Tuesday, 21 July 2015

How left wing academics are killing the business school


For many years business schools and management faculties were the bastions of sanity in academia. Places where such concerns as robust research methods, consistency and applied knowledge were more important that ideology or the revolution. Business schools were, so to speak, the engineers or social science - sensible places producing graduates who could actually contribute something to the world once they left the groves of academe.

Sadly this is now under threat. A thing called 'critical management studies' has grown like a sort of parasitical maggot within the body of the business school:

As an umbrella research orientation CMS embraces various theoretical traditions including anarchism, critical theory, feminism, Marxism, post-structuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism and psychoanalysis, representing a pluralistic, multidisciplinary movement. Having been associated mainly with business/management schools in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia earlier, CMS as a research approach has presence all over the world and is not confined to management/business schools. This suggests that CMS is an approach to doing research rather than a school or tradition, and there is no particular 'right' way of doing CMS.

I am reluctant to do anything more than just peek at this hideous growth upon an otherwise sensible part of our higher education system. But that peek reveals the usual - and more-or-less incomprehensible - left wing wibble. We encounter a world focused on 'alternatives to growth driven neo-liberal capitalism', on 'critical performativity' (whatever that might be), and on 'challenging the...power structures in the university workspace'.

And in doing this work, such ordinary stuff as scientific method and detached, dispassionate research are to be dismissed:

We do not believe that good social science is always detached, objective and quantitative in its approach. Nor do we think it should routinely borrow from the natural sciences in its investigations. Instead we favour the use of a wide range of methods in attempting to understand and unpick management and organisations. This is why the School of Management at the University of Leicester houses the largest body of heterodox researchers across the core disciplines of accounting and finance, marketing and organisation studies in the world.

We are now beginning to churn out from university management schools the same deluded, evidence-light, ideological research (I call it research because I'm kind) has we've seen for generations from sociology and social studies departments. This isn't to say that left wing views have no place in the study of business and management but rather to observe that the application of that ideology seems to trump any reasoned or rational consideration of the things being taught and studied.

What we see here is the continued debasement of academia as the unchallenged hegemony of 'progressive' delusions gradually infects the whole body of research. To be fair there's a way to go before the UK's business schools are so corrupted by the sort of ideological non-research those unfortunate students at Leicester are suffering. But, just as there is no space for any challenge to this progressive hegemony across much of the social sciences, it seems that it will be only a matter of time before the BSc in management becomes just as uselessly impractical as the typical BA in Sociology or Social Policy is today.

The most frightening thing about the progressive left isn't just that it is out of touch with reality but that its academics reject structured, quantitative research methods (mostly because - as I was told by my research methods lecturer - 'maths is hard') in favour of the recycling of shared opinions and the gradual translation, without any real evidence, of those opinions into a 'research' corpus. Worse, if organisations are recruiting new managers infected by this 'business is bad' ideology, then instead of new and improving techniques in business adminsitration we will see the corruption of our businesses from within.


asquith said...

In fairness, you can make quite good money these days out of being one of the "oppressed" of Twitter and Tumblr. So it's only fair really that people get proper training in how to get upper-middle-class jobs out of axe-grinding and write books about their "oppression" and the "privilege" of others.

It's a serious point really. These academic "disciplines" might not be useful, but neither are a lot of well-respected professions, and the professionally outraged have all got bread on the table at the end of the day.

Curmudgeon said...

Given that much of business schools' funding comes from actual businesses, hopefully they will cotton on and tell them to stop this nonsense.

In general, they are engaged in training people to be managers, not in the academic study of management.

I believe it is possible to study medicine as a purely academic discipline without actually training to be a doctor, although I'm not sure what career path that leads to.