Critical review of management
This article was downloaded by: [Edith Cowan University] On: 01 April 2014, At: 22:43 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Management & Organizational History Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www. tandfonline. com/loi/rmor20 Management and organizational history: Prospects a Charles Booth & Michael Rowlinson a b University of the West of England b Queen Mary.
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Historical Methods and Styles of Writing – alternative methods and diverse styles of writing appropriate for studying organizations historically. 3. The Philosophy of History and Historical Theorists – the relevance for management and organization theory of philosophers of history such as Michel Foucault and Hayden White. 4. Corporate Culture and Social Memory – the historical dimension of culture and memory in organizations. 5. Organizational History – the emergence of a distinctive field of research. 6. Business History and Theory – the engagement between business history and organization theory.
Business Ethics in History – the meaning and ethics of past business behaviour. 8. Metanarratives of Corporate Capitalism – historiographical debate concerning the rise of capitalism and the modern corporation. 9. Management History and Management Education – the link between the history of management thought and the teaching of management and organization theory. 10. Public History – the relation between business schools and the increasing public interest in history. Key words • Management history • organizational history • organizational memory • philosophy of history
Our purpose in this article is to discuss the prospects as we see them for the new journal Management & Organizational History. The paper is set out in the form of a 10-point agenda with proposals for future directions in management and organizational history. Our intention is to stimulate debate, not to define boundaries or exclude other possibilities. 5 060627 Booth & Rowlinson 6/1/06 9:52 am Page 6 MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY 1(1) Downloaded by [Edith Cowan University] at 22:43 01 April 2014 1.
The ‘Historic Turn’ in Organization Theory Our starting point is the ‘historic turn’ that is arguably taking place in management and organization theory (Clark and Rowlinson 2004), akin to that which has transformed other branches of the social sciences and humanities (Down 2001, 394–96; McDonald 1996). There have been repeated calls for a more historical approach to the study of management and organizations from leading organization theorists such as Mayer Zald (1993, 2002), Alfred Kieser (1994), Gibson Burrell (1997) and Stewart Clegg (2001).Zald (2002, 381) contends that the approach to problems in business school social science is ‘universalist and presentist’. In ‘the search for general and abstracted laws’, he maintains, ‘social science cut itself off from history’. Universalism leads to a view that contemporary organization theory applies to organizational phenomena in all societies at all times. Presentism results in research being reported as if it occurred in a decontextualized, extended present. Presentism contradicts universalism to the extent that the present is often assumed to be a period of unprecedented change, heralding the dawning of a new age.
But this is usually done without proper consideration of possible historical precedents. It is largely a rhetorical device for privileging an unbounded, extended present, and it is a claim that has been made for at least as long as either of us can remember. Universalism and presentism can be seen as the Flintstones and the Simpsons approaches to history. The Flintstones cartoon was ‘set in a town called Bedrock, in the Stone Age era, but with a society identical to that of the United States in the mid-20th century’ (Wikipedia 2005). The cartoonseries revelled in its anachronisms, as when the characters appeared in a Christmas special, even though they must have lived long before Christ was born. The ‘Flintstones method’ assumes that any society, from the prehistoric to the present, faces the same organizational problems as our own (Steel 1999). As Jacques (1996, 14) observes, universalism means that ‘management is presented as a continuous thread running through civilization’, and even the Bible is cited by universalist organization theorists as addressing issues of organization.
Universalism often ‘emphasizes continuity over change’ (Down 2001, 402). It proceeds from the saying, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ (Moore and Lewis 1999, 2, 269; cited in Down 2001, 402), which, as Milton Friedman pointed out, is just as much a half-truth as the saying ‘history never repeats itself’ (1966, 25). Universalism can serve as a useful counter to claims for discontinuity between the present and the past. But Simon Down (2001, 402) argues that to describe ancient Greek enterprises as multinational enterprises (e. g.
Moore and Lewis 1999), from the perspective of contemporary international business studies, and using ‘the language of corporate capitalism’ is to imply ‘that most, if not all, economic organizations are forms of capitalism’. According to Down (2001, 403–4), the claim that multinational enterprises existed in antiquity, in a form amenable to analysis using concepts from Michael Porter (1990), is indefensible. It can only be made by assuming that market rationality has always existed, ignoring broader intellectual history and the historiography of the ancient world.
Of course, we need, similarly, to be wary of Marxistinspired critiques of universal market rationality because Marxism makes the competing assumption of a universal class struggle. 6 060627 Booth & Rowlinson 6/1/06 9:52 am Page 7 BOOTH & ROWLINSON: MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY: PROSPECTS Downloaded by [Edith Cowan University] at 22:43 01 April 2014 Although it may be untenable to suggest that the ancient Phoenicians developed multinational enterprises, a convincing case can be made that there are historical precedents for developments in contemporary capitalism.
For example, most economic historians are now agreed that globalization in the late 20th century is not unprecedented, and that the first period of globalization occurred between 1896 and 1914 (Eichengreen 1996). According to a leading economic historian: the most impressive episode of international economic integration which the world has seen to date was not the second half of the 20th century, but the years between 1870 and the Great War. The nineteenth century, and in particular the late nineteenth century, was the period that saw the largest decline ever in international barriers to trade and factor mobility.(O’Rourke 2002, 65) The economy was even more globalized than the late 20th century in part because there was mobility of both capital and labour, whereas in the current period the mobility of labour is more restricted. The first age of globalization was undone by the First World War, a war that was seen as impossible by many commentators at the time due to the extent of global integration (Ferguson 1998a). Where historians disagree is over the role of imperialism in the first age of globalization. The Simpsons is set in Springfield, which is ‘a classic postmodern pastiche.
The series systematically conceals the State in which Springfield is located’, although many elements of it remind viewers of a typical, large American metropolitan area (Miani 2004, 17). Springfield is fictionalized in the same way that an organization is often fictionalized in organization studies; it ‘may not exist, and yet everything that is said about it may be true’, in the sense that ‘it may be credible in the light of other texts’ (Czarniawska 1999, 38). Bart Simpson never grows up, and no matter how many episodes he appears in, he always appears in the present.
The Simpsons method presents fictionalized organizations in a non-dated, extended present. The historic turn problematizes universalism and presentism. It raises the question of the extent to which organizations, and organizational research, need to be historicized, that is, located in a specific historical context. For example, was the multinational enterprise born in ancient Greece? Or is it a form of organization that is specific to a globalized, capitalist economy? In which case, were the forms of foreign direct investment during the first age of globalization comparable to those of the late 20th century?
And in terms of the present, how generalizable across time and space are the findings of an ethnographer from a fictionalized and supposedly typical organization? Calls for more historical awareness are often aligned with critical management studies. Zald (2002, 381) contends that business schools have been ‘cut off from humanistic thinking’ and, according to Burrell, business school faculty have been allowed to escape from ‘any real sensitivity to the issues raised by the humanities’, including history (1997, 528).
Thomas, Mills, and Helms Mills 2004), and sexuality (Mills 1997) into organization theory should also entail historical contextualization. For example, Anshuman Prasad ‘seeks to theorize workplace diversity within the wider context of the (continuing? ) history and experience of Euro-American imperialism and colonialism’, and draws on postcolonial theory (Prasad 1997, 286). As to how management and organization theory can respond to the calls for more engagement with history, Behlul Usdiken and Alfred Kieser (2004) have identified three positions, which they label supplementarist, integrationist, and reorientationist.
The supplementarist position adheres to the view of organization theory as social scientistic, and merely adds history as another contextual variable, alongside other variables such as national cultures. The integrationist position, which Kieser (1994) himself prefers, seeks to enrich organization theory by developing links with the humanities, including history, literary theory and philosophy, without completely abandoning a social scientistic orientation.
The reorientationist agenda, which is very much our own (Clark and Rowlinson 2004), involves a thoroughgoing critique of existing theories of organization for their ahistorical orientation. There is scope for more debate about the extent to which history should merely supplement existing theories of organization, or be integrated with them, or whether a proper ‘historic turn’ requires a reorientation of organization theory along the lines of the reorientation called for from critical management studies or gender studies. 2.
Historical Methods and Styles of Writing The historic turn in management and organization theory raises questions about methods and appropriate styles of writing for more historically oriented research. Management and organization theorists are often wary of both documentary historical research and narrative accounts of organizations (e. g. Barrett and Srivastava 1991; Strati 2000; Martin 2002). On the other hand, while business historians generally keep to documentary research and chronological narratives of individual organizations, they rarely engage with the epistemological questions concerning sources and historical narratives raised by organization theorists. This means that when management and organization theorists venture into historical research they have to tackle questions concerning historical methods, the status of sources and styles of writing (Rowlinson 2004). Here we mention just a few examples of the challenges raised by such writing. Pettigrew’s (1985) longitudinal study of ICI’s corporate strategy is highly regarded by business historians (e. g. Coleman 1987; Warren and Tweedale 2002, 212).
But as Pettigrew admits, the combination of ‘retrospective and real-time analysis of social and organizational processes’ presents particular advantages and disadvantages (Pettigrew 1985, 40), and these are different to those usually encountered by business historians. Pettigrew’s data consist of company documents, i. e. conventional historical data, as well as retrospective data from long semi-structured interviews. His main sources, however, were real-time observations and interviews conducted during his long stay in the organization.
This combination led Pettigrew to a presentation of findings that repeatedly traverses the same period of time and departs from 8 060627 Booth & Rowlinson 6/1/06 9:52 am Page 9 Downloaded by [Edith Cowan University] at 22:43 01 April 2014 BOOTH & ROWLINSON: MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY: PROSPECTS conventional chronological business history (Clark and Rowlinson 2002). Alongside Pettigrew’s research, the strategic choice perspective (Child 1972) licensed several forays into business archives by organization theorists. These studies (e. g.
Whipp and Clark 1986; Smith, Child and Rowlinson 1990) incorporate the tension between action and structure in ‘analytically structured narratives’ (Clark 2000, 113). They are selfconsciously situated ‘on the bridge between narrative and analytic schemas’ (Whipp and Clark 1986, 18). In other words they attempt to strike a balance between atheoretical, common-sense, empirical historical accounts of what actually happened, and overtheorized, sociological or economic accounts which explain the structural or economic necessity underlying events that have already been recounted by historians.
Whipp and Clark (1986) are also notable as an example of organizational researchers who managed to secure possession of a large portion of historical records from a then extant company in order to carry out an historical case study without corporate sponsorship. Their study of innovations in work organization at Rover up until the early 1980s grants anonymity through pseudonyms for interviewees who gave retrospective accounts of events. These retrospective accounts are combined with liberal citation from company documents, including the directors’ minutes, in order to construct a detailed narrative of the company’s recent history.
This allows for a historicized account of Rover, countering more universalist structural accounts of work organization derived from labour process theory (Braverman 1974). Whipp and Clark also demonstrate that anonymity for interviewees does not require the complete fictionalization of an organization, abstracted from time and place and as if existing in an extended present. Burrell’s (1997) excursion in Pandemonium represents more of a challenge to both historical research and organization theory.
Burrell eschews the aura of realism and objectivity that is normally found in historical writing, avoiding anything resembling a conventional chronological narrative. Instead he presents organization theory with an invitation to an odd and occasionally disturbing set of historiographical debates, from witchcraft to the Holocaust. Historians, and especially business historians, are not usually expected to produce a methodological justification for their work. The copious notes detailing the location of sources in the archive are usually seen as sufficient methodological justification in their own right.
On the other hand, for social science research in general, and for qualitative researchers in organization studies in particular, it is expected that there will be a detailed methodological justification of the research conducted. But while contributors to management and organization theory journals are expected to provide a detailed account of their methodology, they are usually discouraged from listing archival sources in endnotes. We would therefore expect the historic turn to lead to greater reflection on the historical methods appropriate for studying organizations.
We also believe that if experiments in historical styles of writing using multiple methods are to be encouraged, then both methodological essays and detailed empirical, historical, archive-based research with copious notes listing documentary sources need to be accommodated. We aim to promote both historically informed writing in organization theory and historical research informed by organization theory. 9 060627 Booth & Rowlinson 6/1/06 9:52 am Page 10 MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY 1(1) Downloaded by [Edith Cowan University] at 22:43 01 April 2014 3.
The Philosophy of History and Historical Theorists If there is to be methodological reflection and experimentation in historical writing, then this will involve further engagement with the philosophy of history and historical theorists such as Hayden White (1973, 1987), Michel Foucault (1970, 1972), Paul Ricoeur (1984), David Carr (1986) and Deirdre McCloskey (1994). Carr’s defence of narrative as the essence of human existence and consciousness in time stands at odds with the views of White or Foucault, that narrative is an imposition on the part of the historian as narrator.
This impositionalist view of narrative in history is generally accepted within organization theory, as it is more broadly, so much so that Carr (1998) describes it as the received wisdom. This is largely because, amongst the historical theorists we have mentioned above, it is Foucault who has attracted most attention in organization theory (Carter, McKinlay and Rowlinson 2002). The interest in Foucault has inspired historical research on organizations from management and organization theorists (e. g. Jacques 1996), as well as accounting researchers (Hoskin and Macve 1988) and sociologists (Savage 1998).