History of Organizations Bleg from J.C. Spender

5 July 2007 at 10:38 pm 13 comments

| Peter Klein |

Our friend J.C. Spender seeks help from the O&M readership:

I’m desperately searching for a history of organizations — not the history of corporations, nor of corporate law, nor of combinations, nor of Guilds, nor of military organizations, nor of religious ones either.

My problems are (1) to find literature about the history of organizations — are there some good books, papers, etc.? Now that I focus my mind on this I cannot come up with much other than the history of corporations and markets, rather than organizations and markets. My one discovery is the history of the Jesuit movement which, one might argue, was the first modernist “organization.”

(2) Barbara Czarniawska told me that the actual term “organization” only came into general use with the rise in “systems theory” — Henderson, Barnard, and Co. I find this unbelievable but I’m hard pressed to refute or in any other way resist her.

My intuition is that there is something here awaiting discovery about the decline of religion and the emergence of strictly secular and profit-oriented organizations — something beyond the Protestant Ethic therefore and entailing or legitimating a set of objectives which are not in the service of the public — quite to the contrary.

Any suggestions? Please share them below.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Management Theory, Theory of the Firm.

One (Electronic) User at a Time, Please A World Without Supermarkets

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alison Kemper  |  6 July 2007 at 11:52 am

    I googled guilds, beguines, organization, hostels and history. I thought that if there was a history that included these early expressions of organizations moving away from the control of the bishops, it might be what you wanted. (You might have other kinds of institutions or time periods you might identify as salient. My mind went to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.)

    I found this:
    Individuals, Families, and Communities in Europe, 1200-1800: The Urban Foundations of Western Society. By Katherine A. Lynch (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003) 250pp. $64.00 cloth $24.00 paper
    and this:
    Medieval Economic Competition
    EE Hirshler – The Journal of Economic History, 1954 – JSTOR

    You also might want to reverse engineer a look at works that cite Avner Greif.

  • 2. history of organization « orgtheory.net  |  7 July 2007 at 2:02 am

    […] If you know of good sources for a history of organizations (that obviously can be taken various ways – term, function etc) – reply to JC Spender’s bleg at O&M. […]

  • 3. Richard O. Hammer  |  8 July 2007 at 5:51 pm

    I can not point to a history of organizations. But I offer a theory of organizations which explains why organizations come into existence and how they manage to survive.

    I believe the papers linked below present a novel paradigm of organizational science:

    An Engineer’s View of Morality, Set in a Model of Life


    Libertarianism in a Context


    THE STATE IS A FORM OF LIFE, a Legitimate Peer in the Family of Organizations

    These papers were written for a radical context, libertarians trying to build the vision of a free nation. This eccentricity has probably impeded notice of the contribution to organizational science in the papers, or at least that is what I tell myself. One day I hope to publish the paradigm in mainstream journals.

    Thank you,
    Richard O. Hammer

  • 4. Kevin Carson  |  10 July 2007 at 12:53 am

    On the early history of the national-scale corporation, and the new organizational problems it presented, Chandler’s The Visible Hand is pretty good. He treats the large railroads as the organizational prototype for the large corporations that emerged in the late 19th century.

  • 5. JC  |  11 July 2007 at 7:37 am

    Many thanks everyone – there’s a curious lacuna here, no?

    Any other info gratefully received.

  • 6. organization: etymology and origins « orgtheory.net  |  13 July 2007 at 5:21 pm

    […] by JC Spender’s question – I looked up ‘organization’ in the Oxford English Dictionary (probably gated, unless […]

  • 7. John Muller  |  29 July 2007 at 1:31 am

    Ulrike Malmendier at Berkeley has a book coming out this year on the history of the corporation, and a paper Law and Finance at the Origin (focusing on Roman history) that may be of interest. http://www.econ.berkeley.edu/~ulrike/research.html

  • 8. JC  |  29 July 2007 at 8:39 am

    Brilliant. Many thanks John. It looks both interesting and significant.

  • 9. John Mathews  |  29 July 2007 at 8:15 pm

    I can add something here.

    The British organization theorist Tom Burns, who died five years ago, (remember ‘Burns and Stalker’?) spent the best part of his 20 years of retirement writing just the ‘history of organization’ that JC is asking for, going right back to the Greeks and the Romans (and the organization of tribes and gentes), proceeding through the medieval period, the early modern, and culminating in the 19th century innovations of the corporation, political party, and the factory.

    Burns left a huge manuscript that remains unpublished. I and a few others have tried to interest academic publishers in this work, so far without success. I understand that the unpublished work is to be edited and uploaded to a website that Burns’ family will create. This is after the collapse of our efforts to have it published by a US historical sociology house.

    Burns took the view that organization underpinned much of what passes for history, and that the changing forms of organization were as important as Marx always claimed they were. But Burns is no Marxist, and goes well beyond anything Marx dreamed of with his ‘the hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist’ (or something like that).

    This Burns unpublished ms remains one of the great untapped resources for organization and markets.

  • 10. JC  |  30 July 2007 at 8:51 am

    Likewise EFL Brech, from the same pot as Tom, was anxious to get us to understand more of the history. Andrew Thompson was working on this after he retired from OUBS and, as a result, I was able to meet with Brech. I have a large tome titled ‘The Management History’ published by the Institute of Management covering the period 1902 -1976 but I’m not sure where it all stands now.

    Following John Muller’s lead (many thanks!) I have been reading Peter Temin’s stuff for a couple of days with considerable pleasure and enlightenment – and so following up some of Malmendier’s cites.

    The bottom line, I think, is that the basic form of what we call organizations was thoroughly explored within the Roman economy – only to disappear for a millennium and be painfully reinvented in a very different social and political context.

    The comparison is hugely informative a propos the discussion that has been going on in the parallel thread – Empirical Research in the RBV.

  • 11. Tori Littlefield  |  21 February 2009 at 10:58 am

    Can you put me in touch with JOhn Mathews (comment 9). I would like to find out if Burns’ history of the organization has been uploaded onto a website.

    Thanks much!!!

  • 13. Victoria Littlefield  |  7 October 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Tom Burns unpublished manuscript is now available at http://www.tomburns.org.uk/manuscript.html

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