The Becoming of the Past: an Exploration of Temporal Tension Enactments in a Historical Café
40 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 14, 2021
The uses of the past are the subject of a stream of research at the intersection of organization studies and business history, which highlights the importance of the past as a “tool” for organizations, but also acknowledges its potential being an “arena of struggle” among organizational actors. However, most contributions in this literature study the uses of the past quite statically, at a given moment in time. Adopting a temporality perspective - i.e. considering the past as constantly (re)negotiated in the present and in relation with the future -, and employing a retrospective study based on historical sources, this paper aims at understanding how the past becomes past and how it informs future outcomes. The empirical case used to explore this research question is the Caffè Pedrocchi, an historical café in Padua (Italy), which the founder’s heir left as a bequest to the Municipality, explicitly positing a past-future tension in the use of its past. We found out that in the history of the café there was no such thing as “the” past to be projected for the future, but four main forms that the same café’s past took (legacy, burden, constraint, enabler), varying along two dimensions: the past’s positive/negative value, and the active/passive role assigned to it. Also, every form of the past came with at least two possible future outcomes: continuous future (the maintenance of the status quo) and discontinuous future, occurring whenever some actor intervened influentially, also creating a new form of the past. By disentangling the role of the past beyond being just a tool or an arena of struggle, we provide a processual view on how the past shifts its forms according to the actors’ interventions and future outcomes.
Keywords: uses of the past, past-future tensions, historical café
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