The Origins of Organization Theory

William H. Starbuck

in The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780199275250
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management

The Origins of Organization Theory

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  • Business and Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Business History



This article argues that contemporary organization theory owes its existence to social and technological changes that occurred during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. These changes created both a basis for theorizing and an audience for theories about organizations. They stimulated an explosion in the numbers of large, formalized organizations, they made organizations relevant to many more people, and they made many more people interested in and capable of understanding theoretical propositions. This article follows a loosely chronological itinerary. It begins by taking note that theoretical writing about management began more than 4,000 years ago, and that some organizations had the essential properties of bureaucracy more than 3,000 years ago. It also reviews the developments that made organization theory possible and interesting.

Keywords: organization theory; technological changes; formalized organizations; management; bureaucracy

Article.  17273 words. 

Subjects: Business and Management ; Organizational Theory and Behaviour ; Business History

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