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Business History

For a Special Issue on

Chandler Redux? Looking Back to Move Forward

Abstract deadline
01 May 2024

Manuscript deadline
01 March 2025

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Asli M. Colpan, Kyoto University
[email protected]

Matthias Kipping, York University
[email protected]

Takafumi Kurosawa, Kyoto University
[email protected]

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Chandler Redux? Looking Back to Move Forward


The proposed special issue invites both empirical research and reflections that draw on and develop the rich legacy of Chandler’s work to help further innovative and impactful scholarship in business history. It aims to encourage researchers to (a) draw on the historical and comparative investigation of firms and industries to answer big questions about epochal change; (b) continue to investigate the evolution and impact of big business from the 19th to the 21st centuries; and (c) engage in cross-disciplinary debates about the possible contributions of business history research to generalization and theory-building.


As Louis Galambos once eloquently stated, “BC” stands in business history for “Before Chandler” (Colpan and Hikino, 2019). Alfred D. Chandler and the Chandlerian perspective had intellectually dominated the discipline of business history for more than half a century, starting with his epoch-making book on Strategy and Structure (1962), followed by The Visible Hand (1977) and Scale and Scope (1990). Among business historians, his work on the emergence and development of large-scale managerial enterprise in the US has attracted most attention (e.g., for an early summary, John, 1997; see, for more details, his many obituaries). But critical voices started to emerge, especially once his work extended beyond the US to include the UK, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Japan (for an early example, Chandler, 1984). After his death in 2007, calls to move beyond what came to be portrayed as a (too) narrow focus on big business became louder and more frequent. These differed in their recognition of Chandler’s pioneering role and the degree to which they argued that business history needed to move beyond both his focus and methodological approach. Thus, some called for business history to be “reimagined” (e.g., Scranton and Fridenson, 2013), while others proposed broadening interactions with other disciplines and methodologies as well as enlarging the geographic scope of research, namely to the Global South (Jones and Friedman, 2017).


Chandler’s waning influence in business history can be gleaned from the reduction in citations in two of its main journals. Thus, from 2001-2010 to 2011-2020, the total number of articles citing Chandler dropped from 78 to 50 in Business History Review, and, even more steeply from 96 to 43 in Enterprise & Society. Only Business History bucked this trend with citations gradually increasing from 47 to 73 during the same period. At least in part, this probably reflects the expansion of other topics and approaches in business historical research. At the same time, it contrasts with a steadier interest, measured again in terms of citations, in the management literature, in particular in major strategy journals. While some of these references might simply reflect his widely acknowledged role in the origins of strategy as a discipline (e.g., Whittington, 2011), there has also been extensive empirical research extending as well as critically amending Chandler’s pioneering research on the decentralized multidivisional structure or M-form (e.g., Fligstein, 1985; Freeland, 1996, 2001; Whittington et al., 1999), a debate which was partially amplified by Oliver Williamson advocating transaction cost savings as its main rationale – a claim Chandler (1992) largely refuted. Or take Farjoun’s (2002) widely cited article advocating an “organic” against a “mechanistic” perspective on strategy, which pinpoints Chandler’s research as a pioneering example of the former. A possible reason for the persistent reference to his work by management scholars might be that they look at its multiple dimensions rather than focusing on what Chandler has said about large-scale industrial enterprise, as has been the predominant practice among business historians. Recognizing that richness and drawing on it more broadly is the starting point for this proposed special issue.

Purpose and Themes of the Special Issue

To be clear, the aim of this special issue is not to advocate a return to a past where one approach dominated much of business historical research. The way business history has evolved into different directions, embraced new topics and methodologies, and started interacting with various academic disciplines is positive. At the same time, it is important to continue to draw on some of Chandler’s more general contributions, so that they can inspire impactful research going forward. This is the meaning behind the subtitle of the proposal. We suggest three main areas, where Chandler’s work can inspire current and future publications – though we do not see them as exclusive and will consider contributions outside of their scope.

  1. Ask big questions about (epochal) change and answer them by drawing on the historical and comparative investigation of firms and industries (Jones, 2012). As Chandler himself wrote in an1959 article, “The historian, by the very nature of his task, must be concerned with change. What made for change? Why did it come when it did, and in the way it did?” He himself was concerned with the changes in the American economy and society since the mid-19th century and the role business and businesspeople played in what we today call the second industrial revolution. Since then, and even before then, and until today there have been many such changes at economic, societal, and industry levels in different geographies, where business and businesspeople have played a crucial part. There should therefore be no shortage of big questions to ask and to answer.
  1. Continue to investigate the evolution of big business and of entire industries from the 19th to the 21st centuries. If anything, today there are even bigger and more powerful firms than at the time that Chandler researched. And many industries are said to have been disrupted. How did this happen? Did it follow similar patterns and logics as the one identified by Chandler? Or were there paradigm shifts? And what about their organization. Is the M-form still predominant among industrial firms as it seems to have been by the late 20th century (Whittington et al., 1999). And what about service industries, where Kipping and Westerhuis (2014) have shown it to have been introduced in numerous banks since the 1960s. What about the roles of consultants in spreading these organizational models and shaping business and industry evolution – something that Chandler had already hinted at?
  1. Engage in cross-disciplinary debates about the possible contributions of business historical research to generalization and theory-building. Chandler was not afraid of generalization based on his in-depth, often case-based research, neither was he afraid of engaging in debates with extant theories (see above for his position vis-à-vis transaction cost economics). Over the past decades business historians have participated in debates about their methodologies (e.g. Decker al. 2015) and have co-edited and published in history-specific issues of leading management journals. What they have yet to accomplish is to start developing their own generalizations based on their own case studies (Tsang 2014) like the way Chandler did. And while his generalizations were probably too dominant for too long, they also were contested eventually and prompted ongoing debates within business history.

Submission Instructions

Submission process and schedule: All those interested in publishing a paper in the special issue should email a 500-word abstract to [email protected] by 1st May 2024. Authors of selected abstracts will be asked to present at one of the following three workshops. In your submission, please indicate which of these you prefer to attend:

  1. June 28-29, 2024: Kyoto University, Japan [before the AIB conference; organizers will cover accommodation in Kyoto for 3 nights & meals during the workshop].
  2. July 11, 2024: Nova School of Business & Economics, Lisbon, Portugal [before the EBHA Conference]
  3. Online [date to be determined]

Selection and Manuscript Preparation

Following all three workshops, the editors will select 10 or more of the proposed papers, based on their fit as well as the feedback received during the audience discussions. These authors will be asked to prepare a full manuscript by March 2025, with editors providing a first round of comments and suggestions. The revised manuscript will be submitted to external reviewers with revisions expected to be completed in early 2026. We are aiming to have between six or eight papers with sufficiently good reviews to warrant publication after further minor revisions, planning to submit the special issue by the summer/fall of 2026. We would encourage the remaining authors whose papers require more extensive revisions to re-submit them independently to the journal.

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