Living up to the past? Ideological sensemaking in organizational transition

Mairi Maclean, Charles Harvey, John A. A. Sillince, Benjamin D. Golant

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This article builds upon archival and oral-history research on organizational change at Procter & Gamble from 1930 to 2000, focusing on periods of transition. It examines historical narrative as a vehicle for ideological sensemaking by top managers. Our empirical analysis sheds light on continuities in the narratives they offer, through which the past emerges as a recurrent lever of strategic manoeuvres and re-orientations. This reveals that while organizational history is sometimes regarded as a strategic asset or intrinsic part of collective memory, it is also re-enacted as a shared heritage, implying responsibilities. Executives (re)interpret the past and author the future, maintaining the historical narrative while using interpellation to ensure ideological consistency over time. The interpellative power of rhetorical narrative helps to recast organizational members as participants in an ongoing drama. In this way executives claim their legitimate right to initiate and manage organizational transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-567
Number of pages25
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014


  • Historical narrative
  • ideological sensemaking
  • interpellation
  • longitudinal analysis
  • organizational transition
  • storytelling


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