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The historic (wrong) turn in management and organizational studies

Bradley Bowden (Employment Relations and Human Resource Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 27 August 2020

Issue publication date: 29 January 2021




Management history has in the past 15 years witnessed growing enthusiasm for “critical” research methodologies associated with the so-called “historic turn”. This paper aims to argue, however, that the “historic turn” has proved to an “historic wrong turn”, typically associated with confused and contradictory positions. In consequence, Foucault’s belief that knowledge is rooted in discourse, and that both are rooted in external structures of power, is used while simultaneously professing advocacy of White’s understanding that history is fictive, the product of the historian’s imagination.


This paper explores the intellectual roots of the historic (wrong) turn in the idealist philosophies of Nietzsche, Croce, Foucault, White and Latour as well as the critiques that have been made of those theories from within “critical” or “Left” theoretical frameworks.


Failing to properly acknowledge the historical origin of their ideas and/or the critiques of those ideas – and misrepresenting all contrary opinion as “positivist” – those associated with the historic (wrong) turn replicate the errors of their theoretical champions. The author thus witnesses a confusion of ontology (the nature of being) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge) and, consequently, of “facts” (things that exist independently of our fancy), “evidence” (how ascertain knowledge of a fact) and “interpretation” (how I connect evidence to explain an historical outcome).


Directed toward an examination of the conceptual errors that mark the so-called “historic turn” in management studies, this article argues that the holding contradictory positions is not an accidental by-product of the “historic turn”. Rather, it is a defining characteristic of the genre.



Bowden, B. (2021), "The historic (wrong) turn in management and organizational studies", Journal of Management History, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 8-27.



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