This note states briefly the mission of the journal. It then gives detail and elaboration.
Human Relations addresses the social relations in and around work – across the levels of immediate personal relationships, organizations and their processes, and wider political and economic systems. It is international in its scope. The journal is grounded in critical social science that challenges orthodoxies and questions current organizational structures and practices. It promotes interdisciplinarity through studies that draw on more than one discipline or that engage critically across disciplinary traditions. It deploys any social science method used in a rigorous manner. It promotes studies that draw out the practical implications of their results in a manner consistent with critical engagement with practice as opposed to advice to particular actors or groups.
Process and background
The mission statement has been produced as part of the journal’s self-reflection about its aims and purpose, inspired in part by its 70th anniversary in 2017. The first issue in 1947 declared the focus to be ‘community problems’ and ‘interpersonal and inter-group tensions’, together with studies developing theory relevant to these topics. The present notes are the latest iteration (October 2019). A central part of the evolution was the tightening of the focus to work, the workplace, and linkages between this sphere and other aspects of society. The phrase ‘the social relations in and around work’ was developed in 2006 to summarize the focus. This remains the key interest.
The notes have been prepared after debate in the editorial team and discussion with the Editorial Board, our publishers, and the journal’s Editorial Management Committee. This last body oversees the strategy of the journal, with membership comprising representatives of the Tavistock Institute (which co-founded the journal in 1947 and currently owns it) and the publishers, together with an independent Chair and the Editor-in-Chief. It is none the less impossible to define exactly the identity of a journal in a way that everyone would accept. Nor is it possible to specify a precise boundary between the journal and the many journals that address work, employment, and organization studies. The features highlighted here are thus indicative rather than absolute.
The journal retains its specific focus on ‘the social relations in and around work’. The boundaries of ‘work’ have been extended massively in the past 20 years to embrace voluntary work, work in the home, the ‘informal economy’ and many other types of economic activity. We make no definitive statement as to what constitutes work. But we focus on social relationships around the production of goods and services in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors; these relationships generally occur within organizations with hierarchies of power and authority. We include relationships with non-human ‘actants’ such as technologies.
The journal thus addresses all three levels of the ‘micro’ (immediate relationships between people), the ‘meso’ (organizations and their rules, processes and structures) and the ‘macro’ (the wider economy and society, which embraces the global economy and the systemic nature of capitalism and other modes of production). We generally exclude analyses that are wholly or mainly about the last level, for example, the development of a global production system or educational systems. We also tend to exclude accounts of organization as an overall social process, as distinct from an analysis of the linkages between such a process and relationships in the sphere of work.
We address in particular linkages between work and the wider political, social and economic context in which work is embedded, for example, relationships between paid work and the family and the links between work and equality and inequality. ‘Social relations’ thus mean more than direct relationships among people. They include the interplay between ‘structure’ and ‘action’ and the ways in which direct social relationships produce, reproduce, and shape influences that are part of the structure of a situation. The environment of an organization, for example, is not an asocial thing but is itself socially shaped, and its influences are also socially defined. We aim to sustain analyses that build on such perspectives.
The journal welcomes contributions from all social science disciplines. We are in particular an interdisciplinary social science journal, sitting between generalist journals in such fields as management studies and those with a specific disciplinary focus. The journal is grounded in ‘critical social science’ in a broad sense. It is not limited to Critical Theory or Critical Management Studies, for example, but takes ‘critical’ to embrace any approach that challenges orthodoxies, aims to understand the processes generating things that are taken for granted and the reasons why they are taken for granted or poses questions about current ways in which organizations are structured and managed.
The journal aims to contribute to the understanding of the contemporary world of work by making linkages across disciplines while recognizing the difficulty of this task. In the first issue, the strapline ‘towards the integration of the social sciences’ was adopted. This strapline was removed in the 1990s on the grounds that integration was hard to define and that progress towards it even harder to demonstrate, to say nothing of arguments that social science may need to develop distinctive sub-fields and specialisms. While recognizing that the initial ambition may have been grand and even naive, we assert the value of disciplines speaking to each other and of drawing on different disciplines to address substantive issues in the world of work.
The journal’s approach to practice reflects the intersection of two things: the commitment to critically informed scholarship; and the journal’s long tradition, linked with its roots in the Tavistock Institute, of a concern with improving working lives and even with emancipation. The essence of the idea was captured by one of the journal’s, and institute’s, founding figures, Elliott Jaques. He led the famous Glacier research project, which began as a piece of scientific inquiry. After the funded research ended, he was hired by the firm as a consultant. Reflecting on his approach (in issue 4, 1964, of the journal) he stressed that his method was not to offer advice to do a particular thing, but rather make comments such as: ‘the following factors may help to resolve this issue’ or ‘there seems to be an inconsistency between current proposals and previous decisions’. We thus expect papers, where this is appropriate, to reflect on the implications for practice of their results. Discussion of the ethical and other issues of how research can engage with practice is also a feature of the journal. Specific recommendations as to what a particular actor or group might do are generally outside the journal’s remit.
The journal welcomes contributions using any social science method or mixture of methods, as long as authors apply the methods and transparency of those methods rigorously in line with best practice in that field, enabling the highest-quality of data to be used. In line with our focus on actual social relationships in the world of work, we do not publish work based wholly or mainly on lab experiments, or drawing mainly on student samples, but will consider these research designs in concert with field data. We appreciate the power of field-based experiments/quasi-experiments with employees that combine the potential for strong inference with ecological validity not often found in the lab. Similarly, methods that drift away from the ‘social relations [emphasis added] in and around work’ focus (e.g., autoethnography) are discouraged.
In relation to survey-based papers we endorse the movement away from single-respondent and cross-section designs towards multi-level and/or longitudinal studies. In the main, we do not endorse the use of cross-section designs for models implying a process (“mediated models”) that unfold over time or as indirect evidence of mechanisms implying causality. Cross-section designs may, however, be entirely appropriate in circumstances including: the novelty of the research in terms of topic or empirical context; limitations on repeated research access to understudied, difficult-to-study, or marginalized populations; the availability of large, possibly even census-like samples (e.g., panel designs from working populations); and supplementary empirical evidence that suggests or allows causal inferences to be sustained. Papers using all kinds of qualitative methods are encouraged. They are expected to offer appropriate kinds of generalization, for example, by locating case studies within extant research and discussing the reasons why the case was as it was. While there may be differing views on adequate sample size (e.g., number of interviews conducted) for qualitative data depending on disciplinary approach, it is imperative to provide an explicit rationale for the sampling strategy and analytical approach based on methodological norms in a particular field of study.
Empirical syntheses of a particular relationship (e.g., meta-analyses) may be a helpful way of taking stock and moving a field forward by systematic integration of existing research.
The journal’s remit is not centrally research methods as such. Critical analyses of research methodology in the broad sense of the epistemology of research and the politics of the research process are encouraged. Solely developing or validating research instruments will not generally fit our remit, but may be considered an important part of research papers in which creation of instruments occurs alongside model testing using those instruments.
The journal has an international focus. It welcomes studies of and contributions from any region of the world.