EGOS 2019


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 30Realising 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 (adam.nix@dmu.ac.uk).

Radical business

For those not socialised into its norms and traditions, Oxford’s exam season can make for a somewhat bewildering spectacle. As it was for me when I arrived in the city last Thursday to find the practice of ‘trashing’ in full swing outside my hotel. Looking on with bemusement, I was told that it had historically involved the barraging of gown-clad undergraduates with eggs, flower, and even fish entrails as they left their last exams. Though officially now banned by the University, a more sanitised version is still widely practiced today, with shaving foam, confetti and other mostly harmless ordnance the worst one can expect. Standing there, it occurred to me that the modernised persistence of this nineteen-century tradition had more than a passing relevance to the symposium I had come to attend. However, I was already pushing my luck and, not wanting to become collateral, I manoeuvred around some particularly dramatic casualties and retreated into my hotel.

The next morning, the students had gone, and I headed to the Bodleian’s Weston Library in glorious midsummer conditions to register for the Radical Business Symposium. Generously funded by RBC Foundation and the Bodleian’s Centre for the Study of the Book, the Symposium’s agenda set out a day focused on the contestation and evolution of social norms over time, particularly in the context of businesses and their relationship to wider society. As the organiser, David Smith, noted to me afterwards “the event featured different disciplines exploring how business and culture change each other — often in surprising ways. During a time when business is increasingly expected to lead or respond to cultural issues, this area of research is especially timely.”

The first session, embedding and transforming social norms, was kicked off by Heidi Tworek, who discussed the role German news agencies played distributing political rhetoric throughout their international networks. Focusing particularly on Alfred Hugenberg’s Telegraph Union, it was fascinating to hear how a blend of political and commercial aims ultimately contributed the media mogul losing control of his empire, when the Nazi party he’d worked to install subsumed national media activities. Following this, David Smith gave a paper on CSR and its links to Christian ethics, highlighting the efforts of Howard Bowen in promoting levels of professional ‘best practice’ before more neoliberal agendas stripped CSR of its normative basis. The session was rounded off with a report by Pegram Harrison on the contestation of purpose faced by museums. Here, he showed how the leaders of such institutions must increasingly manage a ‘trilemma’ of cultural, commercial and community responsibilities in order to meet their brief.

Pegram Harrison

After a coffee break, the next session focused on the relationship between business and national interests, starting with a paper by Aled Davies on UK ‘invisible exports’. His work here showed how the presence of particular skills and capabilities helped promote London’s rise to global financial power, complementing the UK’s already well-established industrial presence. Following this, Neil Forbes gave an analysis of how BP’s commercial interests co-existed with the national interests of the UK, ultimately illustrating well how taxation policy does not have to conflict with business. To round off the morning, James Hollis then showed how the offshore economy owes its origins to the blockade and later reparations imposed on Germany during the First World War. Here, a network of underground commercial links between Germany and neutral nations provided an important solution to sanctions during the war itself and flags of convenience mitigated the liability of owning German registered ships in its aftermath.

James Hollis

The afternoon session on corruption and stigma was kicked off by Stephanie Decker and myself, discussing some of our work on Enron and the California energy crisis. Following this, Lola Wilhelm gave a fascinating account of Nestle’s initial efforts to create a baby food market in Africa, showing how its reputation was originally that of a progressive, post-natal medical champion, rather than the later toxic links relating to this aspect of its past. Will Pettigrew finished the session by showing how corporations of the early modern period managed issues of fraud, focusing particularly on the agency problems European businesses encountered during their overseas interests. He pointed out here that, rather than instilling the European institutions upon in the East, adaptive policy changes were driven by more commercial experience in overseas, which was disseminated back into Europe.

Changing organisational norms occupied the final session of the day, and Anne Murphy started with a paper elaborating the Bank of England’s efforts to self-reform, acting before external parties moved to bring their house in order for them. Following this, Michael Weatherburn showed the value historical consultancy represents to business and government, presenting as an example his recent work analysing social and economic forecasting. Finally, Alan Morrison provided a thought-provoking paper on the movement of investment banks from relational to technocratic trading, presenting the concept of ‘braiding’ to explain the somewhat problematic coexistence of trust-based and contract-based norms in the balancing of customers and firm interests.

Concluding the symposium, David Vines drew upon several of the day’s presentations to illustrate how the changing nature of social norms was influenced by the repeated games played by individuals during their day-to-day lives. In addition to noting how norms change expectations over time, he highlighted the inverse relationship, where expectations represent a self-fulling prophesy for normative change. Following the session papers, the symposium members retired for drinks, which concluded a most successful and thought-provoking day. For this, thanks must go to colloquium organisers for arranging such a stimulating and well managed event. 

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 (adam.nix@dmu.ac.uk).

EBHA Summer School 2017 – Report

September saw the 9th edition of the European Business History Association’s biannual doctoral summer school, held in the Italian city of Ancona. This year I was fortunate to be attending myself and, having heard the endorsements of previous alumni, was looking forward to a week of stimulating content, some late summer sun, and of course the famous food of the Marche region. The summer school, in its third year in Ancona, was being hosted by the Università Politecnica delle Marche, whose picturesque Economics department was to be our home for the week.

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Facoltà di Economia, Ancona

Along with their annual congress, the school constitutes the EBHA’s main effort in their aim to develop the academic discipline of business history. The school seeks to attract talented junior historians and social scientists to the broad scope of business history, encouraging further study of the history of organizations, markets and the people impacted by them. The school, fundamentally international in nature, has developed a reputation for facilitating long lasting friendships within the field and providing a safe, friendly, but ultimately rigorous atmosphere within which to promote and engage with doctoral research.

After introductions, the school was opened by Andrea Schneider, who lead a session on heritage and storytelling through the lens of German corporate history. In dealing with these concepts, we discussed their diverse uses and features, not only amongst researchers but also by companies themselves. We finished by deliberating some of the ongoing challenges and opportunities of business historic research, particularly in relation to digitalization and the changing nature of sources. We then had a thought-provoking presentation from Grietjie Verhoef on business history within Africa, discussing the challenges of the Chandlerian perspective within the context of Africa, as well as the continent’s distinct development trajectory and the factors that impact upon it. We finished by identifying some key aspects of business in Africa, along with possible research agendas for the future.

Harold James initiated proceedings on the second day with a lecture on the nature of capitalism. Here, he engaged in a stimulating analysis of the dominant perspectives of capitalism, as well as a number of assumptions and institutions we’ve come to take for granted. After lunch, Abe de Jong ran a session on business history methods, which developed on our own uses of business history to show the diverse schema of motivations and contexts within which it’s pursued. Through a process of categorizing personal statements about our work, Abe argued that at least five distinct types of business history research existed within the school’s cohort alone! Following this, the faculty ran an informative and lively round table on publishing, which covered the various roles, processes and traditions that exist within the journal environment.

The third day was opened with a session on business history and management research, led by Ludovic Cailluet. Here, the focus was on understanding the differences between the mainstream of management research and that of business history, covering the expectations, characteristics, and preferences of both. Jeffrey Fear’s afternoon session on the integration of history and business in taught programmes provided a wider platform of discussing the teaching aspect of academic careers. He highlighted the value that can be gained by using historical cases within the management school curriculum, as well as concepts of a more economic or commercial nature within the history department. Andrea Colli finished the afternoon with a talk on multimedia case studies. Although widely inspiring, the audience was particularly impressed with his example of an in-house video production for a case study of Venice as a commercial center. Dinners were always a fine affair, but this evening was particularly special.  Venturing out of Ancona en masse, we traveled up the hillside overlooking the Adriatic to a secluded and scenic restaurant, where a excellent meal was had by all.

Deviating from the chronology briefly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the student presentations, which formed much of the week’s schedule. I was personally very impressed, not only by the presentations themselves, but also the engaging discussions which consistently followed them. The reach and impact of business history is something that was been made especially clear to me over the week, and it was interesting to talk with students and faculty from outside the business school environment. Amongst the topics discussed: the history of the South African Stock Exchange, 20th Century Dutch ship building, and the Berlin inter-war fashion industry. This, however, notes just a few of the areas we covered, not to mention the diverse approaches to business history used in researching them. Talking to me after to summer school, EBHA president Ludovic Cailluet, said “ I really enjoyed the diversity of perspectives and the richness of research being developed by these PhD students as much as the informality of the interactions.”

The final day started with a session from Marten Boon about geography and business history. Here, Marten drew on Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis and the Chicago case to highlight the interrelationship between industrial clusters and the rural ‘nature’ we tend to juxtapose it with. He then provided a summary of his own work on the Rhine region’s oil infrastructure development, highlighting both his fascinating research and the innovative resources drawn upon in conducting it. On the final afternoon, we headed across town to the Biblioteca Amatori, where Franco Amatori gave an impactful talk on the nature of a history of capitalism. Following this, the students and faculty were treated to a reception at the Biblioteca to mark the culmination of the school’s 9th iteration. The discussions continued well into the evening, and eventually spilled out into the city’s Piazza del Plebiscito, where a convivial time was had discussing life, research, and much in-between.

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Students and Faculty at Biblioteca Amatori

On behalf of all the students, I would like to thank the EBHA, the faculty, and the organizing team (particularly Veronica Binda and Roberto Giulianelli) for their investment in making this school such a success. Not only was it an incredibly valuable experience, but a hugely enjoyable one too. I am confident many friendships have been forged and that we, the students, will take much from the week into our research and wider careers.

NB – The EBHA Facebook page has a number of posts relating to the school along with photographs of the week’s events. https://www.facebook.com/EuropeanBusinessHistoryAssociation/

ESRC Nostalgia Seminar Report

The fifth seminar in ESRC funded series on organizational history took place in a rather damp Birmingham on Wednesday 15th June. With the key theme of the day being Nostalgia, one might have forgiven the delegates a wistful look back to the June days of their past. Nonetheless, sprits were high despite the weather and our off-campus location alongside the canals of post-industrial Digbeth provided a fitting setting for the day’s programme.

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The first speaker for the day, Yannis Gabriel (University of Bath), initiated proceedings with a fascinating look at the role of nostalgia as a supporting feature of right-wing ideology. Moving away from his previous perspectives on nostalgia as a relatively benign phenomenon, the research instead focuses on those times where its existence can be leveraged for the aggressive promotion of a return to a past seen as better. Based on this, Yannis argues that nostalgia fuels authoritarian ideologies and movements by constructing the past in mythical terms that is free from the features of modern society that such groups see as undesirable.

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Following on from this, Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton) shared his studies on the relevance of organizational nostalgia in work meaning. These looked at nostalgia as a factor in the reduction of employee turnover as well as observing the benefits it can provide to those suffering from burnout. Constantine goes on to suggest that where there are high levels of burnout, organizational nostalgia gives a rich source of meaning that is of benefit to employees work experience.

IMG_20160615_135434After lunch, Agnès Delahaye (Université Lumière Lyon II) started the afternoon session off with her presentation on usable pasts and the role nostalgia plays as a device for promoting an author’s version of a given history. The research centred on the writings and historiography  relating to the founding and development of New England. It is ultimately suggested that at times, history as a practice of caring about the truth, rather than a discourse, is idealistic.

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Eva Heesen’s (Leibniz Universität Hannover) followed with her research on the role of nostalgia within museum exhibitions and the
vistors’ use of such exhibitions as a form of mental escape. The talk highlighted the importance of balancing the educational role of museums with the need to provide an emotional experience to visitors. Her paper argues for nostalgia as escapism, which is seen as an indistinct longing for a recognizable but notably different version of reality.

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The final session by Marie MacLean (University of Bath) and Charles Harvey (Newcastle University Business School) focused on the uses of oral history and narrative interview techniques within business history. The research explores the use of such methods as way to capture subjective experience and in doing so looks at nostalgia of East Germans for the time before reunification with West Germany.

Thank you to all the speakers, session chairs and the delegates for the engaging and lively imput throughout the day. Announcements regarding the sixth seminar in this series will be published shortly and will be posted here on the Organizational History Network. For further information on the above presentations please follow this link – Fifth ESRC seminar series in Organizational History – Abstracts

Nostalgia & History Seminar Abstracts

With just over a week to go before the fifth ESRC Seminar Series event, here are the abstracts for the day’s presentations. There’s still time to register for the event and details on how to do so can be found below.

Here’s a link to a PDF with the abstracts for the below titles Fifth ESRC seminar series in Organizational History – Abstracts

Nostalgia old and new – Contrasting the sentimental with the xenophobic faces of nostalgia, Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath

Organizational Nostalgia Increases Work Meaning: The Moderating Role of Burnout, Constantine Sedikides, University of Southampton

Nostalgia and Museums – Invaluable Tool or Curse? Eva Heesen, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Nostalgia, Metaphor and the Subjective Understanding of Identity Transition, Mairi Maclean, University of Bath and Charles Harvey, Newcastle University Business School

As an ESRC funded seminar, attendance is free. Please register here and enter the code ABS1. If you have any questions, please contact the organizers: Prof Stephanie Decker (s.decker[at]aston.ac.uk) or Mr Adam Nix (nixaj[at]aston.ac.uk).