Towards a Narrative Turn in Business History

Towards a Narrative Turn in Business History

Centre for Business History, Copenhagen Business School
Vom - Bis
01.11.2013 -
Stefan Schwarzkopf

Call for Papers for a special issue in BUSINESS HISTORY

‘Towards a Narrative Turn in Business History’

Guest Editors: Mads Mordhorst & Stefan Schwarzkopf (Copenhagen Business School)

During the last two decades, narratives and narrative theory have gained influence at Business Schools in fields such as management studies, marketing, and organizational studies to such a degree that some scholars have framed these new perspectives as a distinctive ‘narrative turn’ (Czarniawska, 2004; Fenton and Langley, 2011; Keulen and Kroeze, 2012; Rowlinson et al., 2010).

Scholars in these subfields of the business and management research community have used narrative theories and narratological concepts as analytical tools to discover who constructs narratives, in what ways, for what purpose, and how these narratives then influence sense-making and strategizing in organizations and markets. Furthermore, narratives and other linguistic entities, like metaphors and modes of storytelling, have been analyzed for their uses as performative tools by managers and other drivers of organizational change. In other words, what started as a mode of critical investigation turned into a managerial tool focused on the status quo, as scholars began to focus on how organizational change can be ‘managed’ through changes in organizational narratives.

Despite the boom in research on narratives in organization theory, economics, marketing theory, and management studies, associated with scholars like David Boje, Barbara Czarniawska, Deidre McCloskey, Barbara Stern, Melanie Bryant, Andrew Brown and many others, this research has so far made only limited inroads into the business history community (Rowlinson and Clarke, 2004; Hansen, 2012). Business and management scholars who engage with these questions often ignore that ‘history’, both in the etymological and the disciplinary sense, is born with an inherent tension between ‘history’ as past and ‘history’ as narrative. This ambiguity means that the field, from Herodotus to Leopold von Ranke and Hayden White, is forever engulfed in discussions about the narrative character of the discipline and its scholarly products.

This, in turn, means that business historians should be in a position from where it is possible to bridge and negotiate the recent approaches in business and management studies on the one side and the practices of archival research and historiographical representation on the other. Different attempts to engage in a conversation about the fruitful tension between these two research traditions have been made recently, amongst others by Stephanie Decker, Per Hansen, Mads Mordhorst, Andrew Popp, and Mick Rowlinson. The purpose of the special issue is to intensify these discussions.

The guest editors encourage submissions that engage with the following problems and questions:

- Narratives and narrative structures (narratology) as a method for business historians.
- Narratives and the construction of shared memories in organizations in the past and present.
- Narratives constructed by professions and academic fields (accounting, marketing, strategy).
- The potential uses of Oral History methods in business history.
- Storytelling vs. business history: do business historians create narratives, and in what ways?
- What metaphors do business historians rely on and construct? Are business historical models metaphors?
- The ‘Narrative turn’ in organizational theory, management and marketing studies: how can business historians engage with and contribute to this challenge?

The timeline for the Special Issue is as follows:

1 July, 2014 Deadline for receipt of papers
1 October, 2014 Completion of review process
1 December, 2014 Submission of revised papers
15 January, 2015 Submission of final revisions
Spring 2015 Planned publication

Only full papers are considered. Papers should be sent to both guest-editors, Mads Mordhorst ( and Stefan Schwarzkopf ( Please do not submit the contribution through Manuscript Central. Please see the journal website for style guidelines:


Czarniawska, B. (2004), Narratives in Social Science Research. London: Sage.

Fenton, C. and Langley, A. (2011), ‘Strategy as practice and the narrative turn’, Organization Studies 32(9): 1171-1196.

Hansen, P. (2012), ‘Business history: a cultural and narrative approach’, Business History Review 86(4): 693-717.

Keulen, S. and Kroeze, R. (2012), ‘Understanding management gurus and historical narratives: The benefits of a historic turn in management and organization studies’, Management & Organizational History 7(2): 171-189.

Mordhorst, Mads (2008), ‘From counterfactual history to counter-narrative history’, Management & Organizational History 3(1): 5-26.

Rowlinson, M. and Clark, P. (2004), ‘The treatment of history in organisation studies: towards an “historic turn”?’, Business History 46(3): 331-352.

Rowlinson, M., Booth, C., Clark, P., Delahaye, A. and Procter, S. (2010) ‘Social remembering and organizational memory’, Organization Studies 31(1): 69-87.


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