British interwar management (1918-1939) has been criticized as overly conservative, comprising a core of progressive firms amidst a mass of conservatively-run, family-dominated businesses. According to the dominant narrative, British firms exhibited little interest in new managerial approaches. Our study of the Rowntree business lectures and British interwar management movement challenges this view; suggesting British managers displayed greater openness to innovation than is commonly recognized. We uncover and analyse a network of British firms engaged in management education through organized peer-to-peer communication, facilitated by lectures and management research groups initiated by Seebohm Rowntree. Our primary contribution to the literature is to offer a more nuanced perspective on the evolution of British management learning in the interwar years. This reveals dynamic knowledge networks reflexively engaged in advancing and codifying practice-based learning to promote the diffusion of effective solutions to shared problems – building communities of practice, codifying management knowledge, and drawing on an ethos of ‘business as service’. By undertaking archival research to create a coherent body of documentary material, and making this available to others, we also make a methodological contribution, creating a new ‘space’ for future researchers to explore, from which they can write new management histories of their own.
- Communities of practice; Knowledge transfer; Management education; Management history; Management knowledge; Management learning