what you can learn from google’s book archive

Google’s latest toy allows you to search for words or phrases in its vast library of books. It will then graph the trend of the occurrences of those words over time. It’s super fun.

I created this graph searching for the following terms: organizational theory, management theory, and administrative science. As you can see, until the late 1950s “administrative science” was the most common term. “Management theory” or “organizational theory” didn’t even register until the 1940s. Around the mid-50s these latter two began to rise at roughly the same rate, surpassing “administrative science” in the late 1950s. It’s also striking that both seem to be declining now.

One reason for their decline may be the rapid rise of strategic management. If you add the term, “strategic management,” to the graph you get a really striking story. Strategic management didn’t seem to exist until the mid-70’s, but it experienced a rapid surge in popularity, quickly taking over management and organizational theory. It now dwarfs the other three in popularity. The frequency of “strategic management” is roughly twice that of “management theory,” the next most popular term.

This isn’t a very formal test, but the data from Google books seems to confirm the intuition that strategic management as a subfield of management theory has become a dominant way of thinking about organizations (although there is plenty of room for heterogeneity, like you see on For more on this topic, see this post about strategic management as a social movement.


Written by brayden king

December 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm

21 Responses

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  1. This is amazing! I could use this all day long as a fantastic procrastination tool! My new reason to stay in academics:

    Get more mentions in books. Done.



    December 16, 2010 at 8:59 pm

  2. Budding trendologists should be careful about the case-sensitivity of keywords. Compare the disciplinary search with lower-case vs capitalized terms. Rank order is mostly the same, but the trendlines differ a lot in their detail.



    December 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm

  3. Here’s a nice one: Parsons, Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu.



    December 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

  4. Here’s one for you contemporary org. theory nuts.


    brayden king

    December 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

  5. i am sure we would see similar trends if we coded assistant professor job postings in business schools…



    December 16, 2010 at 10:04 pm

  6. the derrida line is double the height of the bourdieu line? now i’m gonna be depressed for the rest of the day.



    December 16, 2010 at 10:15 pm

  7. garjoh

    December 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm

  8. To be fair, Jesus fares better when he is capitalized.



    December 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm

  9. Now, add a fifth term and it’s even more striking – project management. Projects are the most ubiquitous organizational form today.


    orgtheory reader

    December 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

  10. orgtheory reader: Interesting point (David: is that you?). I’ve wanted to put in a post on projects — will do sometime soon.



    December 17, 2010 at 2:23 am

  11. Hi Teppo, I don’t know who you mean by David, is it David Stark? I am a graduate student and he is my adviser. My dissertation is on projects, so a very easy point for me to make.


    orgtheory reader

    December 17, 2010 at 2:49 am

  12. A very similar resource is JStor’s Data For Researchers ( You can restrict by subfield, year, etc.


    Dan Hirschman

    December 17, 2010 at 3:37 am

  13. After playing around with this thing for a little while, it seems to me like the number of academic texts in Google’s sample is slowly dropping ever since 1998 or so. A whole bunch of unrelated academic terms decline in the last decade (, while randomly taken nouns do not. Anyone else get this impression?

    (Or is that an accurate depiction of the state of academic publishing?)


    Andrei Boutyline

    December 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

  14. […] for different keywords from Google Books. A lot of people have been using it to look at the rise and fall of different theoretical or management trends. It occurred to me that you could also use this to do a quantitative replication of Ari […]


  15. theory,method gives a not very surprising result. Interesting “event” tho from about 1860 to 1875, where method seems to reverse its declining fortunes by hitching itself to the rise of theory. Method drops off around 1960 (after rising much faster than theory and holding steady since the 1920s) and, very predictably, theory overtakes method in mid-1960s.

    I agree with Andrei above about the recent trends. It just looks like the corpus is smaller in the database.



    December 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

  16. […] su archivo de libros y compararla según el idioma de la publicación (más ejemplos en sociología aquí). En una primera y general aproximación, si comparamos las menciones a Talcott Parsons, Jürgen […]


  17. Filtering by language, it allows to compare the presence of authors in different regions. For example: Parsons, Luhmann, Habermas, Bourdieu. On the downside, it counted every mention to any Parsons. Anyways, I find the difference impressive.


    Fernando Valenzuela

    December 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm

  18. […] su archivo de libros y compararla según el idioma de la publicación (más ejemplos en sociología aquí). En una primera y general aproximación, si comparamos las menciones a Talcott Parsons, Jürgen […]


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