New research methods of Business HistoryPresentation to 2nd Balkans and Middle East Countries Conference on Auditing and Accounting History Istanbul, September 16, 2010 Amedeo Lepore, Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”
Business History, while not clearly established or widelyrecognized, is an open discipline that can include, in addition to theissues related to the evolution of economy, enterprises, market andbusiness world, other institutional, cultural and social areas, related tocontemporary implications derived from the long process ofindustrialization. As stressed by Joseph Schumpeter, History is anessential tool for the study of business and entrepreneurship:«Economic historians and economic theorists can make an interestingand socially valuable journey together, if they will. It would be aninvestigation into the sadly neglected area of economic change».According to this approach, the extensive use of historical methodology(i.e., that comparative) is a fundamental element for the analysis of thecompany, the entrepreneurship and its dynamics. It is the nature ofentrepreneurship - in relation to the uncertainty of the definition of thepreparatory phase of the business, the long-term perspective of itsactivities and the diversification of its character from place to place, aswell as over time - that underscores the vital importance of a historicalvision for the study of the company and its operation within thecapitalist system.
The main stages of industrialization1 The phase of Hydraulic and Localized energy mechanization thermal energy source2 The phase of mass Electric energy Energy production. “Fordism” distribution networks3 The phase of Computational Computers automation information connected to machines4 The phase of Internet Connected knowledge networks of knowledge
Enterprise characteristics for stages1780-1840: Individual entrepreneurs, small business, localcapitals1840-1880: First large-scale enterprises, first joint stockcompanies1880-1930: Development of cartels, trusts, monopolies,finance capital, middle management1930-1990: Multinational companies, oligopolisticcompetition, multi-plants, subcontracting1990-2010: Enterprise networking, telematics, quality, justin time…
1. The origins and development of the discipline
Business History after World War II «Our post-war generation could have learned much from observing how Commons’s concepts oflegal rights and of economic transactions permitted him to generalize about economic processes andhow Mitchell and later Schumpeter used their massive data to generalize about the dynamics of businesscycles. In the late 1940s, however, the institutionalists were out of favour among economists. Thedriving edge of their discipline was in the new Keynesian macroeconomic analyses and the newmathematical techniques of econometrics. Historians dealing with complex human actions found boththe new approaches and the methods of the economists difficult to apply. Too often such quantitativetechniques demanded the isolation of a relatively small number of quantifiable variables, an isolationwhich distorted the reality of the situation under analysis. In micro-economics, for example, thebusiness enterprise continued to be defined primarily as a unit of production (that is, a factory), one thatresponded dutifully to the motive of profit maximization, rather than as a complex human organizationthat co-ordinated productions with distribution, finance and changing technology. The theory of thefirm remained a theory of production. And in econometrics, individuals - their thought and action -simply disappeared from the scene. On the other hand, in the late 1940s other social sciences,particularly sociology, had much to offer younger historians seeking to do something with their case-studies. In sociology the thought and action of individuals still remained at the centre of analysis. Inobserving men and women at work at play, sociologists had generated valuable ideas about the structureand process of human organizations and action. They had demonstrated that such generalizations,typologies and concepts need not be tied to a specific time, place or culture» (Alfred D. Chandler).
2. Object of the discipline and traditional methods of study
Business History deals, primarily, with largeenterprises and, through a careful evaluation, can tracenot only corporate events, but fundamental issuespertaining to the industry and the general context in whichthey operate. The corporation, in fact, while performing itsactivities in the goods and services market, i.e., the circuitof production and distribution, is a complex businessorganization, which has acquired increasing importanceand role in society and in collective action every day and,therefore, has exceeded the boundaries of its originalscope. However, in many realities, particularly in Italy, theanalysis takes into consideration the evolution of adifferent system, based on midsize, small and microenterprises, perfectly in line with the expansion of theniche market.
As has been highlighted by Ralph W. Hidy: «Businesshistory has come a long way in the near half-century sincethat slow start; the small stream of publications hasbecome a veritable flood of books and articles of varyingquality, content, and approach. Despite the great mass ofavailable material, there are still significant gaps insubject matter and methodology, and coming to grips withthem will keep historians of business occupied for manydecades to come».
3. The new methodologies for research and telematics network
The appearance of the web on the stage ofscientific activity, studies and research marked theopening of a completely new phase for Business History.The use of electronic sources, in fact, requires an originalmethodology and a theoretical approach of specializedtype, in order to offer appropriate solutions to thequestions posed by the phenomenal development of thenetwork, its segmentation and its practical applications,involving an activity of selection, evaluation, interpretationand exegesis of the documentation and digital resources,unique.
“Laymen - that is to say, non-academic friends or friends from other academicdisciplines - sometimes ask me how the historian goes to work when he writes history.The commonest assumption appears to be that the historian divides his work into twosharply distinguishable phases or periods. First, he spends a long preliminary periodreading his source and filling his notebooks with facts: then, when this is over, he putsaway his sources, takes out his notebooks, and writes his book from beginning to end.This is to me an unconvincing and unplausible picture. For myself, as soon as I havegot going on a few of what I take to be the capital sources, the itch becomes too strongand I begin to write - not necessarily at the beginning, but somewhere, anywhere.Thereafter, reading and writing go on simultaneously. The writing is added to,subtracted from, re-shaped, cancelled, as I go on reading. The reading is guided anddirected and made fruitful by the writing: the more I write, the more I know what I amlooking for, the better I understand the significance and relevance of what I find. Somehistorians probably do all this preliminary writing in their head without using pen,paper, or typewriter, just as some people play chess in their heads without recourse toboard and chess-men: this is a talent which I envy, but cannot emulate. But I amconvinced that, for any historian worth the name, the two processes of what economistscall “input” and “output” go on simultaneously and are, in practice, parts of a singleprocess. If you try to separate them, or to give one priority over the other, you fall intoone of two heresies. Either you write scissors-and-paste history without meaning orsignificance; or you write propaganda or historical fiction, and merely use facts of thepast to embroider a kind of writing which has nothing to do with history” (Edward H.Carr, What Is History?, 1961).
Strategies for extending product: user relationships high quality, good design reliable, upgradable, maintainable making social extended connections performance labels durability increasingtax relief for extended life sensorial value for variety personalisation shift from products to money customisationservices (PSS) or shared products creating personal memory sharing narratives products retention of co-designers narrative & use-personalisation & aesthetic appeal ageing with dignity producer/co-producer of narrative co-producers overall aesthetic producer/co-producer of cultural semiotics – product status, identity
4. The open innovation, the newmarkets of the “long tail” and the Business History
Open Innovation & Closed Innovation: paradigms compared
Open Innovation & Closed Innovation: paradigms compared
From the definition of globalization which was coined by TheodoreLevitt («the emergence of global markets for standardized consumerproducts on a previously unimagined scale of magnitude») to theemergence of new theories related to overcoming trend of the massmarket, through the dissemination of a niche “mass of markets”, it seemsa lot of water has passed under the bridge, yet it is only a few years, less aquarter of a century. The diffusion of the model of the so-called “long tail”,i.e., a tool that can provide a new interpretative key for understanding thetransition from Fordist society to the “post-industrial”, represents asignificant opportunity to examine the phenomenon of the enterpriseevolution, using the latest sources, able to provide an overview, as theelectronics. In any case, the path is traced and it is reasonable to initiatenew elaborations, able to pick the records, materials, databases andknowledge spread, that, thanks to the telematic network and an updatedsurvey methodology, can be fully put to good use, opening newperspectives of study for many different themes of Business History, adiscipline came from afar, but very current and intended to draw a notshort future.