Negotiating Tensions between Theory and Practice
Edited by Julie Wolfram Cox, Tony G. LeTrent-Jones, Maxim Voronov and David Weir
Chapter 2: The Phantom Menace: Conducting Practitioner-Informed Research Without Losing Academic Liberties
Alexander Styhre INTRODUCTION The field of management studies is always a contested area. Numerous papers and special issues in journals have been published addressing the status and future of management research (for a sample of such papers, see Pfeffer and Fong 2002; Clegg, Clarke and Ibarra 2001; Gabriel 2001; Calás and Smircich 1999; Scherer 1998; Chia 1997; Astley and Van de Ven 1983). What is at the very heart of this debate is the notion of utility. Management researchers are often claiming they represent a field of applied research. This here denotes that the research efforts in management studies to some extent will produce new insights, theories, models and understandings that will have immediate practical consequences. But such practical consequences are always complicated to anticipate for the individual researcher. Thus, the association between research and utility imposes great demands on management researchers. In a special issue of British Journal of Management, Starkey and Madan (2001) conceive of this the problem as a ‘relevance gap’ between present management research and the needs and interests of the industry. They suggest that management research should pay more attention to the concerns, puzzles and interests of the practitioners in order to bridge the relevance gap. Several commentators on the article were however less enthusiastic about Starkey and Madan’s proposal. If management research were to pay attention to practitioners’ interests, the long-term consequences for the field of organization theory would not be positive, critics contend. The debate in British Journal of Management is significant...
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