Critical Biography as a Methodology in Management History


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 The potential of ‘critical biography’ – a concept that has seen a renaissance in recent scholarship – and its application remains underutilized in management history. In work that does cite ‘critical biography,’ there lacks a meaningful exploration of its usefulness as a method for ‘doing history’ in management and organization studies. While these contributions have helped us better understand the forebearers of management theory such as Mary Parker Follett (Gibson et al., 2013), Lillian M. Gilbreth (Gibson et al., 2015), Frank Gilbreth (Gibson et al., 2016), and Joan Woodward (Garrity et al., 2018); pioneers of adjacent literatures like work-family research (Clayton and Barton, 2011); and recovering lost contributions of feminist voices in the public administration milieu (Williams and Mills, 2017), critical biography has yet to live up to its methodological promise. We see this gap as an opportunity to situate the individual as a thinker and/or practitioner in social and historical contexts (McLaren and Durepos, 2021) by closely examining identity, roles, values, contexts, and contributions.

The aims of this special issue is to theoretically and empirically develop the concept of critical biography through explorations of its utility from the ‘bottom-up.’ That is, a collective effort from those who ‘do biography’ in historical research of management to co-construct the parameters of this method, style, and/or genre in management history by surfacing how critical expeditions might help rediscover the emancipatory potential of writing differently, deconstructing the individual and his/her situated context(s), and revisiting critique of invidious hierarchies that perpetuate exploitative and socially irresponsible forms of management praxis.

We anticipate breaking new ground in key areas, including: (1) scholarship that focuses on surfacing those neglected in management history (Prieto and Phipps, 2019; Wanderley and Barros, 2019; Williams and Mills, 2018) with a direct engagement with biography as a means to explore the critical dimension in narratives (i.e., the interaction of people and their ideas with institutions); (2) a departure from hagiographical genre and embrace of the social and historical contexts that has informed (or has the power to inform) biographies beyond the celebrated (e.g., Frederick Winslow Taylor) to include new histories that uncover our field’s neglected (i.e., ‘lost’) narratives of others; (3) rethinking critical biography as an approach of ‘doing history’ in management and organization studies by ‘researching and writing differently’ (Boncori, 2022) than what is normally expected – and accepted as legitimate scholarship – by our discipline (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2013); (4) capitalizing on approaches that de/centre the individual in management and organization studies vis-à-vis microhistory (Hargadon and Wadhwani, 2022); ANTi-History (Durepos and Mills, 2012), and organizational identity (Brown, 2011), for example, through advancing the theoretical potential of individuals and offering creative license to explore the good, bad, and ugly in empirical expeditions of the individual-in-action.


List of topic areas

  • Revealing the scholarly potential of the individual in theory and practice to help challenge traditional hierarchies, ideologies, and roles and uncovering previously unrecognized knowledges of the past; 
  • Holding space for empirical applications of critical biography-as-method involving alternative historical modalities; 
  • Illuminating fundamental assumptions of individuals’ work (e.g., does the individual exercise a preference for organizational hierarchy or manifest a commitment to an emancipatory perspective?); 
  • Surfacing lost – or recovering marginalized – contributions and/or the theorists that unearth them in management


Guest Editors 

David C. Jacobs, 
Kogod School of Business, American University, United States, 
[email protected]

Fernanda Sauerbronn, 
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 
[email protected]

Nicholous M. Deal, 
Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada, 
[email protected]
Rosetta Morris, 
Florida Atlantic University, United States,
[email protected]


Submissions Information

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Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to “Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.


Key deadlines

Opening date for manuscript submissions: 01 July 2024 
Closing date for manuscript submissions: 31 October 2024