Historical Bricolage, Or How Companies Mix Past Heritage with Present Organizational Identity

hotel-sign[We’re pleased to welcome Laura Illia of IE University. Laura recently published an article with co-author Alessandra Zamparini in the October 2016 issue of Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Legitimate Distinctiveness, Historical Bricolage, and the Fortune of the Commons.” The interview with Laura:]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

We have been previously doing research together in a project related to wineries in Switzerland in which we realized the importance for competing businesses to bond together and build a collective identity at the regional level.  How companies blend their organizational and collective identities through their narratives seemed to be key. When Laura was appointed to IE University and moved to Spain, she met some regional managers and found out that rural hotels in the region of Castilla y León had similar needs to those of wineries in Switzerland. However, what made this case even more interesting was that nobody was working out a collective identity for local rural hotels. No intermediaries were active, neither the small businesses were bonding together.  Despite this, there was an emerging collective identity looking at the narratives of these businesses, so we decided to study which narrative processes were taking place.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?Current Issue Cover

We undertook an exploratory approach to the study. When you do it, all findings are potentially surprising, because you are exploring. However, what probably we found most surprising was the fact that these small businesses were blending  the business and regional  identities through a narrative process that does not only appropriate collective elements but also preserves them . That was the moment in which we started to dim into the literature of commons, i.e. natural, social and cultural resources.  Typically corporations are considered actors that exploit commons, because these are physical resources that are considered limited. However, narratives, themselves, are considered intangible resources that, differently from the physical ones, can be reproduced infinitely. The way these small businesses in our study were re-producing narratives was interesting because they were undertaking a present approach to revisit the past, blending their organizational identity with historical natural, social or cultural anecdotes of the region. We called historical bricolage this process, by which rural hotels were recursively appropriating and preserving the local historical heritage, being able to communicate their belongingness to the region and their unique identities.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

This study reaffirms the relevance of history for organizational strategic positioning, and in particular it opens up new avenues for research on narrative historical commons, which are resources reproduced and revived in organizations’ communications. Research in this direction might extend the understanding of collective identity construction and legitimate distinctiveness, not only in local business communities, but also in all those communities where boundaries are fuzzier, such as virtual communities and project-based organizational networks. On the practical level, we see that historical bricolage might be a useful competitive mean in those contexts where financial resources for collective identity promotion and inter-organizational coordination are limited.

The abstract for the article:

This article analyzes how organizations discursively construe legitimate distinctiveness (LD) by using their own corporate stories in recombination with historical narratives about commons (i.e., cultural, social, or natural resources available in a local community). Specifically, through the study of 55 rural hotels active in Segovia (Castilla y León, Spain), we theorize about how organizations build LD through a different process than the one explained by previous studies: a process of historical bricolage. Two recursive mechanisms constitute this process—namely the appropriation and preservation of historical narratives about natural (e.g., forests, animals), social (e.g., recipes, movies), or cultural (e.g., heritage, kings) commons. This process contributes to current studies because it explains how organizations build LD through the strategic use of history, the preservation rather than the mere appropriation of collective narratives, and finally the production of stories that integrate the organizational and collective selves.

You can read “Legitimate Distinctiveness, Historical Bricolage, and the Fortune of the Commons” from Journal of Management Inquiry free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay up to date on all of the latest research from Journal of Management InquiryClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

You can also find the journal on Twitter–click here to read through the most recent tweets from Journal of Management Inquiry!


698.gifLaura Illia is an associate professor at IE University (ES). Her current research focuses on how issues of organizational identity, branding, corporate communication, reputation, and Corporate Social Responsibility are involved in organizational management. She has been doing research at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom), and University of Lugano (CH). Her works are published in journals such as MIT Sloan Management Review, Journal of Business Ethics, British Journal of Management, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Corporate Reputation Review, Corporate Communications: An international Journal, and Journal of Public Relations Research. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of Business and Society (SAGE), Corporate Reputation Review (Palgrave), and Corporate Communications: An International Journal (Emerald).

profile picture

Alessandra Zamparini is a post-doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Communication Sciences of USI Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, Institute of Marketing and Communication Management (IMCA). Her research focuses primarily on the topic of identity at multiple levels and its implications for corporate and organizational communication. She is especially interested in understanding identity dynamics within local business communities and regions. In this regard, she is currently developing research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). She has recently published in Strategic Organization, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, and International Journal of Wine Business Research. She holds a PhD in communication sciences and economics and management from USI Università della Svizzera italiana and the University of Padua (Italy).

*Hotel image attributed to Andrew Moore (CC)
This entry was posted in Business, Identity, Organizational Research, Organizational Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , by Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing

Founded in 1965, SAGE is the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. Known for our commitment to quality and innovation, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students across a broad range of subject areas. With over 1500 employees globally from principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, and Melburne, our publishing program includes more than 1000 journals and over 900 books, reference works and databases a year in business, humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Believing passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable, SAGE aims to be the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. This means playing a creative role in society by disseminating teaching and research on a global scale, the cornerstones of which are good, long-term relationships, a focus on our markets, and an ability to combine quality and innovation. Leading authors, editors and societies should feel that SAGE is their natural home: we believe in meeting the range of their needs, and in publishing the best of their work. We are a growing company, and our financial success comes from thinking creatively about our markets and actively responding to the needs of our customers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s