The Historical Alternatives Approac

Jonathan Zeitlin

in The Oxford Handbook of Business History

Published in print January 2008 | ISBN: 9780199263684
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management C

 The Historical Alternatives Approac

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  • Business and Management
  • Business History
  • Research Methods


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The aim of this article is to present a brief conceptual overview of the “historical alternatives” approach to business history. The notion of alternatives is central to this approach in both a historical and a historiographical sense. Historically, the hallmark of the historical alternatives approach is its emphasis on the salience of alternative possibilities, contingency, and strategic choice in the development of modern industry over the past three centuries. Historiographically, it represents an alternative to mainstream currents in economic, technological, and business history: an alternative, in particular, to Chandlerian business history focused on the economic and technological efficiency of administrative coordination and learning within large, hierarchically managed enterprises. The article sets out the core elements of the historical alternatives approach in the form of ten positive theses, before going on to respond to five major misconceived objections that have recurrently arisen in the course of the ensuing debate.

Keywords: historical alternatives; modern industry; business history; administrative coordination; hierarchically managed enterprises

Article.  8733 words. 

Subjects: Business and Management ; Business History ; Research Methods

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