Opening the Tavistock Institute’s Archives: Dialogue between Past and Present

Opening the Tavistock Institute’s Archives: Dialogue between Past and Present

International Symposium delivers on 70th festival promise at AOM Annual Meeting


6 August 2018

International Symposium delivers on TIHR 70th festival promise at Academy of Management Annual Meeting.

It is a Chicago Summer 2018, too early in the morning on Tuesday in a windowless, air-conditioned meeting room. This massive architectural gem of a hotel is one of a few hosting around 11,000 participants at the Academy of Management (AOM) Annual Meeting, where five papers addressing the work of The Tavistock Institute will be presented.

It’s definitely a far cry from that rainy 30-plus person post-lunch discussion unfolding beside courtyard windows at the heart of London’s Garden Museum, enacting a sliver of TIHR’s 2017 October 70th Festival. “Dialogue towards an international symposium: Customizing TIHR Traditions” then promised and now delivers:

‘Opening the Tavistock Institute’s Archives: Dialogue between Past and Present’
Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
Tuesday, 14 August 2018, 8am-9.30am
Hyatt Regency Chicago, Burnham Room,
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Management Consulting Division – near the front of the AOM programme catalogue – has selected an international paper symposium as a divisional highlight: “Opening the Tavistock Institute’s Archives: Dialogue between Past and Present”. Their executive committee is delighted to bring together the theme “improving lives” with representatives from this small R&D charity, historically significant to many within the management consulting field. Five papers have been nurtured carefully from modern working environments of The Tavistock Institute.

Indeed, this symposium demonstrates how scholarly practitioners, associated with the traditions of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR), are engaging with the past as they address, in the present, issues of relevance and innovation during contemporary R&D projects. Picking up from the TIHR 70th Festival event, this AOM symposium particularly concerns the dynamics and processes of customizing TIHR traditions in the present. Of interest is how dialogical inquiry may reveal connections and differentiations with the past. The five papers are:

  • Considering the NHS Citizens Project as a Contemporary Interpretation of Socio-Technical Systems
  • The Past-in-the-Present: Using a Project from the TIHR’s Archives to Re-Think and Reframe OD Epochs
  • A Polyphonic Dialogue with the TIHR Archives: Working with the Past, Present and Future as Organisational Development and Customisation of TIHR Traditions
  • To “Stock Take” and to “Take Stock”: Interdisciplinary Threads and Tensions in Developing a Tavistock Workplace Wellbeing Consultancy Piece
  • The Tavistock Institute’s Work in the Textile Sector: Socio-Technical and Socio-Ecological Perspectives

After all the papers are presented briefly during the symposium, one discussant will address issues related to management history and critical theory. Sometimes within scholarly practice, there is a tendency to constrain the past into a narrow description as a jumping off point. Rejecting the past as a different order from the present can enable the researcher to claim ownership over application and customization in the future. Unfortunately, this can leave the past poorly or wilfully misunderstood. It takes courage to go into the TIHR archive and make of it something relevant and applicable to the present.

A second discussant will address issues related to professional learning and the professional social scientist’s relationship between existing bodies of knowledge and action research processes. Clearly, TIHR’s decision to reactivate its archives has stirred an interest among scientific staff and professional partners to explore some combination of current practice and past action-oriented research. The coincidence of TIHR’s 70th anniversary has brought resources to bear on explicitly linking current work with the materials now available in the Tavistock Institute’s archives lodged at the Wellcome Library in London, UK. The catalogue can also be accessed through the Tavistock Archive Project blog.

The 78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management will be held on August 10-14, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, USA.  The program theme is Improving Lives.

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