Sub-theme 43: Historical perspectives in organization studies

Behlül Üsdiken
Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey
Matthias Kipping
Schulich School of Business, York University, Canada
Lars Engwall
Uppsala University, Sweden

Call for Papers

The purpose of this sub-theme is to bring together theoretically informed empirical studies that take a historical perspective on organizations and organizational fields. We are inviting papers from a broad range of academic disciplines, including but not limited to, organization and management studies, sociology, institutional economics, history of business and technology, and management history. We hope to cover a wide range of industrial and service sectors as well as other fields, such as management education.

Over the last decades there have been repeated calls for the inclusion and development of more historical approaches towards the study of organizations and organizational fields (e.g. Zald, 1996; Kieser, 1994). There has even been a suggestion that organization studies as a whole needs to take a "historical turn" (Clark and Rowlinson, 2004), although this seems to have been more geared towards a culturalist or post-structuralist orientation. In terms of empirical work, there has been little progress in this direction, despite a number of pioneering studies (e.g. Hargadon and Douglas, 2001; Leblebici et al., 1991) and a dedicated sub-theme at a previous EGOS Colloquium, which led to the publication of a special issue of Business History (Üsdiken and Kieser, 2004). Many of the dominant theoretical frameworks in organization studies, such as institutional theory, have remained largely a-historical, although there have been recent efforts to make them more dynamic through a focus on processes of institutionalization and de-institutionalization as well as field-level change (e.g., Farjoun, 2002; Hoffman, 1999). There are some more explicitly historical frameworks such as evolutionary or Schumpeterian economics (e.g. Nelson and Winter, 1982) and population ecology (e.g. Hannan and Freeman, 1977). But while the former has been difficult to operationalize, the latter requires a completeness of data that is usually not available. Both also pay little attention to what has been one of the hallmarks of historical research, namely, contextualization. Perhaps the most important reason for the dearth of empirical studies with a historical focus has been the continuing dominance of a positivist approach to research, which continues to make it difficult to publish articles based on historical material and methodologies in the major academic journals (Augier et al., 2005; Kipping and Üsdiken, 2008).

There have been nevertheless at least three conceptual frameworks within organization studies, which explicitly or implicitly contain a historical perspective:

  • Administrative heritage: This concept was originally developed by Bartlett and Ghoshal (2001) to explain the difficulties large corporations had in transforming themselves into transnationals. As they see it, administrative heritage draws on the role of the founders, national culture and corporate history. More broadly, this idea is related to issues of organizational change and leadership, which also formed the core of other historically oriented studies of organizations (e.g. Pettigrew, 1985).
  • Founding conditions: While administrative heritage focused on individual organizations, the focus here is on industry structure, where the origins of particular sectors are seen to have a lasting influence of industrial structures (Stinchcombe, 1969). The work of Stinchcombe has recently experienced some renaissance not only through studies taking a population ecology perspective, but also in institutionalist theorizing (Lounsbury and Ventresca, 2002) and has at least indirectly informed the very fashionable idea of "institutional entrepreneurship", which focuses on changes in inherited field structures and frames.

  • Path dependency: A concept which originated in the economic history of technology (David 1985), where it is actually now been questioned, it is now also being applied to, for example, studies of national business systems (e.g., Morgan et al., 2005) and corporate structures and governance (Bebchuk and Roe, 1999). It is also a key element in the resource-based view of the firm within the strategic management literature (Barney et al., 2001). In the historical discipline itself it has also become increasingly popular and has been widely and often indiscriminately applied, becoming in some cases an equivalent for "history". It therefore needs clear definitions and careful operationalization.

We hope to attract historically oriented studies of organizations, organizational populations and organizational fields that both use and expand on these and other possible frameworks based on empirical research. We will also be considering papers developing innovative theoretical approaches for bringing history into organizational analysis.

We are planning to publish selected papers from the sub-theme as a special issue of the journal Management and Organizational History.

Behlül Üsdiken 
Matthias Kipping 
Lars Engwall