Historian studying meeting cultures through minutes

Hello to all and thanks to Christoph for the invitation to join this research forum!

My name is Katarina Friberg I am a historian, presently affiliated to the Stockholm Centre for Civil Society Studies, at the Stockholm School of Economics.

I developed an interest in the study of meetings when I did my doctoral project. It was a comparative study of the organisation of consumer co-operation in Britain and Sweden, with two retail societies as cases. The main source material was minutes. Besides being interested in the content of these minutes I also studied them to learn about the structure of meetings and the choreography of the same. I wanted to find out in which ways members influenced their business. One significant way in which they did was the reproduction of the society through their participation in meetings. In Britain, they did it through the mobilization of voters, skilfully manoeuvring proposals to be passed or obstructing proposals. In Sweden, they did so as advisors to the management and keen participants in educational and social forums.

When I heard about meeting research, which I had not come across before, I reflected upon the methodological approach to study member meetings through minutes. Classically scholars, at least historians, have focused on the content of minutes, democratic governance models, and number of participants. I combined the study of the democratic structure (governance model plus rhythm of meetings); the proceedings of member meetings as stated by the statute; and the meeting culture. When I knew the material well and had also participated in member meetings of retail societies in present time, I managed to decipher the meeting cultures of the two societies and discovered two different organisational logics from which more general conclusions about the nature of democratically governed businesses could be drawn.

Look forward to join in discussion and to learn more about this research field which is new to me.

1 Like

I guess one way of testing the limitations of this approach would be to take the minutes of a contemporary body, study these (and only these) and write an account of the meeting culture of that body based on that material. Then, attend a couple of meetings of that body and assess the accuracy of the minutes based account…

BTW, here is another study that is based on meeting minutes:

Furåker, Bengt & Seldén, Kristina L. (2015): Patterns of speech activity at ETUC Executive Committee meetings, 2005–2012. European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 22, No. 1. pp. 57–71. DOI: 10.1177/0959680115600107

I should add that minutes from member meetings was my main material, not the only. As in most historical studies in modern history there is too much material (newspaper articles, correspondence, pictures, buildings, interviews etc). For me minutes provided a structure in the research process, and additional material provided clues as to why a certain topic was central, and context to follow up decisions at meetings.
But an experiment like you suggest Christoph would be interesting. What ends up in minutes and what does not? And what can it say about meeting cultures? Efficiency favours short minutes providing an overview, participants busy with the re-production of their society favours clarity about who said what and when. Historically, we have gone from minutes including discussions to minutes summing up what took place.
I should have a look at Furåker and Seldén, thanks. When searching for similar research I found the article below:
Miriam Schwartz-Ziv, and Michael S. Weisbach. “What do boards really do? Evidence from minutes of board meetings”, in Journal of Financial Economics Volume 108, Issue 2, May 2013, Pages 349-366.