Liquid spirits : the (re)production of academic identities through practices

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Business schools have important social, economic and moral responsibilities, since their teaching and research influence managerial and entrepreneurial practices. A rich debate surrounds the characteristics and limitations of the current model of business education as well as what should be done now and in the future to create better managers and entrepreneurs. The intent of this research is to offer an original contribution to this discussion by investigating the factors that shape the behaviour of management academics. Business Schools seek to capture not only the best knowledge, research and teaching in their ranks but also to direct it towards goal-oriented corporate purposes, whether in the pursuit of accreditation, rankings, or some other measure of ‘excellence’. In doing so, they necessarily seek to shape and frame the activities, choices and performances of management academics. Some pertinent questions that arise in regards to their doing so are the following: are the behaviours of management and business school academics primarily shaped by their individual agency, by the managerial efforts of the organizations in which they are embedded or by other forces? What can be done to enhance collaboration or direct individual efforts towards specific goals? By addressing these questions, my thesis problematizes some assumptions that are implicit in the current debate, to which I propose alternatives. The research adopts two theoretical lenses to pursue this objective, practice theory and social identity theory. These theories are used to interpret data on narrative accounts of professional identities and on the working practices of a group of management academics that operate in the context of a transforming business school. The sources of data include 72 questionnaires, 16 semi-structured interviews, as well as two years of ethnographic field observations. This ‘micro’ analysis is situated in the context of a large spectrum critical analysis of the discursive landscape in which academic work is performed. This includes both a ‘mapping’ of the global Discourses of business education and of academic work (performed through a genealogic discourse analysis of the literature) and an examination of the local discourses characterizing the specific workplace of my informants. By combining these multiple sources of information, this work depicts a representation of the life-world of management academics, one that includes social, technological, political, organizational and emotional forces. My findings demonstrate that the relationship between academic identities and practices is situated in a liminal space characterized by exposure to a variety of material, discursive and relational tensions. I suggest this induces liquefaction of academic identities, which I describe as ‘liquid spirits’. As such, they are resistant to direct managerial supervision but remain ‘bottled up’ in facilitative circuits of power. In conclusion I suggest that, in order to ‘organize’ management academics’ efforts productively, it is necessary to take this complexity into account and I offer some concrete example of possible (albeit not uncontroversial) alternatives to facilitate academic work.
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