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).

Video: A new history of management

Have a look at this video summary of the new book A new history of management, by Stephen Cummings, Victoria University of Wellington; Todd Bridgman, Victoria University of Wellington; John Hassard, University of Manchester; Michael Rowlinson, University of Exeter.

Read more at http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/management/organisation-studies/new-history-management#AR8fSzRrR3hWUYRv.99

Or: www.cambridge.org/historyofmanagement

 

 

 

 

 

Between Past and Present: Sub-Plenary at EGOS 2017

Today’s sub-plenary “Between Past and Present – History in Organization and Organizing” at EGOS 2017 in Copenhagen brought together leading scholars in History and Organization Studies to discuss recent research on time and history.

The three keynote speakers Stephanie Decker, Roy Suddaby and Anders Ravn Sorensen illustrated the plurality in both the conceptualization of organizational time and in how history is researched. The talks triggered a lively debate on how history matters, to whom it matters, and which (often implicit) theories of history shape organizational research.

Chair: Mads Mordhorst

Stephanie Decker – Making sense of the Past: History vs. memory

Roy Suddaby – Institutional Memory as a Dynamic Capability

Anders Ravn Sorensen – Uses of history in action: CBS’ anniversary

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Report on the Digitisation of Cultural Heritage

Love it or loathe it, digitisation and digital humanities are becoming and increasingly important area for anyone interested in historical research on organizations. Yet the report by eNumerate, formerly an EU funded project aimed at creating statistical data about the digitization, of cultural heritage in Europe, shows that there is still a long way to go for most archives:

“On average 23% of European collections have been digitised, with Museums leading the way with the highest proportion (31%) up from 24% in the 2014 survey (Core Survey 2- CS2). However at the other end of the scale, only 13% of record office/archive collections and 19% of library collections have been digitised. This is possibly down to the vast amount of records these institutions hold, which could result in a longer digitisation process.”

As this infographic shows, digitisation remains a major area that the UK government and the EU are investing in. Yet the impact this is likely to have on research practices or the availability of documents from private organization archives remains unclear.

Infographic: Digitisation landscape in 2015 from eNumerate

You can read the summary and the full report here: eNumerate Digitisation in Cultural Heritage 2015 : Key findings | TownsWeb Archiving.