Macaulay’s (1963) “Non-contractual relations in business: a preliminary study” was ahead of its time. The article was published in a prominent place. The American Sociological Review (ASR) is one of the sociology’s two flagship journals. Still, its citations (in the ISI index) were but drips until the middle of the 1970s, and had grown only to a trickle as of the middle of the 1980s. Then, however, something happened. There was an explosion of interest in the article across the social sciences — sociology, business, economics, law and beyond. That trickle soon grew into a stream, and come the 1990s there was a river. Macaulay’s article is today among the twenty most cited articles in the history of the ASR. It was recognized by the journal’s editor in 2005 as one of its “greatest hits” (Jacobs 2005). And it was in 2010 cited more times than it had been in any year previous. This did not happen, notably, because the article somehow improved with age. While contemporary and prescient in its considerations, it is not obviously better now than it was in 1963. Rather, at least as things look from our vantage point in sociology, what changed first was the world; scholarship followed (and perhaps contributed).
Li-Wen Lin and Josh Whitford, Conflict and Collaboration in Business Organization: A Preliminary Study, Empirical And Lyrical: Revisiting The Contracts Scholarship Of Stewart Macaulay, (forthcoming 2012)