub-theme builds on the first sub-theme of the SWG (in 2019) to focus on the various ways the past are used in organizations and enacted in the present. We also include topics related to how expectations for the future intersect with uses of the past. Organizations draw upon their own past across widely different timespans, which may extend from a few days to centuries; they also draw upon past practices and symbols from craft, traditions, regions, or myths (e.g., Dacin et al., 2018; Schultz & Hernes, 2013).

Our goal for this sub-theme, therefore, is twofold – to more comprehensively theorize the past, present, and future in relation to organizations and organizing (e.g., fostering more complete analyses of complex temporal processes), but also to stimulate theory about the past, present, and future in a phenomenological sense. We seek to build an inclusive conversation that appeals to many theories and methods within organization theory. For example, we are not simply interested in understanding long periods of time as path-dependent processes, but in understanding things like temporal trajectories, time as a social construct, the past as a resource in the present, and the cumulative evolution of institutions and their underlying values.

The resulting discussion presents the opportunity for an exciting avenue of research that includes, but is not limited, to the following:

  • To explore the effects of “ancestry” and “legacy” on the founding, evolution, and dissolution of descendent organizations (Walsh & Bartunek, 2011).

  • To understand the role of rhetoric in constructing history that serves as a source of competitive advantage for organizations (Suddaby et al., 2010).

  • To focus on the nature of the distant past, exploring how organizations draw on historical artifacts and narratives to build authenticity and shape identity (Hatch & Schultz, 2017).

  • To understand how organizations and other social actors use history strategically to foster identification with key stakeholders (Suddaby et al., 2015).

  • To study character and values as historically-accreted commitments that create meaning for individuals within institutional contexts (Chandler, 2014; Kraatz & Flores, 2015).

  • To conceptualize how distant pasts and distant futures connect, in the present (Chandler & Foster, 2015; Schultz & Hernes, forthcoming). Distant pasts can be evoked in the present, but in a processual or pragmatist view any evoking of the past has a future orientation.

In this spirit, researchers across the range of organization theories are encouraged to apply for this sub-theme to help place the past, present, and future on a firmer theoretical footing. Our goal is to foster discussions that encompass theory (e.g., path dependence, sedimentation) and methodology (e.g., qualitative analysis, rhetorical analysis) to enable the more effective theorization and empirical study of the essential role of the past, present, and future in understanding organizations and organizing processes.



  • Ancona, D.G., Goodman, P.S., Lawrence, B.S., & Tushman, M.L. (2001): “Time: A New Research Lens.” Academy of Management Review, 26 (4), 645–663.
  • Bluedorn, A.C. (2002): The Human Organization of Time: Temporal Realities and Experience. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books.
  • Bluedorn, A.C., & Denhardt, R.B. (1988): “Time and Organizations.” Journal of Management, 14 (2), 299–320.
  • Chandler, D. (2014): “Morals, Markets, and Values-based Businesses.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 396–406.
  • Chandler, D., & Foster, W.M. (2015): “A Present Past: A Historical Perspective on Institutional Maintenance and Change.” Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.
  • Dacin, T.M., Dacin, P.A., & Kent, D. (2018): “Tradition in Organizations: A Custodianship Framework.” Academy of Management Annals, 13 (1), 342–373.
  • Goodman, P.S., Lawrence, B.S., Ancona, D.G., & Tushman, M.L. (2001): “Introduction to the Special Issue: Time in Organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 26 (4), 507–511.
  • Hatch, M.J., & Schultz, M. (2017): “Toward a Theory of Using History Authentically: Historicizing in the Carlsberg Group.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (4), 657–697.
  • Hussenot, A.&, Missonier, S. (2016): “Encompassing Stability and Novelty in Organization Studies: An Events-based Approach.” Organization Studies, 37 (4), 523–546.
  • Kraatz, M.S., & Flores, R. (2015): “Reinfusing Values.” In: M.S. Kraatz (ed.): Institutions and Ideals: Philip Selznick’s Legacy for Organizational Studies. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 44. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 353–381.
  • Lawrence, T.B., Winn, M.I., & Jennings, P.D. (2001): “The Temporal Dynamics of Institutionalization.” Academy of Management Review, 26 (4), 624–644.
  • Lee, H., & Liebenau, J. (1999): “Time in Organizational Studies: Towards a New Research Direction.” Organization Studies, 20 (6), 1035–1058.
  • Pierson, P. (2004): Politics in Time: History, Institutions, and Social Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Schultz, M., & Hernes, T. (forthcoming): ““Temporal interplay between strategy and identity: Punctuated, subsumed and sustained modes.” Strategic Organization, first published online on April 30, 2019;
  • Suddaby, R., Foster, W., & Quinn Trank, C. (2010): “Rhetorical history as a source of competitive advantage.” In: B. Joel A.C. & J. Lampel (eds.): The Globalization of Strategy Research. Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 27. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 147–173.
  • Suddaby, R., & Foster, W.M., & Quinn Trank, C. (2015): “Organizational Re-Membering: The Use of Rhetorical History to Create Identification.” In: M. Pratt, M. Schultz, B. Ashforth & D. Ravasi (eds.): Oxford Handbook of Organizational Identity. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 297–316.
  • Walsh, I.J., & Bartunek, J.M. (2011): “Cheating the Fates: Organizational Foundings in the Wake of Demise.” Academy of Management Journal, 54 (5), 1017–1044.
David Chandler is Associate Professor of Management at the University of Colorado Denver, USA. His research focuses on understanding how organizations interact with their complex institutional environments. This research has been published in ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, and ‘Journal of Management’. He has also written the book “Corporate Social Responsibility: A Strategic Perspective” (Business Expert Press, 2015) as part of the UN PRME book collection and is author of the textbook “Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation” (5th edition, SAGE Publications, 2020).
Majken Schultz is Professor of Management and Organization Studies at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark, and member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. She is co-founder of the Center for Organizational Time at CBS. Her recent research focuses on temporality in organizations, including how history is used for the future, as well as how future strategy becomes meaningful through identity. She has published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘European Journal of Marketing’ and co-written/edited more than a dozen books.
Roy Suddaby is Professor & Winspear Chair at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada. He is also Chair in Organisation Theory at the University of Liverpool Management School, United Kingdom. His research focuses on organizational and social change and has been published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Business Venturing’ and related leading management journals.