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“knowledge,” knowledge, and veriphobia

Teppo

Santiago Iniguez kindly responds at deanstalk.net to previous posts (go here for an update) in a write-up titled “The multifarious sources of management knowledge.” The epistemological and philosophy of science-related matters underlying this discussion are critical, though to delve into them would require a book-length expose. A few, quick, more casual lines nonetheless in response.

Undoubtedly there are different types of knowledge as suggested by Santiago’s post. But, inherently choices need to be made as to which type of knowledge should be priviledged, particularly in a b-school and university environment. Do we value scholarship (and teaching) that is theory-driven, or teaching (scholarship?) by executives that is experience-driven? The AACSB proposal (see this post) which gave this discussion its impetus emphasizes (though granted, out of necessity) a certain type of knowledge. I simply believe that we need to be cognisant of unintended consequences. I think there is something quite unique about research done by academics and thus I disagree with Santiago’s statement that “those practitioners that undergo the necessary preparation for teaching are at least as good potential docents as academics.” In that case, why not simply have consulting firms or inhouse executives fill the the b-school space if what an executive teaches can be equated with academic scholarship? Why get a Ph.D.?

To briefly react to some of the underlying epistemological concerns – knowledge is much more than a Wittgensteinian language game, with its associated presumption of the social construction of knowledge. Knowledge-building and research is about a systematic effort to explain, understand, and predict – driven by careful theory-building and data collection. Perhaps executives build theory in their own way, but, their institutional mandate and training scarcely prepares or requires this type of activity of them. Furthermore, executive teaching may be biased (again, it draws heavily on experience and war stories), atheoretical, or plain wrong (granted, there are academics of all stripes as well) – a recent Academy of Management Journal article in fact persuasively make this case. Universities have a unique mission, b-schools included. Problematizing, as suggested by the use of quotation marks, “research” or “knowledge” in postmodern fashion only lends itself to a more general relativization of knowledge itself – nothing can be priviledged, there is no truth. This type of effort seems self-destructive, or to be more provocative (borrowing from Alvin Goldman), “veriphobic.”

Overall, I think we are in broad agreement that executive and adjunct teaching can play a role in b-schools, and that academic research needs to be “grounded” in practical considerations. The question simply is to what extent – an important balancing act.

Written by teppo

July 6, 2006 at 5:55 pm

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