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IBS Departmental Research Meeting - An Overview of “Some Concepts and Applications for "Business History Among the Social Sciences" and for Business Education More Broadly

Henley Live Tree
Event information
Date 6 March 2024
Time 1:00-14:30 (Timezone: Europe/London)
Price Free
Venue Henley Business School, Whiteknights Campus
Event types:

You are cordially invited to attend an International Business and Strategy Departmental Research Meeting, during which there will be a presentation by Daniel Raff, University of Pennsylvania. A reminder that attendance for IBS (full time, research oriented) staff and full-time students is compulsory, and where possible, must be in person. Individuals unable to attend in person, due to legitimate reasons will be provided a Teams link on request. Non-IBS staff are welcome to attend, but must register prior to the event. If you have not received the email invite please email Angie Clark

Please join us in Room 108, Henley Business School, if you would like to attend, please register using the link below:

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Please make sure you let me know in advance if you intend to attend in person so that the correct amount of catering is booked.

Date: Wednesday 6th March 2024, HBS Room 108

Time: 13.00 - 14.15pm


This paper is addressed to two audiences which generally think themselves quite distinct, management academics and historians. The paper is an attempt to clarify and relate a group of concepts commonly assumed (and often actually deployed) in management academia and historical research, especially research in either category amounting to the history of organizations. The concepts are analysis, causation, explanation, agency (of individuals and in the context of formal organizations), and that of a causal order. The paper’s most important conclusions are that statistical analysis represents a very modest portion of the domain of analysis, that an extended version of the possible worlds semantics deriving from modal logic is helpful in understanding causation and that thorough explanations include answers to “How?” questions as well as “Why?” questions (and furthermore that these last two points are related to one another in ways I have not thus far seen in either literature), that the agency of individuals is to be understood in terms of processes rather than mere actions and that in the context of all of the preceding the Nelson-Winter and Feldman-Pentland notions of organizational routines are not as remote from one another as is sometimes thought, and finally that ex ante causal indeterminacy is the most pragmatically useful assumption concerning the background causal order when exploring organizational development and evolution.

This heart of the paper is obviously not an empirical study in the usual management academia sense but rather for the most part an essay in conceptual analysis. It is a commonplace in the usage of “analysis” in management academia that all analysis involves assumptions. That commonplace is true more generally. The main high-level assumption here is that there is a sense to the meaning of words which is not entirely determined by the language in which the ideas are articulated. The paper attends to usage in aid of probing such meanings: it takes seriously the idea of language games but remains sensitive to that other late Wittgensteinian idea that linguistic formulation can sometimes lead us astray; and it also takes seriously the thought equally associated with J.L. Austin and his followers that we can learn something from attending very closely to actual linguistic usage. (You get what you pay for: listen to all voices but listen to each of them critically.)

Following the discussion of the concepts as such, the paper explores their import in the context of some recent seminar papers in organizational behavior (the field of psychology which studies the behavior of individuals in organizations) and strategy, in the basic training of history graduate students, and in business education considered broadly. This is followed by a brief conclusion.

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