Embedded in the culture

April 2, 2015

Dennis Tourish says, in relation to business school research, that “the triviality that pervades much of the scholarship in our field…takes the status quo for granted, asks few critical questions of business practice, and largely ignores the most important issues facing business and society” (“Rank irrelevance”, Opinion, 19 March).

Having disinterestedly copy-edited well over 100 business school research papers over the years while working in a highly ranked business school, I offer some thoughts on possible reasons why such research might ignore “the most important issues”, in a spirit that Tourish might approve of.

Career-building in the modern university requires ambitious academics to publish in journals, which usually entails a focus on prior publications learned via doctoral study and research, resulting in a commitment to the body of literature that supports their area of specialisation.

Grounding research in a body of literature – in the social sciences – ensures that editors and peer reviewers can justify the acceptance of work for publication.

The authoring process thereby becomes tied to a framework embodied within past publications, acting as a constraint on creative thought and action. This is not to say that prior research should be ignored – far from it. But rather that the effort required to get ahead of the mass of extant literature in which a researcher’s thought is already embedded likely requires an almost superhuman effort nowadays. Such a move is likely to be too big a risk before tenure is achieved – and after which, it is usually too late.

Perhaps we have to await a few more advances in artificial intelligence.

Paul G. Ellis
Business school tutor and academic copy-editor
London and Chichester

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