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Firm objects: new realist insights into the sociohistorical ontology of the business enterprise

James Reveley (School of Business, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 27 July 2022

Issue publication date: 16 January 2023




By engaging with recent debates between management historians over social constructionism, this paper aims to show the merits of adopting a new realist ontology of the business enterprise. In contrast with ANTi-History, the purpose is to provide a philosophically rigorous conception of social objects and to argue that enterprises are a member of this category.


Insights from Maurizio Ferraris’s documentality theory and Graham Harman’s philosophy of social objects are used to identify the ontological forming ground and developmental pathway of an Antipodean stevedoring company that operated prior to the deregulation of New Zealand’s ports in 1989.


With regard to social entities in general and firms in particular, continental philosophy’s resurgent realist movement provides a history-aware social ontology that incorporates the grain of truth lying within social constructionism. As exemplified by the writings of Ferraris and Harman, realism provides a viable conception of social objects and, in so doing, a more coherent ontological foundation for the business enterprise than the relational ontology embraced by management history ANTians.


By drawing on two realist perspectives hitherto neglected by management historians, this paper resolves disagreements about the ontology of the business enterprise.



Reveley, J. (2023), "Firm objects: new realist insights into the sociohistorical ontology of the business enterprise", Journal of Management History, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 63-79.



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