Origin Story: How the Social Issues in Management field all began

Have you ever wondered who the principle players were behind the creation and development of the Social Issues in Management/Business and Society field and the SIM Division of the Academy of Management? What about factors in the environment that contributed to these developments? The upcoming special issue of Business & Society contains insights into the early history of the field and the division from a number of scholars who were intimately involved in it.

Specifically, the November issue of Business & Society contains a series of interviews with and about these pioneers. Entitled, “Oral Histories of the Business and Society/SIM Field and the SIM Division of the Academy of Management: Origin Stories From the Founders,” this issue-length article contains interviews with Archie Carroll, Jerry Cavanagh, Keith Davis, Meinolf Dierkes, Ed Epstein, Bill Frederick, Joe McGuire, Jim Post, Lee Preston, Clarence Walton, and Steve Wartick (Sumner Marcus’s last graduate assistant). These interviews were conducted by Rich Wokutch, John Steiner, Sandra Waddock, and Mary Mallott.

The SIM field traces its roots back to the 1950s as scholars trained in various other fields started to notice and make sense of problems such as racial and gender inequality, consumer and worker safety issues, and environmental pollution, as well as the corporation’s potential to benefit society.  Interest in these issues seems to have emerged independently in several places around the US with the University of Washington, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, and Columbia University being the institutions most prominently noted. Despite not having the Internet and email, the scholars at these and other institutions were able to find and help one another towards the shared goal of the transformation of concerns about these issues into a legitimate field of study. The fact that the Social Issues in Management Division was one of the original divisions in the Academy of Management when it held its first divisionalized meetings in 1972 is a testament both to the efforts of these early pioneers of the field as well as to the high regard in which they were held by their peers.

Several of these scholars discuss how the diversity of disciplinary perspectives of scholars in the field has been both a blessing and a curse. Other themes coming out in the interviews include the political nature of the quest for academic respectability of the field, the early recognition of the significance of their efforts but a lack of a clear sense of where they would lead, and the increasing importance of international issues and participants in SIM.

This has been an extremely long-term project, with the first of these interviews having been conducted approximately 25 years ago! As a result, several of these early pioneers in the field have passed away since being interviewed. It is, however, comforting to note that they were all pleased to know that the field had developed as vigorously as it has and that they had a chance to tell their stories about their roles in its development.

-Richard E. Wokutch

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