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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Dialogue: Can Business Scholars Make a Difference in the World?

By Stephan Manning.

How relevant is academic research for practice? How much real-world impact can or should scholars generate? What is the value of abstract theory especially in a highly practical field such as business and management? For years, scholars and journalists have debated these questions. Examples include articles by Nick Kristof in the New York Times on the need for more #engagedacademics, and by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker on the ‘academic nature’ of academic writing. We also debated the under-utilized potential of academia in driving social change in a previous post on the OSC blog. In fact, there is a whole sub-discipline within management research entirely dedicated to better understanding the interaction between academia and practice. But what has been the outcome of this? Is research today more relevant than in the past? Can business scholars make a difference in the world?

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