36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
The value of academic research for society has been increasingly questioned. The social science research is often seen
as detached from reality and criticized for being meaningless and esoteric. Indeed, as Yiannis Gabriel noted in his sub-plenary
talk at the 33rd EGOS Colloquium in Copenhagen in 2017: “Never before in the history of mankind have so many written so much
with so little effect or benefit to so few.” (Alvesson et al., 2017). Voices from within and beyond academia ask whether organization
and management research is at all relevant for managers, and if it can help tackle persistent societal challenges (Adler et
al., 2007; George et al., 2016), while others identify its harmful effects on society to date (Ghoshal, 2005; Walsh et al.,
2003). Policy makers and public funders of research increasingly demand that we explain how research influences society in
measurable ways (see, for instance UK “research impact assessment”, https://www.ref.ac.uk/news/pls-to-facilitate-free-electronic-access-to-publications-for-ref-2021/).
Yet, social sciences emerged out of the desire to better understand the world we live in to be able to transform it. Among many important works from various social sciences achieving such historical breakthrough are Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Emile Durkheim’s Suicide, John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money to name a few. The tradition of Marxist thought, and the critical theories that built on these thoughts, were deeply concerned with the relation of theory and praxis, holding that science must be aware of its own conditions of production and understand itself as entwined with its objects of study. More recent examples of impactful work which are also closer to our field are Michael Burrawoy’s (1982) Manufacturing Consent or Judith Butler’s (1990) Gender Trouble. These do not only provide examples of an engaged scholarship but of scholars engaged in activist and political work.
The 36th EGOS Ccolloquium engages with the role and responsibility of organizations in society. This offers an opportunity to re-envision and embrace the potential of our scholarship to address important social issues such inequality, migration, climate change and the consequences of environmental degradation. Electing research topics that focus on the social and environmental responsibilities of organizations is one way of enhancing academic responsibility towards society. Our choices regarding the fields we study has epistemological, but also political, consequences (Jaumier et al., 2019; Schwarz et al., 2017). The type of work we do as scholars is not just intellectual, being intricately interwoven with who we are, but also has political consequences in terms of our identities and career. This is particularly relevant for critical and reflexive scholars struggling with their sense of self in relation to the wider academy (Cunliffe, 2018). On a practical level, this could mean that being an academic implies occupying a minoritarian position (Fotaki & Harding, 2018, chapter 6), or as Arundathi Roy aptly puts it: “the point of the writer is to be unpopular” (Roy, 2018). How else can we stand a chance to influence important debates if not by using our symbolic capital, however small it might be, to speak truth to power?
However, the focus of research itself might not be sufficient to ensure that scholars fully claim their role and utilize their ability to contribute to society by becoming part of the solution to the multiple challenges we face. For such a meaningful contribution to emerge, it not only matters who we are and what we do for ourselves as researchers (although this is not in itself unimportant), but rather how our research affects and what it does in relation to others (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2009) or how can we appropriate the system for meaningful work (Stein et al., 2018). Hence, there are myriad ways of enhancing meaningfulness in academia. As individual academics, we find meaning in our everyday work by influencing the lives of others for the better (Fotaki, 2019). Teaching is one of the ways that meaningfulness may be enhanced (Fotaki & Prasad, 2014). Public speaking (Fotaki, 2017), writing widely read blogs, commenting on important issues influencing people’s lives such as Chris Grey’s Brexit blog (http://chrisgreybrexitblog.blogspot.com) are other ways.
However, the link with research is less clear. While critical scholarship has raised consciousness about the dark sides of power and domination in society, it has also raised the possibility of cynicism, a hopelessness in which critique has “run out of steam” (Latour, 2004). Creating knowledge through research and publication for peers is clearly a source of meaningfulness in academic lives. As a mode of academic production, however, the current organizing of research through journal publications, largely intermediated by for-profit companies, is deeply problematic (Bazin et al., 2018). Publication pressures focus on an ever-narrowing set of elite academic outlets – mostly English-medium, geographically localized and prohibitively pay-walled – rendering invisible the wider spectrum of academic discussion. Journal publication demands may produce disincentives for other forms of scholarship such as books, or other academic activities that are both impactful and rewarding, such as mentoring.
These questions around responsibility (Tsui, 2013) and meaningfulness of our academic endeavor are not new to academia, organization studies (Courpasson, 2013; Michaelson et al., 2014) or the EGOS Colloquia. There exists a long history of debates about industrialization of academic education and research (Mingers & Willmott, 2014), the dumbing down and the erosion of ethos of critical scholarship (Butler & Spoelstra, 2014). The ability of such a skewed system – driven solely by “closed shop” model of academic publications – to achieve any positive impact on society is limited. This may explain recurrent calls for a greater collective endeavor to engage politically with the world outside of academia (Mountz et al., 2015). However, contemporary organization of teaching for getting a job, and for-profit “practice-oriented” literature also present serious problems, while “impact” is often abused for corporate gain. The sub-theme aims to foster this latent energy yielding both novel ways to think about meaningfulness in academic work, and innovative proposals for enacting meaningful academic life in practice. We would like to call for a critical but constructive discussion on how to achieve academic contribution that matters. We expect that this discussion will cover the individual, as well as the organizational and institutional components of the academic work.
We are interested in new forms of critique around the relationship between academic work and the social good. We are especially interested in showcasing innovative ways of conducting research that negotiate in practice the institutional requirements of academia while ensuring academic responsibility towards society. Further, we welcome innovative conceptions of academic “impact” that move beyond corporate profits to consider how theory and praxis can be integrated to promote deep social change. Papers that show how academia can promote conscious action, remaining critical while not “running out of steam”, are welcome. More broadly, we would like to open up a discussion on the meaningful scholarship and would hope to hear from scholars, academic activists, bloggers and practitioners and those who operate at their various intersections.
Potential but not exclusive questions and topics that could be addressed include:
Critical reflections on the meaningful academic life
Critical reflections on the future of management education and publishing (including open access, collective publishing, blogs and others)
Intersections between academia and activist work
Different ways of making interventions in public debates
New ways of conceptualizing the research-practice gap, such as process views, practice view, feminist views and performative actions, etc.
Showcases of successful local experience, and critical analysis of their conditions for success
Historical and contextual accounts of the role of academia in society