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Title: From economics of the firm to business studies at Oxford : an intellectual history (1890s-1990s)
Author: Arena, Lise
ISNI:       0000 0004 2739 074X
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis is concerned with the institutional, intellectual and socio-cultural history of the emergence and evolution of three academic subject areas at the University of Oxford, UK: industrial economics, economic theories of the firm and management studies. It charts and evaluates the gradual and, at times, conflictual process of their institutionalisation at Oxford, from the end of the 19th to the end of the zu" century, through the analysis of the evolution of teaching and research in economics and management fuelled by struggles for intellectual ascendency and power in these disciplinary developments. This research aims to answer two main questions asked in the Oxford context: How have the practical concerns of the organisation of industries, firms and business come to attract academic attention and gained access to academic institutions? How has the nature of the institution influenced the theoretical and methodological orientation of these new academic subject areas? The institutionalisation of the economics of the firm and of industries, as well as of management studies was obstructed by hostility within universities towards these new subject areas, which were seen as being either too applied or too vocational. The rise of these subject areas is a result of a combination of external factors such as the need for universities to tackle real world problems, constraints in external funding and the need to attract private financial backing. These subject areas emerged through a series of power struggles and personality clashes. Whereas management studies have become ever more applied, the economics of the firm has become a triumph of formalism, with mathematical models favoured over empirical studies. In particular, the theory of the firm has taken a unique orientation in Oxford due to the Oxford Economists Research Group and the empirical approach to the firm as a reaction against the theory of imperfect competition popularised at Cambridge in the 1930s. The methodology (the use of questionnaires sent to businessmen) was at the time specific to Oxford. The Oxford theory of the firm was also strongly influenced by George Richardson and Harald Malmgren who focused on information and knowledge inside a firm and unwittingly contributed to a deeper understanding of the concrete organization of firms. Industrial economics was also shaped by Oxford institutions. The B.Phil. seminar on the economics of industries and the Journal of Industrial Economics, both introduced by Philip Andrews in the 1950s, exemplify the applied orientation of the discipline based on an empirical methodology. Andrews' influence later waned with the rise of industrial organization exported from the United States and based on the use of game theory as its main tool of analysis. Finally, management studies in Oxford emerged from a combination of confusion, personal antagonism, vested interests and Oxford's way of building new disciplines on existing ones. To a large extent, its current multidisciplinary orientation has not been consciously constructed, but arose from a shortage of suitable resources, as well as the ambivalence of the university about management education.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available