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Accounting for the dark side of corporate history: Organizational culture perspectives and the Bertelsmann case

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Procter


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Organizations are increasingly being called to account for their history. In particular, German and non-German companies have been called to account for their relations with the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. Organizations are not only accountable for past activity, but also for previous, often misleading, historical accounts of their behaviour. Thus we are interested in how an organization deals with historical accounts of its past, and how this reflects its culture. Therefore we draw upon concepts from organizational culture studies, and specifically Martin's three perspectives of culture as integration, differentiation, and fragmentation. We take the illustrative case of Bertelsmann, the German publishing company. Revelations of its record under the Nazis, when it published anti-semitic literature, were brought to light by Hersch Fischler in 1998, when Bertelsmann was in the process of taking over Random House. These revelations jarred with the company's image of corporate social responsibility and undermined the company legend, which alleged that it had an impeccable record, and had even been closed down for opposing the Nazis. The Bertelsmann case highlights the dilemmas involved in organizations invoking their past. Debate over the Holocaust has highlighted the dilemmas of truth and relativism in representations of history. The Bertelsmann case highlights similar dilemmas for organizational culture perspectives. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Booth C, Clark P, Delahaye A, Procter S, Rowlinson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Critical Perspectives on Accounting

Year: 2007

Volume: 18

Issue: 6

Pages: 625-644

ISSN (print): 1045-2354

ISSN (electronic): 1095-9955

Publisher: Academic Press


DOI: 10.1016/


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