Rethinking history and memory in organization studies: the case for historiographical reflexivity

Stephanie Decker, John Hassard, Michael Rowlinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The historic turn in organization studies has led to greater appreciation of the potential contribution from historical research. However, there is increasing emphasis on integrating history into organization studies, rather than on recognizing how accommodating history might require a reorientation. As a result, key conceptual and methodological insights from historiography have been overlooked or at times misrepresented. We identify four modes of enquiry that highlight distinctions from history about ‘how to conceptualise’ and ‘how to research’ the past. First, historical organization studies research the past primarily through reference to archival sources. Second, retrospective organizational history reconstructs the past principally from retrospective accounts, such as those generated in oral history. Third, retrospective organizational memory uses ethnography and interviews to explore the role of memory in the present. Fourth, historical organizational memory traces the institutionalisation of organizational memory through archival research. From the analysis, we argue historical organization studies are increasingly established, while interest in ‘uses of the past’ has contributed to the rise of retrospective organizational memory. However, historiographical reflexivity – a new concept for organization studies – focuses attention on engaging with both history and collective memory, and on the distinct methodological choices between archival and retrospective methods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1155
Number of pages33
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
Early online date3 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2021


  • Historic turn
  • organizational history
  • organizational memory
  • retrospective methods
  • rhetorical history


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