Call for Papers
Conference of the Business History Society - Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte
Structural change in business organisation, 1960 to 1980
For some time now, there has been general agreement among writers on business management and organisation theory that the 1960s and 1970s were a period of fundamental change for numerous business organisations, and what is more, a period in which models for successful business organisation were revised. These writers claim that in comparison with the USA, in Europe, and here especially in Germany, the concept of the diversified multidivisional enterprise was adopted only with considerable delay and inspired the re-organisation of numerous major enterprises. The historically grown U-form, to use the terms of Alfred D. Chandler, proved unable to cope with the complex challenges of expansion as well as the regional and technical differentiation of business activities. The transition to the M-form therefore had been the virtually inevitable result of the expansion of enterprises and the change of global markets, these writers say. However, as influential as this theory has proved so far, it has rarely been inspected in the light of empirical historical research. Doubts as to its verity had been raised by organisation theorists from a very early stage. When Alfred Kieser wrote about the „Fashions and Myths of organisation“ , he had in view not in the least the period of changing business models in the 1960s and 1970s. The results of empirical studies also suggest that there never were „smooth“ organisational dynamics, and that it would even become difficult to make some general statements about organisational change.
These questions about organisational change in the 1960s and 1970s will be discussed at the next conference of the Society for Business History (GUG). The conference is to bundle and summarize previous empirical research on this problem and to connect the results to the discussion of more general questions concerning the organisational development of enterprises, taking as its starting point the consideration that, at least in the German example, business structures and organisational concepts which had grown over a century were abandoned in the transition from the 1960s to the 1970s in order to adapt companies to the changing dynamics of national and international markets. In doing so - and in so far the outlook of the conference differs from a Chandlerian approach - enterprises knew that something had to be changed, but it was not clear to them at all where this process would lead them and on what conceptual basis it could and should be initiated. Insecurity, a search for solutions that was awkward at times and first experiences with organisational innovations that were not always and not on the whole positive are the main features of this development. In fact, confidence in actions and decisions did not exist at first, but had to be brought into being in the changed situation of the 1960s and 1970s. The access that business consultants gained into enterprises and the simultaneous fashion of endowing business management with a scientific basis by using methods from operational research, the increasing employment of managers with academic degrees, and the implementation of electronic data processing systems can all be regarded as indicators of this insecurity. However, they also became the factors behind organisational renewal – and so a source of insecurity themselves. Therefore, all empirical studies of companies have shown so far that the processes of changing their business organisation were exceedingly complicated and did not follow a common pattern.
Accordingly, at the conference we want to provide a survey of existing empirical studies and on that basis proceed to a more general discussion of the problems connected with organisational change. Therefore, everyone who worked or is still working on the following subjects, whether from a historical, economic or sociological perspective, is invited to participate in the conference. We look mainly for contributions that can provide results from empirical studies, but studies from organisational theory are welcome as well. The conference topics follow a chronological order, yet each is connected with some specific subject:
1. The crisis and erosion of traditional business organisation, 1965 - 1975.
2. Diversification and divisionalisation: Fashion - Myth - Realistic Strategy?
3. The failure of conglomerates.
At each one of these three steps, which mostly, but not necessarily are consecutive, one has to ask for the following:
a) reasons for the criticism of traditional organisational structures: who criticizes which organisational structures, for what reasons and on what occasion? Does criticism originate from inside the business, or from outside, from shareholders, the public, investors, the banks etc.? Is there a connexion with generational change?
b) the knowledge about alternative models: where exactly did the knowledge for new forms of organisation come from? Was it created within the business, was it copied from other companies, or were consultants commissioned with its design? Did enterprises expand their internal faculties for self-observation by creating new departments, by recruiting scientifically qualified staff, or by establishing new modes of self-observation with the implementation of, for example, electronic data processing?
c) the configuration and testing of these models: Were the models that were realized genuinely new? Or were there hybrid blends of old and new elements? What were the conflicts that arose within the enterprise on the question of organisational change, and how did they impact and alter the implemented changes? How did the new models influence organisational practice?
d) Finally, there remains the question for criticism or, more generally, the reception of changes occurring after businesses had remodeled their organisations: Were new paths created, or did enterprises remain dependent on the former paths? Which successes or failures did enterprises ascribe to its organisational changes? Do organisational changes become recursive and self-supporting? Do organisations dream of electric sheep?
The three areas of inquiry and the four sets of questions above are not intended as a strict scheme for contributions to the conference, but rather are to indicate a direction for the common efforts at the conference. Papers that deal with these topics, or that approach the general theme from a different angle, are received until 30 January 2007 by:
Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte e.V.
60487 Frankfurt am Main
Conference date: 8/9 October 2007.
If you have any questions, please contact:
● Prof. Dr. Werner Plumpe, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
● Prof. Dr. Jörg Sydow, Freie Universität Berlin
Dr. Andrea H. Schneider
Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte e.V.
60487 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: 0049 69 97 20 33 14/15
Fax: 0049 69 97 20 33 57
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