Paradoxical petard

January 14, 2010

Your reports on the challenges to business schools and their curriculums to become more ethically and critically minded highlight the way in which the nature of management theory has been misunderstood in business, political and academic circles ("The bottom line is not enough: how business schools fail their students"; "What's intelligence got to do with modern management?", 7 January).

Management is a bastard subject, but no less worthy of study because of that. It draws on psychology, sociology, history, economics and literary theory, to name but a few, making it a rich interdisciplinary subject. The trouble is that unwittingly or otherwise it has become both perpetrator and victim of its paradoxical nature.

Management textbooks offer the "right" way of solving organisational problems, while scholarly articles, by problematising the subject, demonstrate its complexity and the elusiveness of solutions.

MBA students want to know how to manage ambiguity: "Is it this way or that?" they ask. Politics lecturers are not asked to run the country and English literature lecturers aren't expected to write novels, but management lecturers, in order to justify themselves to the relevance and employability agenda of their political and academic mistresses, are supposed to give their students the answers.

We should trust the power of critical inquiry into knowledge and truth, not seek to peddle fads and techniques and expect business schools simply to teach "how to run businesses" or "how to make money".

John M. Phillips, Hope Business School, Liverpool Hope University.

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