Sub-theme 51: Organizational History for Good: Legacy, Collective Memory, and Change --> HYBRID!

Andrea Casey
George Washington University, USA
Hamid Foroughi
University of Essex, United Kingdom
Sonia Coman
Washington National Cathedral, USA

Call for Papers

In this sub-theme, we are interested in exploring different ways that past legacies both enable but also restrict opportunities for organizational renewal, social change, and the emergence of new forms of organizing. On the one hand, collective memories can be a source of authentication and strategy restoration (Miller et al., 2020); on the other hand, past legacies could restrict our imagination by enforcing path-dependency. Organizations with a long or significant history often find that their legacy is at odds with the realities of the present or the directions they envision for the future (Hatch & Schultz, 2017; Kroeze & Keulen, 2013), while newly formed organizations are creating their legacy through their actions and as they tell their story internally and in the public forum. In either case, when aspects of the purpose of an organization, understood as its raison d'être, change or the emphasis shifts from one aspect to another, the organizational identity is threatened and legacy becomes an obstacle to overcome in order to effect change. We do not know yet what factors make this tension more difficult to resolve or whether this tension is stronger in some sectors, for instance, in purpose-driven organizations, given members’ emotional attachment to old memories and identities (Foroughi, 2020). We propose that the difference lies with the way the past is remembered. Literature on collective memory and history and on the ways in which organizations connect past, present, and future provides an umbrella for further study on legacies, uses of the past, and the paths towards reconciling the enabling and restricting roles that legacy plays in organizations.
Importantly, some organizations seek ways to leverage their legacy for change, i.e., how they can re-imagine, understand, and enact their organizational identity. For example, Radio City Music Hall built on its radio origins to emphasize radio-related qualities – e.g., public, inexpensive, accessible – while forgoing radio as medium for other channels and outputs such as live performance, TV, and digital streaming (Coman & Casey, 2021). Imagining a different future that does not erase an organization’s identity and legacy but utilizes them as scaffolding for realizing the organization's new directions - whether an entirely new vision or, more often, a reimagination of its current vision - is an attractive proposition, but there are many limitations. From legal restrictions (e.g., clauses preventing change in charitable donations and bequests) to optics (e.g., the clash between legacy and envisioned future is so significant that connecting the two appears insincere), the challenges at the intersection of legacy and change are as great as the opportunities. Whether a challenge or an opportunity, the relation between an organization's past and its future is vital for its present (Brunninge, 2009; Bucheli & Wadhwani, 2014; Casey & Coman, 2020; Casey & Olivera, 2011; Coraiola et al., 2015).
Central to understanding the relationship between the legacies and imagined future is the recognition that what we understand as our legacy is socially and politically construed (Foroughi et al., 2020)and is shaped by the agentic work of actors who can be termed, agents of memory, (Schwartz, 1991) or “identity custodians” (Dacin et al,, 2019, p. 344). While this custodianship is important in maintaining and restoring past legacies, at the same time, it often implies silencing certain histories that are deemed incompatible (Anteby & Molnar, 2012). For instance, histories and legacies of alternative organizational forms are often not commemorated and largely forgotten (Rodgers et al., 2016), which can further restrict our imagination about different forms of purpose-driven organizing.
This sub-theme aims to contribute a deeper understanding of legacies and imagined futures as they pertain to organizational identity and change. We hope papers will shed light on how organizations can imagine constructive models for navigating this fundamental tension. We invite submissions that explore this topic in organizations where questions of legacy, memory, and identity are pivotal to the case. We would welcome papers with theoretical and empirical contributions that address, but are not restricted to, the following questions:

  • How do we theorize legacy and change in relation to organizational identity?

  • How does the intersection of legacy and change emerge in different types of organizations such as purpose-driven organizations?

  • How has legacy been successfully leveraged for organizational change that contributed to societal well-being? Under what conditions does legacy promote change/rigidity?

  • What factors influence how the tension between legacy and change is experienced in an organization?

  • Why is the tension between legacy and change stronger in some sectors, such as purpose-driven organizations?

  • How can critical historical work help recover forgotten histories of alternative forms of organization?

  • How can we envision alternative forms of organizing by critically examining past legacies?



  • Anteby, M., & Molnar, V. (2012): “Collective memory meets organizational identity: Remembering to forget in a firm's rhetorical history.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (3), 515–540.
  • Brunninge, O. (2009): “Using history in organizations: How managers make purposeful reference to history in strategy processes.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 22 (1), 8–26.
  • Bucheli, M., & Wadhwani, R.D. (2014): The Future of the Past in Management and Organization Studies. Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Casey, A., & Coman, S. (2020): “The enduring presence of the founder in collection museums: A historical and interdisciplinary perspective.” In: M. Maclean, S.R. Clegg, R. Suddaby, & C. Harvey (eds.): Historical Organization Studies: Theory and Applications, New York: Routledge, 131–148.
  • Casey, A.J., & Olivera, F. (2011): “Reflections on organizational memory and forgetting.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 20 (3), 305–310.
  • Coman, S., & Casey, A. (2021): Metahistories of Microhistories: How organizations narrate their origin story at different points in their history. Paper presented at the 37th EGOS Colloquium, Amsterdam, July 8–10, 2021.
  • Coraiola, D.M., Foster, W.M., & Suddaby, R. (2015): “Varieties of history in organization studies.” In: P.G. McLaren, A.J. Mills, & T.G. Weatherbee (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Management and Organizational History. New York: Routledge, 363–372.
  • Dacin, M.T., Dacin, P.A., & Kent, D. (2019): “Tradition in organizations: A custodianship framework.” Academy of Management Annals, 13 (1), 342–373.
  • Foroughi, H. (2020): “Collective memories as a vehicle of fantasy and identification: founding stories retold.” Organization Studies, 41 (10), 1347–1367.
  • Foroughi, H., Coraiola, D.M., Rintamäki, J., Mena, S., & Foster, W.M. (2020): “Organizational memory studies.” Organization Studies, 41 (12), 1725–1748.
  • 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.
  • Kroeze, R., & Keulen, S. (2013): “Leading a multinational is history in practice: The use of invented traditions and narratives at AkzoNobel, Shell, Philips and ABN AMRO.” Business History, 55 (8), 1265–1287.
  • Miller, K.D., Gomes, E., & Lehman, D.W. (2019): “Strategy restoration.” Long Range Planning, 52 (5).
  • Rodgers, D.M., Petersen, J., & Sanderson, J. (2016): “Commemorating alternative organizations and marginalized spaces: The case of forgotten Finntowns.” Organization, 23 (1), 90–113.
  • Schwartz, B. (1991): “Iconography and collective memory: Lincoln’s image in the American mind.” The Sociological Quarterly, 32 (3), 301–319.
Andrea Casey is Associate Professor of Human and Organizational Learning at George Washington University, USA. From her book chapter on Collective Memory in Organizations (1997) to her recent book, “Organizational Identity and Memory: A Multidisciplinary Approach (2019), published by Routledge, Andrea’s research interests have primarily focused on organizational memory and history, and organizational identity.
Hamid Foroughi is Associate Professor in Business and Society at Essex Business School, University of Essex, UK. His interest revolves around understanding mechanisms and conditions that facilitate organizing social change. Hamid has published in leading journals, such as ‘Organization Studies’ and ‘Journal of World Business’.
Sonia Coman is Director of Digital Engagement at Washington National Cathedral, USA, She headed Marketing and Communications at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, taught at Columbia University, and conducted curatorial work for art collections and museums, including the Louvre. is the co-editor, with Andrea Casey, of a new book series, De Gruyter Studies in Organizational and Management History. Sonia’s publications focus on identity formation in the creative industries and on legacy in long-lived organizations.