History and organizational theorizing blended: Insights from exploring the corporate social responsibility field
The “historic turn” in management and organizational studies (MOS) called organizational theorists and historians to engage in discussions on how to best combine organizational theorizing and historical reasoning, methods, and evidence. Arguably, the collective effort of the emergent academic movement has recently resulted in interdisciplinary integration, which foregrounds a new methodological paradigm within MOS. However, history remains a marginal epistemic lens and mode of inquiry in the various research fields of MOS. An example of this trend is the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which focuses on the responsibilities of business to pursue its goals in a socially and environmentally acceptable manner. Despite the recognized importance of the past in shaping the present relationships between business and society, CSR scholars have largely sidestepped serious engagement with history. Motivated by this observation, this dissertation explores the CSR field to advance the interdisciplinary project. The dissertation comprises four individual articles, which engage in methodological, conceptual, and practical boundary-spanning work. First, Article I contributes through methodological boundary-spanning work to the overarching objectives of the interdisciplinary project. In particular, the article develops a historical research strategy in the context of CSR research. Starting from the epistemological challenge that historical research interprets the past from the present, the article recognizes the problems of theorizing from history (i.e., presentism). Instead of trying to avoid any presentism that precludes organizational theorizing from history, the article draws from historical hermeneutics and recent insights into abductive reasoning to reconsider the epistemological implications for theory-history relations. As a result, the article outlines the philosophical foundations necessary to embrace history as a reflexive space for interacting with organizational theory (i.e., history-as-elaborating). Second, Article II engages in conceptual boundary-spanning work by integrating history and CSR scholarship conceptually. While previous literature specified the challenge of overcoming discrepant disciplinary traditions, this article argues that another source of mutual misunderstanding arises at the field level where the progress of knowledge occurs. To facilitate a research agenda useful for an interdisciplinary community, the article exemplifies the recognition and reconciliation of conceptual assumptions and research traditions at both the disciplinary and field level. Third, Articles III and IV contribute to the practical objectives of the interdisciplinary project, that is, conducting archival-based historical research that aims to contribute to organizational theorizing. Empirically, both articles explore CSR topics at the intersection of business and society in the Swiss context (i.e., immigration, political turmoil). Methodologically, these two articles apply empirical-analytical approaches. Due to the lack of practical knowledge, the introduction of the dissertation includes a section in which I unpack the micro-processes of historical source analysis in the context of a theory-elaboration strategy. Together, these findings advance the collective goals of academic movement beyond the CSR context. In addition to elaborating on these insights, the critical commentary (i.e., introduction) surveys and assesses the accomplishments and the state of the art of the interdisciplinary project. It concludes by discussing potential pitfalls that could hamper the further prosperity of history within MOS. ...
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