Sub-theme 33: Historical Organization Studies in Action: Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Social Innovation

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

Call for Papers

Historical organization studies is ‘organizational research that draws on historical sources, methods and knowledge to explore, refine and develop theoretical ideas and conceptual insights’ (Maclean et al., 2016). Put simply, it seeks to blend history and organization studies. Its status is that of emergent academic movement rather than established community of practice. For over two decades, organization theorists have emphasized the need for more and better research recognizing the importance of the past in shaping the present and future (Clegg, 2006; 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; Mills et al., 2016). 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, precisely, might a traditionally empirically-oriented discipline, such as history, be incorporated into a theoretically-oriented discipline such as organization studies? In recent years this has been the topic of extensive debate, giving rise to a number of ground-breaking publications (Bucheli & Wadhwani, 2014; Kipping & Üsdiken, 2014; Rowlinson et al., 2014; Suddaby et al., 2010) and a flurry of Special Issues in journals including, inter alia. Academy of Management Review, Organization Studies, Management Learning, and Organization.
The convenors of this sub-theme believe that we are now entering a new phase in the establishment of historical organization studies as a distinctive methodological paradigm, concerned above all with putting historical organization studies into action. Scholars have been using organizational research in historical work over many years but it has tended to be implicit. Now it is becoming more epistemologically and methodological explicit as a singular type of reasoning, often dealing with very fragmentary data created for other purposes (Suddaby et al., 2020; Tennent et al., 2020).
The time is now ripe to extend, deepen and at the same time to showcase what historical organization studies can contribute to research within the domains of strategy, entrepreneurship and social innovation (Harvey et al., 2019; Mutch, 2007; Vaara & Lamberg, 2016; Wadhwani & Jones, 2014). Interest in research combining theory with historical sources and methods is plainly on the rise (Durepos et al., 2020).
This sub-theme is intended to galvanize thinking, to serve as a catalyst in both the development of the field and in building a community of scholars with a shared interest in enacting historical organization studies. We are, therefore, seeking papers that advance this agenda in several ways:

  • First, as critical and theoretical research to extend and deepen what has already been accomplished;

  • Second, as methodological research; and

  • Third, as empirically founded research with a theoretical focus in the areas of strategy, entrepreneurship and social innovation, embracing not-for-profit organizations and the public sector (Harvey et al., 2011; Maclean et al., 2013).

The narrative to this point suggests that history and organization studies have largely been separate worlds. It is time to move beyond separate world papers; to engage in the work of creating theoretically informed empirical papers that reflect historical organization studies in action.


  • 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 (3), 331–352.
  • Clegg, S. (2006): “The bounds of rationality: Power/history/imagination.” Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 17 (7), 847–863.
  • Durepos, G., Maclean, M., Alcadipani, R., & Cummings, S. (2020): “Historical reflections at the intersection of past and future: Celebrating 50 years of Management Learning.Management Learning, 51 (1), 3–16.
  • Harvey, C., Maclean, M., Gordon, J., & Shaw, E. (2011): “Andrew Carnegie and the foundations of contemporary entrepreneurial philanthropy.”, Business History, 53 (3), 424–448.
  • Harvey, C., Maclean, M., & Suddaby, R. (2019): “Historical perspectives on entrepreneurship and philanthropy.” Business History Review, 93 (3), 443–471.
  • Kieser, A. (1994): “Crossroads – why organization theory needs historical analyses – and how these 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 (4), 609–632.
  • Maclean, M., Harvey, C., & Gordon, J. (2013): “Social innovation, social entrepreneurship and the practice of contemporary entrepreneurial philanthropy.” International Small Business Journal, 31 (7), 747–763.
  • Mills, A.J., Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Durepos, G. (2016): “Revisiting the historic turn 10 years later: Current debates in management and organizational history.” Management and Organizational History, 11 (2), 67–76.
  • Mutch, A. (2007): “Reflexivity and the institutional entrepreneur: A historical exploration.” Organization Studies, 28 (7), 1123–1140.
  • Rowlinson, M., Hassard, J., & Decker, S. (2014): “Strategies for organizational history: A dialogue between historical theory and organization theory.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 250–274.
  • Suddaby, R., Coraiola, D., Harvey, C., & Foster, W.M. (2020): “History and the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities.” Strategic Management Journal, 41 (3), 530–556.
  • Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Quinn-Trank, C. (2010): “Rhetorical history as a source of competitive advantage.” In. J.A.C. Baum 6 J. Lampel (eds.): Globalization of Strategy Research. London: Emerald, 147–173.
  • Tennent, K.D., Gillett, A.G., & Foster, W.M. (2020): “Developing historical consciousness in management learners.” Management Learning, 51 (1), 73–88.
  • 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 (4), 633–657.
  • 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.
Mairi Maclean is Professor of International Business at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Her research interests include business elites and elite power, entrepreneurial philanthropy, and historical organization studies. She 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. Mairi has co-organized workshops on organizational history and philanthropy held at Newcastle, Glasgow and London. Recent publications include contributions to the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, and ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’.
Roy Suddaby is Winspear Professor of Management at the University of Victoria, Canada, and Research Professor at University of Liverpool Management School, United Kingdom. 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.
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 EGOS Honorary Member Award 2017.