Friday, 16 September 2011

Conference Review: Business and Management History at BAM2011, Aston Unviersity

For almost the last year I have been planning, in association with John Wilson, Professor of Strategy at the University of Liverpool Management School, to revive the Business and Management History track at the annual British Academy of Management conference. I was unsure as to how successful this enterprise would be, but previous experience of trying to bridge the gap between history and other management studies disciplines had encouraged me to consider looking at ways to open dialogue. I had also attended the 2010 BAM conference at Sheffield University, and enjoyed the conference, finding that there was real interest in the longitudinal nature of my work.

Our track kicked on Wednesday 14th September with a workshop session on international retail history, organised by Professor Andrew Godley from Henley Business School at Reading. Nicholas Alexander of Lancaster University Management School made an enjoyable contribution contrasting 'globalisation era 1' (i.e. 1870-1929) international retailers to 'globalisation era 2' (1970-present) retailers. This noted the emphasis on trading company and 'free-standing' retailers in era 1, compared to horizontally integrated multinationals in era 2. This session was very well attended by a variety of scholars and got the track off to a flying start.

In the afternoon we ran a workshop focusing on the use of archives by management scholars, which was also part of the Research Methodology track. My motivation for organising this was to provide some outreach into a new area for the Business Archives Council, of which I'm a member. The session was introduced by Dr Terry Gourvish in his guise as Chairman of the Business Archives Council, who introduced the concept of archival research and some of its advantages first. I then introduced a little of my research and how I had made use of archives before we gave participants the opportunity to look at some archival sources kindly provided by the Boots and Lloyds Bank Archives and consider their implications. Alex Ritchie of The National Archives then rounded the session off by introducing how management scholars can gain access to archives. We had an interesting discussion around the use of archives, particularly with regard to the issues of context and the use of visual images and it would have been interesting to pursue these questions further. The session was a useful opportunity to test the water with regards to the appetite among management scholars more generally for archival access; having discovered that its there, I hope to work with Bill Lee, the chair of the Research Methodology track to improve the focus for next year's conference.

On Thursday 15th we ran our paper sessions, which included a variety of subjects, although there is only space here to mention a couple of them. Nelarine Cornelius from Bradford University Management School presented a fascinating paper drawing on the historical angle of a larger human resource management study into elitism in Pakistan. Human resource history is rare, and Nelarine's work represented the kind of cross discipline fertilization that can be very exciting.

Aston University Management School's Stephanie Decker provided some crossover towards organisation studies with an outstanding paper re-assessing the sources used in her Coleman Prize winning thesis in the light of the Gollant and Sillince (2007) work which proposed new narrative and storytelling approaches. Stephanie is in the process of teasing out new perspectives on the development discourse in Ghana and Nigeria, and the outcome promises to be very interesting, as well as being something that qualitative researchers might learn from.

The best paper in track prize was awarded to Charles Harvey, Mairi MacLean and John Sillince's paper ‘Living up to the Past? Sensemaking and Ideology in Organizational Transition’, although sadly none of the authors were available to present it. However, the papers that did appear, together with the workshop sessions, contributed to a healthy meeting of minds and a forging of many new networking opportunities for all involved. I'd also like to thank again everyone that contributed to the track, as well as the organisers of the conference for their co-operation.

Now the challenge is to learn, adopt, adapt and improve for BAM 2012 in Cardiff. Strategy is an iterative process, after all...


  1. Our clue kicked on Wednesday 14th September with a branch affair on all-embracing retail history, organised by Professor Andrew Godley from Henley Business School at Reading.

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About Me

London, United Kingdom
I'm Lecturer in Management at The York Management School, at The University of York, UK. I teach strategic management to undergraduate and masters students, as well as running the masters dissertation module. My research focuses on business and management history.