Africa Research: Role Model for Engaged Scholarship?

By Keshav Krishnamurty and Stephan Manning.

In professional academia, where you either publish or perish, finding examples of engaged scholarship is rare. By ‘engaged’ we mean experience-driven, problem-oriented, impactful. Last Friday, we had the privilege – as members of the OSC research group – to meet a community of scholars in Cambridge, MA, who care deeply about their work and impact – at the workshop “Africa in the 21st Century: Prospects for Secure Sustainable Development”. This event was organized by African PhD students of the UMB Global Governance and Human Security Program, and co-sponsored by Educational Divide Reform and the Academy of International Business US-Northeast Chapter.* This one-day workshop brought together PhD students and senior scholars of political science, business, sociology, health and environment to discuss pressing questions of peace and conflict, extraction of natural resources, and the future of business and development partnerships in Africa. Aside from showcasing the importance of research perspectives from Africa and the Global South, we were intrigued by the high level of involvement of presenters with their own research. Many experienced in their own lives the very conditions – poverty, discrimination, corruption – they are now studying and trying to change. What can we – scholars and students of organizations and business – learn from them and to what extent can their research be a role model for us? Let us give some individual thoughts and raise some questions going forward…

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Lost in Translation: How Relevant is the Relevance Debate in Academia?

By Stephan Manning.

Management scholars have the habit of regularly questioning the relevance of their own research for society. For example, Jerry Davis and Steve Barley recently debated in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly whether management research should aim for novelty or truth in order to be more meaningful. Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer discuss in their recent article whether academic rigor and compliance with norms of high-status journals, or creative autonomy and variety can make management research more interesting and relevant. On the surface these questions are justified: management research is meant to be useful or have social impact, yet very little management research has any significance for practice. This is partly because practitioners do not read academic journals, and because our research agendas and methods have little to do with how managers or policy-makers make decisions. But do shifts from novelty to truth, or from rigor to variety, make any difference? In fact, is this whole debate about relevance relevant at all?

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Transforming Academia: From Silo to Vehicle for Social Change

By Stephan Manning.

There has been a lot of talk about the alienating nature of academic work. Nick Kristof argues in his recent New York Times article that academic research is increasingly irrelevant for public debates and that public intellectuals have become a dying species. Academics are increasingly driven by the pressure to publish rather than by curiosity and the need to better understand the world we live in, as Suhaib Riaz points out in his recent blog. In a nutshell, academia has become a silo in which peer recognition counts the most, whereas making a broader impact is seen as a distraction. Given the enormity of unsolved social and environmental problems facing our planet, we need to re-embed academia into society and turn it into a vehicle for social change. But how?

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