Bogged down by socialist realism

December 16, 2005

Name : Nicholas O'Shaughnessy

Age : A secret, but I can remember my grandmother ranting about the loss of Suez.

Job : Professor of marketing and communication, Brunel University.

Salary : About half that of a GP.

Background : Degrees from London, Oxford, Columbia and Cambridge universities; also taught at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology and Loughborough, Cambridge and Keele universities.

Working hours and conditions : The question of "hours worked" is meaningless for an academic; we should be more concerned with outcomes.

Students you teach : I am teaching 200 students this year, the lowest number in my career.

Biggest bugbear : The effect of national prohibition on the submission of books for the research assessment exercise across many disciplines; it is as ridiculous as when Andrei Zhdanov declared there could be only one legitimate art form, socialist realism. When a product is entirely driven by the needs of audit, something is wrong. Some of us like to paint murals as well as miniatures. The consequences for my field are particularly malign since the effect is to move publishing territory to the airport departure lounge school of management gurudom, a literature that is anti-empiricist and anecdotal. Problems such as this are never solved, they just mutate.

Worst moment : I was once at a dinner in New York thinking of a social group I could deprecate without causing offence in a heterogeneous culture, when my thoughts turned naturally to the pre-war Romanian Iron Guard. They were Fascists, drank each other's blood and had absolutely nothing to recommend them. A lady of mature years stared at me with a face like a gorgon. "Some of my best friends were in the Iron Guard," she said. I was face to face with the last pre-war Iron Guardista in New York.

Most difficult customers : An entire second year in the engineering department at Cambridge University. The problem was the seating structure - they sat in college groups. Holding their attention exhausted my rhetorical skills. One gnarled professor used to begin by circling them like a beast marking its territory. It was a ritual of intimidation and it worked.

Best excuse for bad behaviour : "Saw a ghost the night before."

Interaction with the university : Brunel Business School, eccentrically, is home to both history and politics. The possibilities for cross-fertilisation are tangible.

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