Phenomenal differences: Varieties of historical interpretation in management and organization studies

Simon Mollan (Management School, University of York, York, UK)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Publication date: 11 November 2019



The purpose of this paper is to explore issues related to a recent article by Bradley Bowden published in QROM titled “Empiricism, and modern postmodernism: a critique”. The argument presented here is that antagonism between different sub-communities undertaking work related to the “historic-turn” in management and organization studies (MOS) should give way to greater acceptance of different “phenomenal” concerns and different methods of research.


This paper is based on a critical reading and interpretation of relevant texts. This paper critiques recent work by Bradley Bowden. These are then used as a starting point for a discussion of the different ways in which historical research is practiced in MOS.


The central interpretation developed is that despite many strengths, there are both interpretative and argumentational limitations to Bowden’s criticism that the historic-turn in MOS is postmodernist in nature. In pointing to the varieties of historical research and interpretation in the field, this paper calls for greater and more sympathetic understanding between the different related sub-fields that are interested in history in relation to management and organization.

Research limitations/implications

This paper concludes by calling for more historical work that deals with historiographical and theoretical issues, rather than a continuation of methodological debates that focus on antagonisms between different methods of undertaking historical research to the exclusion of advancing the creation of new historical knowledge, however constructed.


This paper articulates a pluralistic and ecumenical vision for historical research in relation to management and organization. The primary contribution is therefore to attempt to dissolve the seeming assumption of dialectical antagonism between different but related sub-communities of practice.



Mollan, S. (2019), "Phenomenal differences: Varieties of historical interpretation in management and organization studies", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 498-516.

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