trees, babies, war and management research


The most provocative thing I read yesterday comes from an Academy of Management Journal commentary titled “Developing a field with more soul” written by Paul Adler and John Jermier. In short, the authors argue that management research should give broader consideration to public policy concerns, general welfare, the poor, and broader sets of stakeholders. And, management research should recognize that all of it has embedded epistemological and political assumptions, and, “standpoints” (a la UCLA’s Sandra Harding).

By way of example of the above, here’s a short excerpt on the environment:

[A recent management study on the natural environment] found rapid increases in the absolute numbers of scholarly articles published on environment-related topics. However, even for the most recent period 2000-2004, articles on environmental topics constituted only a tiny proportion of the total published — about one percent. This same tiny ratio also characterized the 15 top-rated management and organizational studies journals for the years 1996-2004. (Ratings of the journals were based on the citation impact quotient in the Social Science Citation Index for the year 2004.) This means that for every study on an environment-related topic in the management and organizations literature, there are 99 others that do not significantly address environmental issues. In light of the rapid and continual deterioration of the health of our ecosystems, this pattern again raises questions about the field’s research priorities and about whom and what interests are served by this emphasis. (pre-print version here)

But, couldn’t we just substitute “babies” for “the environment”? Or, puppies? Or – aids, disease, hunger, terror, declining birth rates, war, and so forth? What percentage of management research should be dedicated by our journals to each of these areas – 1, 2, 5, 10, 50%? I am of course exaggerating, but you see the point.

Don’t we all have our favorite stakeholders and causes? I think this line of argument, in part, illustrates the problems of stakeholder “theory” (see this previous post).

Somehow the whole article (even though I most certainly agree with the general matter of the importance of underlying epistemological assumptions in any scholarly work) rubbed me the wrong way. Also, while I think org theory and management scholars perhaps have some insights to contribute to these areas, it seems a bit arrogant for us to tackle world hunger, and other matters; particularly where many of the above questions are explicitly at the core (training and research-wise) of other disciplines. More importantly, the above also, of course, presumes a very strong ideological agenda; one however which may not be shared by everyone, specifically in terms of what should be addressed and why.

Written by teppo

July 19, 2006 at 9:43 pm

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