How ‘Human Relations’ Got Its Name

How ‘Human Relations’ Got Its Name

The Journal as Boundary Object


Wednesday 21 November 2012

Presentation by Bill Cooke and Anindita Banerjee: Lancaster University Management School.

This talk took place in November 2012 as part of the TIHR’s ‘Food for Thought’ lunchtime series. The research interest of the talk also sits in relation to the Institute’s developing Archive project as both Cooke and Banerjee have been working with source material from the Institute’s archive.

The talk has as its starting point in two empirical puzzles. One is about the relationship between Kurt Lewin and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. That there was a close and very productive relationship between Lewin and his US circle and the TIHR we have always taken as given. However, our archival research, while actually showing strong Tavistock – US relationships in the WWII years, is actually devoid of data which establishes a connection between the Tavistock and Lewin. The other puzzle is how Human Relations, which as an academic field was established as a generic form of social science before the war in the US, came to have the particular work/organisational orientation it has now. We will try to argue that the journal Human Relations was not an outcome of the Lewin-circle – TIHR relationship, nor a simple documentation of the organization specific meaning of Human Relations. Rather, it was the journal around which the relationship and the field formed. That is, it was the boundary object which brought the Human Relations field, and the key transatlantic alliance that made it a managerial concern into being.

Recording of the talk

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