This article analyses the first 20 years of the journal Philosophy of Management to provide insight into how the journal has developed and delineated the field of philosophy of management. Our content analysis uses an inductively developed combination of thematic and frequency analysis. We present our findings in a descriptive tone, inviting scholars to reflect upon how the journal has shaped the field over the past two decades, and to trigger a discussion on a more deliberately inclusive future shaping of the field.
At the time of writing this article, the journal Philosophy of Management is about to complete its 20th volume. On the Springer website, the journal delineates itself as an independent, refereed forum for philosophers, theorists and management practitioners to apply philosophical scrutiny to management theory and practice. It seeks to define and develop the field of philosophy of management and is directed to philosophers working in all traditions. (see www.springer.com/journal/40926).
The journal makes a very bold statement here. It claims to ‘define and develop the field of philosophy of management’. The purpose of this article is to create some insight into how the journal has actually done that in the first two decades of its existence. Which philosophers are having the most impact in shaping this field? What philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management?
Our reasoning is as follows: if the journal is ‘defining and developing’ the field of philosophy of management, then analysing its content shows us what that field looks like. In addition, such an analysis also shows the gaps. One could argue that everything that philosophy does and every philosopher that is not in the journal, constitutes the gaps. We restrict our contribution here to offer a mainly descriptive analysis of how the journal’s community of authors, editors and reviewers has – so far – given shape to the field of philosophy of management. We offer brief reflective comments but make no claims as to why the gaps are there. We hope that the analysis we offer in this article can be of help to this scholarly community to reflect on the current shape of the field and ignite scholarship that fills the gaps or argues how the field should be shaped.
The article is structured as follows. In the next section we describe how we developed our approach to the analysis. After that, we present our findings. We start with some general findings and then proceed with our findings relating to the specific philosophers this journal has paid attention to, and to what extent additional empirical methods have been used. We then present findings on what areas of philosophy and what dimensions of management have been discussed in the journal. We conclude our article with some brief reflections that invite further debate.
In accordance with the purpose of this article, we carried out a systematic literature review (SLR). SLR is ‘a method of making sense of large bodies of information, […] mapping out areas of uncertainty, and identifying where little or no relevant work has been done, but where new studies are needed’ (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006: 2). Different from narrative or traditional literature reviews (Jesson et al., 2011: 11), SLR is a well-structured and linear process of analysis that includes statistical and non-statistical techniques for clarifying a large body of knowledge by asking well-defined questions of selected literature (Betany-Saltikov, 2012: 5).
In SLR studies, two categories can be defined according to the use of techniques, namely meta-analysis and meta-synthesis (Paterson & Canam, 2001). Meta-analysis is the process of collecting the results of studies conducted independently on the same subject and using statistical techniques to find intermediate variables that cause differences in these results (Borenstein et al., 2009). Meta-synthesis, on the other hand, aims to interpret and evaluate the qualitative findings of studies in a specific field, to reveal similar and different aspects and to make new inferences. In meta-synthesis studies, the researcher relies on descriptive narratives that describe and explain the findings of each study included in the synthesis rather than statistical analysis (Polat and Ay, 2016). A meta-synthesis literature review is generally preferred when an inductive research is desired.
In our analysis, meta-synthesis was used as methodological guidance, because the body of information that we aim to analyse in the Philosophy of Management journal consists of qualitative knowledge instead of quantitative results. Our main operational procedure to turn the journal articles into data, was content analysis. We used a combination of thematic and frequency analysis, which we explain now.
Systematic literature review generally necessitates some similar steps, although there are slight differences among researchers. The number of these stages may vary depending on the purpose of research and the type of information to be analysed. In our study, we used Denyer and Tranfield’s Five Steps Model (2009): (1) Question Formulation, (2) Locating Studies, (3) Study Selection and Evaluation, (4) Analysis and Synthesis, and (5) Reporting.
Question Formulation is the most significant step of any systematic review because the success and quality of analysis depends on well-formulated and designed questions. Note that the questions-for-analysis attempt to operationalise our research questions. These are: RQ1) Which philosophers are having the most impact in shaping this field? RQ2) What philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management?
Thus, each author first separately wrote their questions that could be suitable for analysis. We then discussed these questions together and formed six main clusters. To test the strength and compatibility of these questions, the first two volumes of the journal were analysed by the authors independently. We did this by reading the abstracts and skim reading the papers. In 2016 Springer started to publish the journal. Since then authors were required to provide keywords. However, this was not the case prior to 2016 – hence we had no author generated keywords to work with for the pilot, or for most of our data.
A subsequent discussion led to some changes to our questions for analysis. We had initially distinguished primary and secondary fields for Philosophy and Philosophers. However, during the pilot analysis, we found that judging the subfields as primary or secondary was an unnecessary waste of time and blurred the clarity of the data. Instead, we decided to add multiple subfields or philosophers for an article where necessary. We also initially had a ‘manager cluster’ trying to map different levels of management articles were conducting philosophical inquiry on. However, the pilot showed that it was hard to subtract this information from articles by reading abstracts and scanning the articles. We hence deleted this cluster. As for the methodology aspect, the articles generally had philosophical inquiry as methodology but there were articles that used additional methods, e.g. quantitative or qualitative empirical studies or case studies. We decided to include this aspect because we thought it would be of interest to the journal’s readership and the scholarly field to have some insight into what methods apart from philosophical inquiry have been used so far in the journal to shape the field. We also noted when an article discussed the field of philosophy of management. We named this ‘meta-theory’ because it concerns philosophical inquiry about philosophy of management. Our pilot study thus resulted in the set of operational questions listed in Table 1.
The second step in SLR – ‘Locating Studies’ – usually involves selecting relevant databases and determining the scope of the research. One the one hand, this was an easy step for our research, namely volumes 1–19 of a single journal. On the other hand, there were a number of different paper formats which we needed to consider. We decided to exclude editorials (including special issue introductions) and book reviews. The editorials mostly introduced articles and clusters of articles in the journal. Hence there was no added value for our kind of analysis. We thought that the book reviews were quite short and did not entail the scholarly rigour of articles. The journal has also published a number of interviews with philosophers. This related directly to one of our guiding questions. Hence we decided to include these interviews in our analysis.
In a third step, systematic reviews aim to set clear criteria for selecting and evaluating the determined databases (Denyer & Tranfield, 2009). A problem we faced in our study is that the articles in the journal did not have keywords until Volume 15. We read the abstract of the articles and scanned the whole article until we could answer our analysis-questions. We continued with that operating criteria for the articles that had keywords (Volume 16 onwards). For the philosophy cluster, we used Springer’s categories for philosophical studies.
The fourth step is to actually carry out the ‘Analysis and Synthesis’. We used MS Excel for coding and frequency analysis. We ended up with a very long list of keywords, many of which had only one occurrence. This prompted us to carry out a cluster analysis to form aggregate categories. Management and philosophy keywords were treated separately. First, keywords were listed according to frequency of the usage. Starting from the most frequent results, keywords were synthesised into newly created themes and cluster analysis was implemented according to the criteria emerging from data. Keywording was one of the significant and time-consuming parts of the whole analysis, because there were no author-generated keywords for the articles until Volume 15. For this reason, keywords were generated by reading abstract and skimming the whole content of the articles. Keywords were extracted for two general categories: philosophy and management. Both categories were analysed separately. During the analysis we realised that it was not possible to get meaningful results from the philosophy keywords. There were 267 different keywords and the number of recurring keywords was very low. Only two keywords – rationality with 13 articles and pragmatism with 10 articles – had more than one mention in our data. Thus, we decided to exclude philosophy keywords from the analysis and continued with the management keywords.
The fifth step in Denver and Tranfield’s (2009) model for SLR is reporting the results. We turn to that in the next section.
We now present the results of our analysis. We start with a general overview before reporting in relation to our research questions: (1) which philosophers are having the most impact in shaping this field, and (2) what philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management?
Starting from the first volume of the Philosophy of Management journal in 2001, 19 volumes totalling 58 issues were analysed. Excluding editorial notes and book reviews, a total of 358 articles were included in the analysis. About 40% discusses the work of one or more philosophers, not in passing or as part of their argument, but as a central focus of the article. Also, nearly 20% of all articles did not belong to any philosophical subfield. Similarly, nearly 20% of the articles used a non-philosophical method in addition to philosophical inquiry.
Because the journal seeks to define the field, an interesting part of the analysis was to ask if the articles in the journal contain meta-theoretical discussions – i.e. philosophy about philosophy of management. We found 69 such articles. This represents nearly 20% of all articles. Nine articles of those 69 were not classified within any philosophical delineation. Checking those articles in detail, we realised that they contain general discussions on philosophy of management or management scholarship in a broader perspective. To give the reader a narrative taste of what these discussions entail, we selected five articles from the remaining 60. We cannot make a strong claim here that these five articles are representative of the 60 within the meta-theoretical classification. Still, the authors of these five papers are (or were), at the time of publication, central scholars within this scholarly community, either as editors of the journal or part of the organising committee of the annual conferences. Moreover, the five articles are spread across the 19 years of the journal’s existence. Two are from the first two volumes (Laurie & Cherry, 2001; Dearey, 2002). Another two are from the middle years (Platts & Harris, 2011; Dibben & Sheard, 2012) and one is from the last volume we consider here (Blok, 2020).
What can we observe when considering these five articles in sequence? Laurie and Cherry (2001) ask why there is not a field ‘philosophy of management’? Their article does not answer that question but offers suggestions as to what that field could be. They have a specific philosophical school in mind for that field: philosophy of management should be analytic and prescriptive. The way to fill that void, according to the authors, is to get philosophers interested in management. The article further ‘skim-surfs’ some potential topics, i.e. selves, language, rationality. Hence, Laurie and Cherry (2001) call for a new field and make a suggestion about how it could be carved out.
The article by Dearey (2002) argues that ‘systems thinking’ is an example of a fully-fledged philosophy of management. Philosophy is needed to understand, grasp and act upon complexity. Systems thinking is a governance level approach to operational activity, i.e. it is systematic intervention in complex organisations. Hence, Dearey (2002) makes a substantial suggestion as to what philosophy of management could be. Platts and Harris (2011) state that their paper is a ‘report on progress’ from Laurie and Cherry’s call for a new field (Laurie & Cherry, 2001). However, rather than reporting progress, the article mainly argues that process philosophy is the best school to fill the field of philosophy of management. That should happen through conversation and reflection by and between managers and philosophers. The article of Dibben and Sheard (2012) also attempts to posit an identity for the field. The authors are eager to distinguish philosophy of management from Organisation Studies and from Critical Management Studies. They assert that so far, outside of the journal, management scholarship has only done philosophy in passing. The identity and programme the authors posit for the field is to have ‘deep debates’ of what is distinctive about a philosophical approach to management. This allows scholarship to stand above trends, by using particular ideas of individual philosophers.
Blok (2020) is the first article we saw about the field of philosophy of management that does not question whether there is such a field, or wanders to explore what that could be. Instead, the author asserts there is a field ‘philosophy of management’. Blok’s (2020) observation is, however, that the field has not asked its fundamental question: what is management? Hence, the first four articles posit that there is a need for a ‘philosophy of management’ field, whilst the last one (Blok, 2020) starts with an observation about the ‘philosophy of management’ field. This is interesting, as it suggests that on the one hand it has taken quite a number of years suggesting how a field can or should be carved out, but on the other hand this varying and persistent suggesting has carved out that field.
In order to see whether or not the journal changed over time in how it seeks to develop the field, we analysed the results according to 10 year periods (see Table 2). Because there were no publications in 2006, the first 10 years (2001–2010) had nine volumes while the second period (2011-2020) had ten volumes in total.
Some salient points can be observed from Table 2. Most importantly, the number of articles without philosophical subfield changed dramatically between periods. Whilst this was almost 30% in the first 10 years, this decreases by 10% in the second period. We see a similar tendency in the number of the articles with non-philosophical method in addition to philosophical inquiry. While nearly 23% of all articles contain non-philosophical method in the first 10 years, this percentage drops to 14% in the second period.
Perhaps these results are not surprising for a ‘newly born’ journal that attempts to carve out an as yet immature academic field of philosophy – i.e. philosophy of management. One could argue that before the start of the journal, the number of scholarly publications directly relating to philosophy of management as a field of study, was limited. In that sense, the evolution can be seen as indication that the scope of the journal and the field has become better understood by scholars and editors as time passed.
Our first research question was which philosophers are having the most impact in shaping the field? Because the analysis concerns the journal Philosophy of Management, one might expect to find a variety of philosophers and their ideas discussed in the articles. However, for this analysis, we looked for the studies that included, as one of the main features of the inquiry, the philosophies of specific philosopher(s). We believe that making that distinction renders the analysis meaningful for getting an insight into the journal’s current intellectual ‘anchors’.
As mentioned in the previous section, we found 147 articles (41% of all articles) discussing the work of (a) philosopher(s) as a central feature of the inquiry. As mentioned in the methodology section, sometimes it was appropriate to code more than one philosopher for an article. The number of different philosophers can be interesting as an indication of the intellectual breadth of the journal. In 147 articles, 95 different philosophers were discussed as the main inquiry of the article. Among them, 67 philosophers were seen one time, 13 philosophers were seen two times and 15 philosophers more than two times. This means that there is no single philosopher dominating the journal or the field.
Table 3 gives an overview of the number of appearances of philosophers (only showing those with more than two appearances). Aristotle is the most popular philosopher discussed in the articles with 19 appearances. Among the articles discussing Aristotle, ethics is the most frequent philosophical area with 9 appearances. Looking at management keywords in the articles discussing Aristotle, we do not find any concentration in subjects. Hence it can be said that Aristotle has been studied in this journal in relation to different aspects of management.
Analysing the other frequently used philosophers, we note that Karl Marx, Alasdair Maclntyre and Edward Freeman have special issues in the journal, hence we can see a higher frequency of these philosophers. Not counting the articles from special issues, Alasdair Maclntyre has three, Edward Freeman has none and Karl Marx has just one article in the journal. The implication is that, not counting special issues around a particular philosopher, it is Karl Popper (10) who is the second popular philosopher in this journal.
We noticed that quite a number of articles used specific methods apart from philosophical inquiry. We found 67 articles claiming non-philosophical method (see Table 4), which is almost 19% of all articles. The top method is case study with 41 articles, almost 12% of all articles. Among the 41 case study articles, 19 did not have any specific philosophical subfield, and just 9 articles entailed a central discussion of specific philosophers. These results can be interpreted in two different ways. On the one hand, from a management perspective, one could argue that the number of case studies is quite normal, because management is a practical activity done by managers. On the other hand, from a philosophical perspective, one might argue that perhaps the word ‘philosophy’ in Philosophy of Management has been misunderstood by authors, reviewers and editors. For example, the ‘philosophy of company X’ referring to the founder’s motto or slogan. We comment further on this in the next section.
The second most favoured non-philosophical method in the journal is geo-contextual analysis with 20 articles (see Table 5). Geo-contextual analysis means here that the article focuses on specific geographical contexts or countries. This result could be evaluated as the effects of two special issues on Australia and Africa. When we exclude these special issues, we can see that only nine countries serve as an explicit and delineated focal context for discussions in the articles.
The journal has also published four interviews with philosophers: Charles Taylor, Martha Nussbaum, Onora O’Neill, and John Searle. We considered three of these not belonging to any specific philosophical subfield, and we only classified the interview with Onora O’Neil under ‘Ethics’ and ‘Social & Political Philosophy’ because it discusses trust and accountability so explicitly. The other interviews discussed general ideas about philosophy of management and management thought. It is noteworthy that none of these interviewed philosophers’ work is the central focus of articles in the journal (cf. Table 3).
Our second research question was: what philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management? We first deal with the philosophical questions or subfields.
Most articles (80%) fitted clearly into one philosophical subfield. About 10% of the articles we found cross-attribution to two or more subfields appropriate. A surprizing finding with regard to the frequencies of philosophical subfields we attributed to the articles, was the relatively high number of articles we could not clearly sort under any philosophical subfield. One out of every five articles (20%) does not belong any philosophical subfield. There are a number of plausible explanations. First, nine of these articles include meta-theoretical discussions (i.e. what is philosophy of management) and thus were coded with ‘philosophy of management’ or ‘management scholarship’ as keywords. Second, 28 of these articles claim to have a non-philosophical method. Case study is the most popular non-philosophical method with 19 articles among the ‘not classified’. Perhaps this is characteristic for a new journal and field of study – it takes some time to find ones feet? The 20% articles that did not clearly relate to any philosophical subfield are spread, with 16% in the first 10 years of the journal and just 4% in the second decade of the journal.
Analysing the results according to subfields (Table 6), we can see that ‘Ethics’ and ‘Social & Political Philosophy’ are the most popular philosophical subdivisions, both with 23%. Comparing the journal’s two decades, we notice the most dramatic change occurs in the importance of ‘Philosophy of Science’, dropping from nearly 12% in the first 10 years to just over 4% in the last decade. Another dramatic change can be seen in the articles related to ‘Reason’. There is no article in the second decade under that subfield. Perhaps this is not surprizing, given that Nigel Laurie started the journal as Reason in Practice.
Our second research question asked what philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management? The previous section discussed the philosophical questions. Here we concern ourselves with the management aspects that have been discussed in the journal.
In order to create insight from the keywording analysis, all keywords in the management keyword pool were sorted according to the frequency of usage. In general, we had 397 different keywords, of which 316 were used only one time. We did a cluster analysis using the high frequency keywords as starting nodes. We then inductively grouped other keywords around these and gave these appropriate cluster names. Accordingly, we reached 21 different keyword clusters. Table 7 presents these.
The top three clusters in Table 7 are very broad. But two of these indicate what management scholarship is mostly philosophized about in the journal – i.e. one is organizational studies and the other is economy and finance. Note that the latter includes articles on the 2007 financial crisis and that there was a special issue on that topic. We then see business ethics (which includes professionalism) as an important area (10%). Corporate governance and decision-making are also close to that. Social aspects – social responsibility, society, workplace, OB – follow closely. Although innovation, ecology, education, leadership and technology are placed towards the bottom of the list, we note that these are quite specific and hence are salient topics for the debates in the journal. Also salient is that the three subjects relating to specific organizational functions – i.e. ‘Human Resources Management’, ‘Strategic Management’ and ‘Operations Management’ – have the lowest frequency.
Perhaps a distinctive feature of philosophy is the attention and effort for precision and nuance. In the journal we can see that in how the keywords ‘manager’, ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ have respective substantial frequencies. As an illustration of the nuance of the discussions in the journal, Table 8 provides an overview of the different keywords we grouped in the ‘leadership’ cluster. Nine different leadership styles received attention in the journal.
We also found a considerable level of variety of organizational subjects (see Table 9). We see this as an indication of the journal’s broad interest scope. Very few however have more than one count.
Whilst doing cluster analysis of keywords, we noticed that a substantial number of keywords related to specific organisational structures. Table 10 shows the variety of types of organizations that were at the centre of discussions in the journal.
The results indicate a broad range. While this can be applauded in terms of open mindedness, we note again is that very few have a count of more than two. This raises questions with regard to the level of interaction between the articles within the journal.
This paper provides an inductive analysis of the first 19 volumes of Philosophy of Management. Our aim with this article is to provide the journal’s community of authors, editors and reviewers with a mirror. To our knowledge, no such analysis had been done for the journal, at least not in such a structured way. Our findings suggest that the journal, in its first 20 years of shaping the field, has done so with considerable breadth.
Our first research question was which philosophers are having the most impact in shaping the field? Aristotle and Popper are the philosophers whose work most often forms the central focus of articles in the journal, yet they do not dominate any of the debates in the journal.
Our second research question was what philosophical questions have been asked of what aspects of management? The subfields of philosophy that are most debated in the journal are ethics and also social and political philosophy, yet epistemology follows nicely. Depending on whether philosophy of science can be included in epistemology, the area would even come out on top.
In terms of what management aspects are debated in the journal, the answer is perhaps not that straightforward. The cluster analysis suggests that the largest cluster was that of ‘management and organizational studies’ with a frequency of slightly over 16%. This could be an indication that the journal is heading towards a platform to philosophize about management scholarship rather than management practice. On the other hand, we also found that in addition to philosophical inquiry, almost 12% of articles use a case study, and nearly 6% positions their discussion within a specific geographical context. The cluster analysis further suggested that the journal’s content is very nuanced in terms of leadership types and of organizational subjects. However, if so many keywords have only one count, one may question whether there is enough interaction between articles in the journal. Does the fact that so many subjects are touched upon suggest that the journal lacks a clear direction and risks becoming a ‘catch-all’? Researching to what extent authors situate their paper vis-à-vis other papers in the journal, was out of scope for our analysis in this article. However, such analysis would be worthwhile. If the journal has as its aim to develop the field, it needs to be the platform not only of driving the debate but also where the debate happens.
We hope our analysis can trigger a discussion within that community about where it should be heading. Without wanting to have that discussion here, we nevertheless make some suggestions. A first point to consider is that we have analysed what philosophers are discussed in the journal but not which philosophers carry out the discussions. In other words, we have not analysed who the authors are of the articles. What is their background and what would be a useful way to operationalise that?
A second point to consider is what philosophers are missing from the journal’s ‘canon’. If there are any which the journal’s community believes are missing, then special issues can be devoted to these missing scholars. Special issues work to that end. For example, MacIntyre, Marx and Freeman have a good frequency as central philosophers in articles. But each had their special issue, and without these special issues, their frequency would not be substantial. Another example: whilst Heidegger or Derrida are featured as central philosophers in some of the work in the journal, other popular philosophers in critical management studies like Foucault are not. Perhaps this is how Philosophy of Management distinguishes itself from journals like Organization Studies, with the former developing scholarly discussions through Heidegger and the latter through Foucault. Further research could look into how Philosophy of Management distinguishes itself from other journals such as Organization Studies or Business Ethics Quarterly.
The same consideration could be made with regard to topics or issues. Take gender for example. In our keyword analysis, we found two articles with ‘Feminism’ and one with ‘Women in management’. Note that the published interviews with philosophers strikes a gender balance. Yet the key philosophers’ frequency analysis does not. Perhaps there is a need to have more articles that make gender a central part of the enquiry. A special issue could give that a start. Similar considerations can be made for other dimensions, for example non-Western philosophies.
In any case, it is hoped that the analysis presented here can help to further build this journal and the field in the future, and lead to a more deliberately inclusive editorial strategy. Or perhaps, as one reviewer of this article suggested, the editorial board should preserve the spirit of breaking boundaries and pushing the limits of its subject matter; too much editorial direction quickly leads to a journal that only speaks to a limited set of issues and scholars.
Happy birthday Philosophy of Management. We look forward to your third decade.
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Special thanks to The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) for its financial support to this research under the scholarship of post-doctoral research program BIDEB 2019.
Data collection for this article did not entail human interaction and only publicly available information was collected as data.
Conflict of Interest
Hakan Erkel declares no conflict of interest. Wim Vandekerckhove declares that he serves as editor-in-chief of this journal. The peer-review process was coordinated independently from the editor-in-chief by an executive editor.
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Erkal, ., Vandekerckhove, W. Twenty Years of Philosophy of Management. How has it Shaped the Field?. Philosophy of Management 20, 471–483 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40926-021-00185-x
- Philosophy of management
- Content analysis
- Inclusive scholarship