Faculty members invited to present papers at the Association of Business History Conference in Milton Keynes

10 August 2018

Faculty members invited to present papers at the Association of Business History Conference  in Milton Keynes

Members of the Centre for International Business and History, Dr Lucy Newton, Prof Peter Miskell and Prof James Walker and Prof Peter Scott presented their papers at the Association of Business History annual conference, hosted by the Open University, Milton Keynes.

The presented papers and abstracts can be found below:

Prof James Walker and Prof Peter Scott

The comfortable, the rich, and the super-rich. What really happened to top and high incomes over the trans-war period?

Research on long-term changes in British income inequality has been hampered by the lack of official income distribution estimates prior to the late 1930s. Following an extensive survey of Inland Revenue records at The National Archives, we present a newly-discovered unpublished Inland Revenue estimate of the distribution of personal incomes of over £160 per annum for 1911/12, together with additional data for later years. These enable us to trace movements in income inequality for the rich across the two world wars and over the inter-war period and decompose changes in top incomes into earnings and unearned income.

We show that income inequality on the eve of the First World War was more extreme than previous estimates have suggested, principally due to the omission of settled property from the unadjusted sur-tax data. We also examine changes in the sources of income, using data for earned and unearned incomes for 1911/12 and later bench-mark years to 1949/50. We find that the reduction in income inequality over 1911-1949 was driven by a decline in the proportion of unearned incomes for top and high income recipients, consistent with Charles Feinstein’s national accounts data – that show declining factor incomes for rent, interest and dividends over this period. This explains the paradox of a progressive reduction in income inequality during the first half of the twentieth century, according to the personal incomes data, coinciding with wages and salary evidence that shows almost static earnings differentials between working-class, lower middle-class, and upper-middle class occupational groups, during this period.

Prof Peter Miskell

1. The Practice of Business History: Institutional Contexts and Intellectual Identities

The question of ‘what is business history’ has been troubling business historians in recent decades. Does the sub-discipline need a new unifying paradigm to replace the Chandlerian framework that proved so dominant in the second half of the twentieth century, or should business historians be free to pursue a plurality of questions using various methods and approaches? Is it more important for business history to have a clear identity and purpose that is widely recognised and understood, or for business historians to be able to engage in a multiplicity of debates? Whatever the theoretical advantages of strong disciplinary coherence based around a unifying concept or framework, such a paradigm seems unlikely to emerge. Business historians have been unable to agree whether such a paradigm is even necessary, much less what it might actually consist of. Whether we like it or not, the history of business is being explored from multiple perspectives using a variety of sources and techniques. The idea that ‘business history’ constitutes a recognisable sub-discipline with its own distinctive conventions and traditions is becoming less and less plausible.

Rather than embarking on a quest to identify a new disciplinary paradigm around which business historians can cohere, this paper instead aims to investigate the institutional contexts in which business historians are working, and what it is they are actually writing about. The paper is based on a detailed analysis of the papers published in the leading business history journals in the 2000s and 2010s, and identifies trends in both the subject matter being written about, and the academic departments within which lead authors are based. This allows us to quantify important differences in the way in which business history is being practiced in different parts of the world, as well as highlighting the diverging emphasis of different business history journals.

2. Product Innovation in Hollywood: Sequels and Film Profitability, 1988-2015

Film has been characterised as an industry shaped by ‘extreme uncertainty’ (de Vany, 2003). As with other creative industries, it is characterised by an almost ‘infinite variety’ of products, with the majority of revenues being captured by just a tiny proportion of ‘hits’. But predicting which films will become hits (at least with any degree of certainty) has long been regarded as impossible. This is an industry where, as the cliché has it: ‘nobody knows anything’ (Caves, 2000; Thompson, 2016).

Yet as even the most casual observer of the industry in recent years will have noticed, the annual lists of top-earning box-office hits seem to be taking on a more familiar look. Whether it be Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars, many of the biggest ‘blockbuster’ successes in the last decade or so have been sequels, or movies that are part of very well established franchises. Is the success of such films really so unpredictable?

This paper analyses a large dataset of movies released by major Hollywood studios from 1988 to 2015. It finds that sequels accounted for a growing proportion of funds invested in production budgets, especially after c.2001. It also finds that the proportion of studio profits accounted for by sequels was consistently higher than the proportion of investment they received in terms of production. We find evidence, therefore, that the trend toward sequels appears to have reduced the level of uncertainty encountered by film studios since the 2000s.

However, we also consider sequels in historical context, recognising that this form of film-making has been around for a very long time. We consider the way in which sequels were typically produced and marketed in the mid- and late-twentieth century, and examine what factors seem to have changed in the 2000s. We also speculate as to how sustainable Hollywood’s current emphasis on film sequels is likely to be.

Dr Lucy Newton

The advent of the modern business uniform: the case of Barclays Bank

Civilisations have long since used specially designed uniforms, dress or costume to identify different groups and their beliefs or allegiances. By comparison, organisations have only used this technique relatively recently. This paper examines employee’s dress in Barclay’s Bank after uniforms were first introduced in the late 1970s. It draws particular attention to its changes in fashion and the dressing of female branch staff. Women working in branches on British high streets wore the original costumes, which are held in the archives. To explore the uniform and its symbolic meaning we use new archival sources, the original designs and interview the employees who wore it. We demonstrate that initially Barclay’s Bank emulated the uniforms of high-end companies, and it employed a well-known fashion designer to create the organisation’s image. This first uniform provided their employees with a sense of class, prestige and power. This approach, however, did not last as it began to normalise the employee’s appearance soon after. Over the next two decades, the bank abandoned its attempt to project superiority in favour of presenting its staff in plain and ordinary dress by instituting a new line of clothing. This discussion places the uniform in the context of an organisation’s relationship to both its customers and civilisation more broadly. We ground this paper in the debate about whether the company and its employees should wish to appear to be representative of the society in which it operates in or not. And in addition, it will explore how the women wearing corporate uniforms reacted to this standardised form of dress. The aim of this research is to add to a small literature on corporate uniforms.

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