The aim of this study is to outline principles for the writing of management history. First, it is argued that if management history is to advance, pessimism of both purpose and intellect must be dispelled. Authors must bring with them a sense of how their research leads to better organisations, institutions, workplaces, economies and social relationships. Second, it holds that the utilisation of the scientific method, based around the testing of research theses, drawn from our existing knowledge and contributing to that knowledge, is management history’s methodological bedrock.
Much opposition to scientific methods in historical research, most notably from postmodernists and poststructuralists, is based on false premises. Drawing on Poincare’s La Science et L’Hypothese (1902), this paper notes that there are no fundamental differences between research in the natural and historical sciences. All studies are conditional.
This editorial recommends five steps in writing management history. First, know how your sources were put together, by whom, for what purposes, what they sought to record and what they did not. Second, use multiple sources. Third, keep your research questions in mind, modifying them as evidence demands. As E.H. Carr observed, research theses are “the indispensable tools of thought”. Fourth, understand the social, intellectual and economic contexts of the study. Context is the key to understanding change. The more severe the restraint on change, the more significant is any change that breaks these bonds. Finally, use numbers as numbers count in history. While statistics must be subordinate to the theses, they allow more complex stories, be they of a society or micro-events within a firm.
The growth of postmodernist and poststructuralist research paradigms has created uncertainty with regards to both methods and purpose among management and business historians. This editorial includes a defence of the values of empirically based scientific research.
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