Critical Hermeneutics: Deriving Meaning from Historical Sources

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This paper introduces critical hermeneutic methods for interpreting historical sources in management and organizational research. Capitalizing on the “temporal distance” between past and present that history affords, hermeneutic interpretation allows researchers to critique their existing theoretical constructs and explanations of phenomena and produce new ones. Drawing on Ricoeur (1976, 1991), I identify three stages of hermeneutic interpretation, which involves contextualizing a historical text in a different way. First, preconception recognizes that our initial readings of a text will be shaped by the prejudgments we hold based on our theoretical and cultural perceptions in the present. Second, distanciation involves identifying themes in the text that contradict or complicate these preconceptions and tracing these themes out to related primary and secondary sources as a way to derive alternative meanings and a new narrative. Finally, appropriation involves drawing out implications for management and organization theory by generalizing key claims of the alternative narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Historical Methods for Management
EditorsStephanie Decker, William M. Foster, Elena Giovannoni
Number of pages14
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Publication date2023
ISBN (Print)9781800883734
ISBN (Electronic)9781800883741
Publication statusPublished - 2023
SeriesHandbooks of Research Methods in Management series


  • Historical methods
  • Temporal distance
  • Interpretation
  • Hermeneutics
  • Contextualization

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