4th Practical Criticism in the Managerial Social Sciences Conference
Calàs and Smircich (1991) once famously observed that the study of management and organizations was marked by a persistent sense of stagnation and loss of direction at the level of its controlling élites, and of oppression at the level of its emerging scholars. Perceiving a connection between the two, their solution was to deconstruct the work of leading scholars in their field as a means of destabilizing an authoritative order which they believed to be stifling the possibilities of innovation. Two decades on, the authoritarian tendencies of which Calàs and Smircich complained have now developed within ‘critical’ scholarship as well as the mainstream against which their insurrectionary strictures were directed. In both cases, the ‘quality’ of research has come to mean conformity to a pattern defined by alliances centred on various authority-figures, to whose ‘classic’ writings homage must be paid as a condition of being taken seriously.
This is not unexpected. The problem, we suggest, is not one which can be solved by a one-off intellectual revolution of the kind Calàs and Smircich proposed. There are persistent tendencies towards closure in any formally open field of enquiry and these occur in the social structure of academia itself. Where careers are made on the basis of ‘becoming an authority’, that authority is first attained through the nurture and affirmation of an authority which already exists. Once achieved it is maintained and defended by the various instruments of what Bourdieu called ‘professorial power’. So it is that examinerships, appointments committees, editorships and the advisory boards of grant-awarding bodies become means of infiltrating loyalists into positions of influence. Consolidated through the resulting networks, professorial power is in a strong position to suppress any interrogation of its academic basis. Largely insulated from criticism, the authority figures within particular academic regimes begin to act as a self-confirming and self-perpetuating élite. The standing of this elite is attested by a mass of publications certified by a refereeing process that simultaneously refracts and protects the authority of which it is an expression.
Observing similar processes of collusion around the manufacture of reputations in the literary metropolis of the 1920s, the critic F.R. Leavis coined the evocative term ‘flank-rubbing’. In this respect, the Conferences of Practical Criticism have been directed against flank-rubbing in the social sciences of management. Their principle means of doing so have been modelled on the close-reading techniques of practical criticism pioneered by Leavis’ mentor I.A. Richards. Particular works by prominent academics are subject to a detailed examination in respect of the arguments they make, the evidence and the representations of previous scholarship to which they appeal, and the validity of their claims to have made important and original contributions. Academic work, particularly that which claims to set the standard in a field, should be closely and critically read and scholars should be encouraged to carry out such readings, irrespective of the reputations involved. What needs to be regularly and routinely scrutinised, in other words, are the standards of scholarship that are being implicitly promulgated through the influence-networks of managerial social science.
Three Conferences of Practical Criticism in the Social Sciences of Management have so far been held along these lines at the University of Leicester School of Management in 2008, 2009 and 2010. For the fourth conference at Lund University, we invite contributions that aim at opening up the process of academic production to critical scrutiny.
In particular, we welcome extended close readings of seminal management texts in the field, which may include books, articles or chapters.
Submission and selection of papers
Please submit abstracts of no more than 500 words by 31 January 2013 to any or all of the organizing committee (see below). Successful submissions will be notified by 28 February 2013.
Peter Armstrong University of Leicester p.armstrong AT le.ac.uk
Nick Butler Lund University/University of St Andrews nick.butler AT fek.lu.se
Geoff Lightfoot University of Leicester g.lightfoot AT le.ac.uk
Sverre Spoelstra Lund University sverre.spoelstra AT fek.lu.se
Selections from previous conferences have been published in a special issue of ephemera: theory and politics in organization (2008) and in ‘The Leading Journal in the Field’: Destabilizing Authority in the Social Sciences of Management, edited by Peter Armstrong and Geoff Lightfoot (2010). It is envisaged that a selection of papers from the fourth conference will be disseminated through similar channels.
Armstrong, Peter and Geoff Lightfoot (eds.) (2010) 'The Leading Journal in the Field': Destabilizing Authority in the Social Sciences of Management. London. Mayfly.
Armstrong, Peter and Simon Lilley (eds.) (2008) Practical Criticism and the Social Sciences of Management, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 8(4).
Calàs, Marta B. and Linda Smircich (1991) Voicing Seduction to Silence Leadership, Organization Studies, 12(4): 567-602.
Merton, Robert K. (1973) The Normative Structure of Science. In The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago. University of Chicago Press: 267-280.