I grew up in Cambridge, which isn’t exactly a dump, but even so, Edinburgh’s lovely, isn’t it? I think it’s probably the scale that does it. There are just streets and streets of the stuff: beautiful buildings, intriguing curiosities, well stocked pubs…the weather isn’t even that bad at this time of year. If you’ve not already guessed, the 35th EGOS Colloquium was held in Edinburgh last week and, in addition to the very pleasant location, it was well stocked with plenty of history-related content.
Billed under the theme of Enlightening the Future, the conference organisers juxtaposed the enlightenment heritage of their host city with the ‘post-trust’ age, which society appears to be increasingly embracing. Along these lines, they asked how ‘political shifts, technological advancements, forms of interaction, and focus on personal interests may be re-framing the ways in which decisions are made in organisations.’ It was on these terms that the former-chancellor, Alistair Darling, opened the conference. He reflected on the financial crisis, the then Labour government’s response and the path that the UK and the rest of the world has followed subsequently. His message to the delegates was that political, and not economic issues have been the key impediment economic prosperity since the crisis.
Following the opening ceremony, the colloquium proper began, offering plenty for the historically-inclined organisational scholar. Sub-theme 48 set out to understand the historical forces underlying recent crises, introducing ‘historical-evolutionary organisation studies’ to theorise the link between backward-looking historical perspectives and forward-looking development. Additionally, there was a sub-plenary on Historic Turns: Objective, Rhetorical, and Retrospective, which saw speaker Candace Jones, Kate Kenny and Michael Rowlinson discuss importance of socio-historic context in understanding and interpreting organisations. Of course, the problem with such a packed programme, was the inevitable clashes that it created. As it was, I was enrolled on Sub-theme 30, Realising the Potential of Historical Organisation Studies, and it was here that I spent the majority of time over the next few days.
Introducing the sub-theme, conveners Stewart Clegg, Mairi Maclean, Roy Suddaby, and Charles Harvey expressed the rise of historical organisation studies as being part of a wave, with exciting developments and momentum coming at express pace. What was needed now, they argued, was for us to compound the sense of community that had developed and lay the foundations for the field’s coherence and continued growth. Moreover, while history and organisation studies had been expressed through the linking of two separate worlds, it was time to bring them together in practice. With that, a sub-theme programme was chosen that moved away from ‘separate world’ theorising, instead undertaking the ‘getting down and doing’ of historical organisation studies.
The first day saw parallel streams in theory, institutional entrepreneurship, and rhetorical history. Gabrielle Durepos kicked off proceedings in the theory session with a presentation of work done with Russ Vince on reflexivity in historical organisation studies. Their focus here was on the under-appreciated importance of emotion in relation to historical actors, using the example of corporatisation of higher education. The institutional entrepreneurship session followed with papers on legitimacy acquisition in relation to Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone (Baig and Godley) and the strategic use of aesthetic innovation and its impact on the wider market (Eisenman and Simons). These were followed with a presentation by Mairi Maclean on the link between Hilton’s international expansion and US post-war foreign policy (with Harvey and Suddaby). It was interesting here to hear about how Conrad Hilton deployed rhetoric in framing unknown variables in manner that represented them as relative certainties.
Following enjoyable parties hosted by Bath, CBS and others, the next morning was opened with a second session of rhetorical history, and one on institutions. Attending the latter, I heard stimulating presentations on the legacy of the fraternal ‘golden age’ in compounding the normativity of racial divides, as well the use of ‘crux’ classification within the Bordeaux wine region. While diverse in topic, both papers showed well the value an historical perspective can bring to understanding institutions in their contested and changing form. In addition to work Stephanie Decker and myself presented on digital history, the next session saw papers on the use of corporate archives for since-making by managers (Andrew Smith) and the potential of critical discourse analysis in linking the sociological and the historical (Huber, Bernardi and Iordanou). Before a second round of sub-plenaries, there were also sessions of memory and politics, dealing in turn with the pasts impact on parliamentary and political structures and the role memory plays in wider social life.
The final morning was initiated with papers on processes and boundaries, and entrepreneurship, before a final set of sessions on businesses interface with the public sector and the organisation of religion. Given it was both a Saturday morning and there had been much parting the evening before, it was great to see so many delegates engaging fully in these final sessions of the conference. Indeed, despite the intellectual fatigue that can set in towards the end such events, these sessions stimulated some of the most interesting discussions of the three days. It is testament to both the effort and execution of the organisers that the sub-theme generated such excellent feedback and discussion, and I know that presenters and audiences alike found it a thoroughly valuable experience. Mairi, Stewart, Roy and Charles should be congratulated along with EGOS for putting on a fine event, and must be thanked for all their efforts in bringing it to fruition.
Are you attending an event relevant to business or organisational history this summer? We’re always looking for volunteers to write reports for the network. We would particularly love to hear from anyone interested in providing content for the upcoming AoM and EBHA conferences. For further enquiries, please contact Adam Nix (firstname.lastname@example.org).