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Tag: Publishing

Resisting naked instrumentalism through a series of seminars

TSElosophers meeting on 3 May 2024. Participants: Joonas Uotinen, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl

Reading: “The value of research activities “other than” publishing articles: Reflections on an experimental workshop series” by Chahed, J., Charnock, R., Du Rietz Sahlström, S., Lennon, N.J., Palermo, T., Parisi, C., Pflueger, D., Sundström, A., Toh, D., and Yu, L.


Content-wise, the paper revolves around inherent tensions embedded in the ‘other than’ publishing-oriented activities, given the current Publish or Perish era in the academe. In this case, the ‘other than’ refers to a series of seminars a group of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) ran over eight years. One tension is keeping the attendance active, which they managed to do reasonably well.

Another tension was on what grounds to motivate the invitation of a series of senior, very influential scholars to participate in the seminars, as they might bring with them academic hierarchy and pecking order, inclining to somewhat restrict the freedom of speech of the ECRs. There were obvious pros in doing this, however, many of them very practical, like getting a local influential patron or catalysing active attendance. On the other hand, the paper admits how some element of hierarchy was infused into the meant-to-be democratic and open discussions.

A further tension is the very write-up of this paper – and trying and getting it published. The authors admit there is some irony here, but they also defend this choice arguing that this only tells how any ‘other than’ activity is eventually connected to publishing. TSElosophers found the of writing this paper a sound idea, since how else could the word of such activity be effectively spread – and the wider academia should know!


TSElosophers were very sympathetic towards the activities underlying this paper, a time-wise long series of seminars, featured by an intention to avoid being driven by mere interest in publishing. This means respecting the age-old academic virtue of open dialogue on all kinds of things, with as little external conditions as possible. The underlying idea is hence to resist the overwhelming tendencies to acting instrumentally in the academe. This reminded the TSElosophers of the series of activities of their own, having a history going back to 2017. A distinctive feature of the paper is that the list of authors is very long for an accounting paper, which nicely echoes the aspect of distributed knowledge, prominent in the paper. The paper is written from the perspective of ECRs, not least given that the invitees were ECRs when the seminar series started in 2013.

We found the paper as very nicely crafted as well as easy to read. It also indicated a good ability to be reflective regarding the process that the group of ECRs had gone through over a longer period with the help of the seminars. The Jasanoff notion of “technologies of humility” was used as a sensitizing method theory, which we found fitting and helpful. The paper was, however, perhaps not so exciting regarding its take-aways, which was likely since it actually lacked a strong substantive motivation. TSElosophers felt this added to the element of irony of the paper somewhat, given the idealistic starting point of the project. Somebody with a skeptic stance might see the paper written without due scholarly need for it, for the sake of just getting something published from the seminar series.

That said, the paper was anyway a very good facilitator for our discussion on numerous themes, including how separate the processes of free discussion and publishing are (or should be); the various motivations for the senior scholars to participate in the seminars for ECRs, including strengthening of their own research community (‘tribe’) and identifying and screening off new candidates for open positions at their departments. We also discussed aspects relating to the theme of what kind of power processes could be ongoing at and around the seminars – and which kinds of them their arrangement attempted or managed to avoid.

Overall, we found the paper offering TSElosophers a very nice basis for the discussion at our May 2024 meeting.

Breaking incommensurability boundaries?

TSElosophers meeting 29.9.2023. Participants: Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Minna-Liina Ojala, Otto Rosendahl.

Gendron, Y., Paugam, L., & Stolowy, H. (2023). Breaking incommensurability boundaries? On the production and publication of interparadigmatic research. Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management.


The overarching theme of this article by Gendron et al. (2023) is to challenge Kuhn’s (1970) incommensurability thesis (see also Burrell and Morgan, 1979), which assumes that meaningful research work across different paradigms is not possible nor feasible from the philosophy of science perspective. The authors start by questioning this view and suggest that inter-paradigmatic research is not only possible because the assumed boundaries between paradigms are actually permeable, but that such research would also be desirable and beneficial for stimulating inter-paradigmatic dialogue between researchers of different philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches.

To justify their views, the authors rely on the analysis of four different inter-paradigmatic publications (Greenwood et al., 2002; Stolowy et al., 2019; Paugam et al., 2021; Stolowy et al., 2022 ). The authors have worked as coauthors on three of these four papers and therefore are able to reflect on the process that led to them getting them published. However, the main pair of comparisons is formed by the papers Greenwood et al. (2002) and Paugam et al. (2021). The authors emphasize the importance of “epistemic mediation”, the ability to reach “conforming” epistemological and other compromises during the research process, without which the required mutual agreement about the justifiability, or sustainability, of the research might not materialize – not only between the coauthors themselves but also with parties involved in the review process.

Our discussion

As a starting point, the idea of promoting inter-paradigmatic, or at least heterogeneity, in research methodologies was appreciated by the group. In addition, all group members seemed to agree that the paper was easy to read and understand, shedding some light on the practical aspects of the co-writing and publishing process of an inter-paradigmatic research paper. It touched on some of the ontological and methodological difficulties related to causality and complexity arising from such inter-paradigmatic endeavor. Overall, TSElosophers regarded the authors as seeking to advance the fashionable ‘phenomenon-based research’.

However, this particular piece of research, which seemed to be based on pragmatic premises, representing ‘naturalism’ in the analysis of knowledge production, could have been expected to offer more examination and interesting insights and discussions about the potential tensions likely present in inter-paradigmatic research. Therefore, TSElosophers felt that, in the end, the paper was not quite able to live up to the reasonable expectations of the readers. Instead of seriously examining epistemological tensions and inconsistencies that might ensue from an inter-paradigmatic mixture, the paper focused on discussing how interpretive and positivist methodologies can be combined in a single study by favoring one over the other, while the other is used more for complementing and reinforcing the primary view. Even this was done perhaps a bit too one-sided, as the authors seemed to focus mainly on their own work where the interpretive approach was dominant. It was a pity the authors largely skipped – perhaps were bound to skip since they did not write that paper – a more profound analysis of the Greenwood et al. (2002) paper, which would have represented the opposite approach.

Some of the group members also wondered how the inter-paradigmatic research presented in this study differed from the mixed-methods approach, simply combining qualitative and quantitative empirical work. In the end, because the article focused so much on the successful publication processes instead of ontological and epistemological tensions in inter-paradigmatic research, it could even be seen to represent a certain form of instrumentalism. In this paper, how researchers just happen to conduct their research overshadows the potential paradigmatic inconsistencies of that research. The process was seemingly just consecrated by the research output eventually getting published. TSElosophers were left wondering whether it is favorable for the scholarship to extend ‘naturalism’ in the analysis of knowledge production so easily that far.

Relevant academia in a post-truth world?

TSElosophers meeting 5.5.2023. Albrecht Becker, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Otto Rosendahl, Veli Virmajoki

Aaltola, E. (2022, 04.08.2022). The limits of science – what can we study?  https://blogit.utu.fi/utu/2022/04/08/tieteen-rajat-mita-saamme-tutkia/ (translated by Kari Lukka)

Meyer, R. E., & Quattrone, P. (2021). Living in a post-truth world? Research, doubt and organization Studies. Organization Studies, 42(9), 1373-1383

Tweedie, J. (2022). Against mystifying complexity: On asking simple, burning questions. Organization Studies, 43(11), 1853-1856.


These three texts of very different types share a common theme: the challenge and legitimacy crisis social sciences face in the light of the growing force of ‘post-truth’ and the contribution of the science-internal critique of the postulate of value-free science to creating an ‘anything-goes’ public discourse.

  • Aaltola in her blog post argues that this criticism of the idea of value-freedom of science has led to the argument that, given that all knowledge is tainted by value, all knowledge claims are equal to scientific ones, and in the end, it has led to a situation where right-wing actors try to censor research on topics they consider as not in line with their own values. The burning issue, thus, is how we can restore the role and integrity of free science.
  • Meyer and Quattrone, in their first editorial as new editors of Organization Studies, start from the same concern as Aaltola, also emphasising how researchers themselves have unintendedly become “accomplices” in nurturing the concept of ‘post-truth’. The challenge, according to them, is how to restore acknowledgement “of the value of our work” in a situation where truth “is a constant struggle to interrogate [the] ephemeral nature of knowledge”, but where the public discourse is more and more structured around binaries, such as true/false, us/them, etc.
  • Tweedie takes up Meyer and Quattrone’s idea of academics’ complicity and notes the irony of them striving for impact when their major impact is undermining their own legitimacy. He locates the major source of this complicity in the “complexity arms race” where academics value complexity per se over simplicity, thus reinforcing the ivory tower of incomprehensibility. Instead, he pleads for “elegant simplicity” in research and suggests that research questions should be stated “in the simplest terms we can” and that they should concern the “’burning questions’ of our times”, such as climate change etc.

Our discussion

We first noted that the texts are very different of type, one is a blog post, thus formulated in a bit more everyday language style (Aalto), the second a programmatic editorial (Meyer & Quattrone), and the third an essay (Tweedie). While this may account for the fact that the texts present their arguments in a too straightforward way, it at the same time made them specifically thought-provoking. Probably unsurprising, TSElosophers shared the general concerns raised in these texts regarding the current tendencies inclined to delegitimise the value of research and science.

One strand of our discussion concerned the stated ‘complicity’ of researchers stated in different ways in the three texts. Many of us agreed and saw not least recent discussions on sensitive – or, more pointedly: ‘politically correct’ – use of language as an important driver of the chance for allegations of value-bias and partisanship of social sciences. At least one of us argued, however, that ‘science scepticism’ is much older than these recent discussions and even the critique of value-free science and that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was rather the traditional idea of self-correction through falsification which fed post-truth and the discourse on the equality of scientific and non-scientific knowledge claims. It seemed clear to us, however, that there is a paradox: On the one hand, authors claim that their critique of the assumption of value-free research has had a public impact and, on the other hand, their complaint that social science research is not adequately heard in public.

We further discussed what distinguishes scientific knowledge from other types of knowledge to make a convincing claim for legitimacy or even superiority in certain situations. One suggestion from TSElosophers, taking up Aalto’s argument, was that scientific knowledge is in a specific way methods-based and systematic. Others, however, countered this by arguing that these aspects are necessary conditions, but not sufficient since it is not obvious which methods should be designated as legitimate. For example, even astrology can also be perceived as rigorous and methods-based.

Other suggestions for solutions from the texts could also not completely convince us. Meyer and Quattrone, for example, go a long way to analyse the issues coming with a social science that accepts that there is no ultimate truth in the era of post-truth. However, their proposed programme for Organisation Studies seems a very standard programme of a social sciences journal and it remains unclear how their analysis is addressed. Tweedie’s suggestion to distinguish ‘crude’ from ‘elegant simplicity’ and ‘mystifying’ from ‘enlightening complexity’, and more profoundly distinguishing simplicity from complexity, seems plausible at first glance but may turn out to be less clear-cut than suggested.

In conclusion, the three texts triggered intensive discussion among the TSElosophers on themes that are of vital importance for all researchers, especially in humanities and social studies. Indicative of the great interest in the themes at stake was that our discussion showed no real saturation, but we only needed to end it due to time limitations.

Contemporary concerns of scholarly work

TSElosophers meeting 15.12.2022. Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl.

(1) Gendron, Y., Andrew, J., & Cooper, C. (2022). The perils of artificial intelligence in academic publishing. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 87, 102411.

(2) Korica, M. (2022). A Hopeful Manifesto for a More Humane Academia. Organization Studies, 43(9), 1523-1526.


Both of these articles raise a fundamental concern about the contemporary state and future of academia and scholarly work. Gendron et al. (2022) use the colonization of artificial intelligence (AI) in academic publishing as their example. They highlight the possible implications the inclusion of AI technologies might have on the role of human actors in the publishing process, i.e. concerning editors, reviewers, and authors. Korica (2022), on the other hand, uses her own experience from academia to highlight concerns about the current state of scholarly work and the working environment, along with some suggestions on how things might be improved. Therefore, both articles bring out the necessity to ponder what academia is, and should be, about, and how every member of academia has agency on this matter.

Our discussion

We agreed that the fundamental concern behind both of these articles is important and worth discussion and debate. The article by Gendron et al. (2022) revolves very much around the critiques of the data-driven evolutions of our life, like Zuboff (2019) and Han (2017), highlighting the issue of the “surveillance society”, which is today harder and harder for anybody to escape. The article pointed out well how too much emphasis and trust on the abilities of AI and algorithmic-based software – despite their promise to add to the productivity of processes – is moving us towards surface-oriented, mechanical and performance-focused academic publishing. We agree with the authors that this type of development is a real threat to good scholarship in academic publishing. In relation to the central editorial task of reviewer selection, for instance, we agree with Gendron et al. (2020) that AI would be a problematic route to fix the alleged ‘problem’ of human bias, since it would likely only bring an “elite bias” into these processes.

However, we felt Gendron et al. (2020) did not elaborate sufficiently on individuals’ ability to see and understand how exactly the evolution towards further digitalization happens in our life, and where this type of technology-oriented development might be leading us. It is difficult, or even impossible for most of us, to detect and comprehend the fundamental accumulating effects of each microscopic addition of the digital into our everyday lives. It is difficult for us to see the connection between some new minuscule software application, which is sold to us as a ‘help’ or ‘improvement’ of some insignificant daily task, and the accelerating ‘digi-colonization’ of various aspects of human life in our society.

While we agreed on the basic idea and many parts of the Korica’s (2022) paper, we specifically did not agree on the seventh suggestion made in the article. This suggestion seemed to echo instrumentalism – in the sense that publishing research is staged as the final aim over and above conducting high-quality research – and was therefore quite thoroughly against the idea of good scholarship. The paper also seemed to cover almost every worry of our lives, which made the scope of the article overly broad.

Appealing argumentation for five types of theory

TSElosophers meeting 12.11.2021. Participants: Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Morgan Shaw, Otto Rosendahl.

Sandberg, J., & Alvesson, M. (2021). Meanings of theory: Clarifying theory through typification. Journal of Management Studies58(2), 487-516.


Sandberg and Alvesson (2021) present a novel approach to define and classify theories. They argue that management and organization studies (MOS) definitions of theory tend to be narrow and/or built on a single social paradigm. Especially, they see a problem with requiring explanative theory in all research, seeing this as being related to researchers often presenting artificial pseudo-contributions and, effectively, making the entire idea of contribution a fetish. Instead, they classify explanative theory as only one theory type, which needs to be complemented by other types of theory in order to advance the knowledge of the discipline.

The authors adopt a wide constructivist lens and perceive theory as a human pursuit with various aspects. Through this lens they perceive altogether seven criteria for theoretical knowledge. The primary criteria which make difference between the various theory types are what is the purpose of theory and how the targeted phenomenon is assumed to exist. Indeed, based on the seven criteria, they develop a typology of five different theory types: explanative theory, comprehending theory, ordering theory, enacting theory and provoking theory.

Sandberg and Alvesson suggest that their approach to defining theory has potential to overcome many ontological and epistemological differences and thereby provides a more neutral way of communicating about the role of theory in the scientific pursuit. They make an extensive effort to hedge their contribution so as not to step on anyone’s onto-epistemological toes: their approach might still yield more theory types and, besides, any research is not forced to select only one theory type since theory types are somewhat overlapping.

Our discussion

On the positive side, the article is splendidly written. Its rhetoric is thoroughly appealing, which increases its potential to fulfill its own intended purpose of “pointing at a range of different theory types and levelling the playing field within the MOS community” (p. 491). The latter part of this purpose implies that the role of theory in the community should shift from “political-practical controlling device” (p. 509) towards enabling “researchers to advance knowledge development” (p. 490-491).

However, TSElosophers also found three significant shortcomings in the article. Firstly, we didn’t find much argumentation as for how the seven criteria behind the typology were chosen. It seemed as if the deep experience and professionalism of the authors were trusted to the extent that they could present their list of seven criteria without extensive analytical elaborations. Some of us felt the suggested set of criteria is too complex and formulaic; for instance the two-item formulation of Friedman (1953) goes arguably better to the point and is more helpful for researchers.

Secondly, the article seems to present a strawman of what explanative theory means. Especially problematic is the claim that Whetten (1989) defined explanative theory narrowly, since it misreads the scope of Whetten’s (1989, 490, emphasis added) short article, where the intent is merely “to propose several simple concepts for discussing the theory-development process.” Explanation can well be defined much more broadly; it is not just limited to ‘positivist’ notions of explanation typical of e.g. quantitatively oriented research! For example, Wittgenstein characterizes scientific explanation as profound understanding.

Finally, it was suggested in our discussions that the article provides less actionable advice about theorizing than e.g. MacInnis’ (2011) “A framework for conceptual contributions in marketing”. Therefore, Sandberg and Alvesson’s contribution might be reduced to raising awareness without urging for widespread changes.

Despite our criticisms, we consider that this article admirably follows the adage ‘better being approximately correct than exactly false’. As long as the reader keeps in mind that some of the appeal of its narrative is achieved with a tradeoff from its accuracy, we may endorse reading this article.

Being smart about the role of theory (in top journals)

TSElosophers meeting 3.12.2020. Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Maija-Riitta Ollila, Morgan Shaw, Otto Rosendahl.

1) Straub, D. W. (2009). Editor’s Comments: Why top journals accept your paper. MIS Quarterly, iii-x.
2) Avison, D., & Malaurent, J. (2014). Is theory king? Questioning the theory fetish in information systems. Journal of Information Technology, 29(4), 327-336.


We read two information systems science articles with contrasting positions to the role of theory in top journal publications. Straub (2009) is concerned that only a small minority of researchers are capable of publishing many articles in the top journals and gives general advice to researchers how to publish in the top journals. Avison and Malaurent (2014) describe the counterproductive implications of everybody trying to strive for the narrow criteria set by top journal publishing. They criticize Straub’s catchphrase “theory is king” and consider that accepting “theory light” articles in the top journals would benefit information systems science.

Our discussion

Straub’s (2009) article presents his view on the four requirements of and the six enhancements to publishing in top journals. His requirements emphasize newness, nontriviality, thematic popularity and the role of theory. Enhancements include familiar structure, finetuning and constructive relation to the “major movers and shakers”. Although all of these are, at their face value, good pieces of advice by themselves, the article fails to consider how the instrumentalist nature of the given advice might produce problems within the academe regarding good scholarship.

Straub’s list reveals how top journals disincentivize the creativity needed to pursue scholarly discoveries. Even though Straub calls for finding non-competed “blue ocean” spaces with theorization, the newness rule conjoins with conservativeness rules to water down most article contributions to incremental gap spotting. Also, the catchphrase “theory is king” encourages feigning theoretical development with unnecessary theoretical complexity. The formally presented ‘theory contributions’ (these days strikingly often in the form of precisely three of them!) are often actually very forced and artificial ones as for their true meaning content-wise. The discoveries of an entire discipline might be prevented, if other journals – in their quest to increase credibility and ranking – mimic narrow top journal requirements.

Avison and Malaurent (2014) trace issues of “theory is king” approach and suggest a mitigation to top journal requirements. Their paramount argument implies that theory-driven pursuits tend to perceive what the theory preconditions as visible and real. Consequently, they suggest that also articles without strong focus on theoretical contribution might be appropriate for publishing in top journals, if the journal editors, for instance, perceive the empirical contents of the piece exciting and novel as such or that some theoretical contributions can ensue from the discussion inspired by the article.

Avison and Malaurent (2014) adopt a radical position, since they assume theory as a uniform argument towards a clear direction, although it is much more constructive to be seen as a multifaceted structure that offers a wide range of possibilities. They fail to consider how “theory is king” has likely emerged as a contrast to studies that are very empiricist and descriptive, have no real direction and do not develop any meaningful argument. Hence, in TSElosophers’ view, their catchphrase “theory light” bears a risk of going too far in accepting empirical reports as scientific studies.

In sum, TSElosophers raised concerns regarding the catchphrases of both articles. Both catchphrases serve a certain sub-segment of researcher interests within the discipline and, hence, can easily politicize the discussion. Instead, we suggest ‘theory smart’ alternative that every article needs to fulfill. Theory smart follows Straub’s guidelines to the extent they encourage developing an interesting argument that skillfully relates to what has been argued before in the specific domain. Theory smart recognizes Avison and Malaurent’s concerns to the extent that the central driver of the study, if one needs to be assigned, should not be anything else than the well-motivated matter of concern explicated in the research question of the study.

Nonsense in management studies

TSElosophers meeting 25.2.2020. Ekaterina Panina, Kai Kimppa, Kari Lukka, Milla Wirén, Mohamed Farhoud, Morgan Shaw, Otto Rosendahl

Tourish, D. (2019). The triumph of nonsense in management studies. Academy of Management Learning & Education.


Tourish approaches his own scientific discipline with an admirable dose of self-reflexivity. He particularly draws attention to the existence of a notable amount of nonsense in management studies publications. TSElosophers interpreted the article as a criticism of the academic publication system in general. We could even consider whether management, at least in the kind of critical analysis that Tourish undertakes here, may be ahead of some other disciplines. To what extent does self-reflexive communication improve the intellectual integrity and societal responsibility of a particular discipline, and thereby indicate that it is in fact in a healthy condition?

This article lists several issues in the publishing process. Often, Tourish argues, the style of writing is too complicated and contains pointless and artificial ‘theorising’. Authors needlessly complicate their language to create an impression of sophistication and theory development at an advanced level. This largely results from the theory contribution requirements of top journals, which are then mimicked by other less-influential journals in the forlorn hope of improving their reputation and ranking.

Furthermore, the rules-of-the-game oblige reviewers to offer suggestions for improvement which authors then feel obliged to follow, whether they truly make sense or not for their piece. The result is often dysfunctional, as the publishing process drags on for years and further drafts become increasingly nonsensical, with too many ideas packed into the same article. All this has become ‘the normal’, i.e., it has become naturalised in the academe.

TSElosophers agree that the measure of success for academics is moving away from communicating ideas with clarity and towards merely getting more and more publications. We discussed whether or not academics these days can escape the publication game as long as they do not yet have tenure. Firstly, those not playing the publication game are at risk of losing their research positions to those who are. Secondly, supervisors often feel obliged to help the careers of their students by teaching them the publication game, which encourages publication efficiency but risks the underlying assumptions of this research approach being accepted uncritically. Finally, it seems implausible that researchers who win tenured positions through success in the publication game will flexibly change their focus towards fixing problematic aspects of a system that has so far rewarded them.

Although we considered Tourish’s article relevant and well-written, we also noticed some shortcomings. For example, the article concentrates on symptoms without providing a compelling overall diagnosis. We would argue that the central issue is that instrumentalism in publishing has become too widespread and self-reinforcing. A major underlying explanatory factor for this might be the expectation to publish too many studies, which many of us do our best to respond to in a constant rush of cranking out research manuscripts one after another.

Additionally, the article seems to conflate grand theories with bad theories, despite correctly identifying grand theories as a major foundation upon which some construct nonsensical abstractions. Tourish contends that the “endless elaboration of distinctions” (Mills 1959) within grand theories takes practitioners too far away from a logical route between theorizing and making observations. However, the examples of grand theories he presents are either cherry picked or misrepresented. He refers to Mills’ (1959) efforts at translating the work of Talcott Parsons, which demonstrated that 555 pages of Parsons’ academese could be written in 150 pages of simpler prose. Ironically, these concerns could be countered by referring to a student of Parsons, Niklas Luhmann, who created a (densely written) grand theory that highlights observation as its central concept and a starting point for making distinctions.

TSElosophers also disagreed on the representation of Lacan’s grand theory as innately nonsensical. First, the article defers to Chomsky as an authority figure to create a bias against Lacan. While Chomsky does have a point in criticizing language made complex in order to appear more academic than it is, both Tourish and Chomsky seem to find text that is actually quite understandable, if one has actually read Lacan, to be problematic. Tourish’s article seems to argue that reference to Lacan in any management article is nonsensical, even though the texts chosen actually are relevant (although of course one can then dispute whether the application of Lacanian theory is justified in this case). Interestingly, Tourish considers non-Lacanian parts of the article to be brilliant and fascinating, but does not elaborate on why insights taken from reading Lacan could not have helped to construct these other parts. Unfortunately this is not the only instance in which Tourish does not seem to understand that using difficult but rigorous concepts is sometimes necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings brought about by the unrelated connotations concepts may have in every-day language.

Tourish concludes with an appealing message. He reminds us of our continued agency within the publication system. For instance, we are not at the mercy of any particular journals. We do not need to accept review processes that confuse our key ideas and arguments, as there are other journals, book publishers and niche strategies for surviving, or even flourishing in academe. At times, it might be better to publish in new and less acknowledged venues in order to change the field for the better. Who knows, these venues might be the ones making a difference for the better in the future. Tourish concludes with a positive message encouraging us to write with “a little more humour, curiosity and passion”, something with which we were all happy to agree.

What we talk about when we talk about good scholarship

TSElosophers’ meeting on 27 February 2018. Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl and Joonas Uotinen

The blog title above, inspired by the classic short story of Raymond Carver (…about love) and the book by Haruki Murakami (…about running) was at the heart of the discussion at the TSElosophers club’s meeting this time. Two working papers were on the table, coincidentally connected regarding their major worries and arguments: “Living in the publish-or-perish culture” by Albrecht Becker and Kari Lukka and “Willful ignorance in empirical organizational research” by Mats Alvesson, Katja Einola and Stephan Schaefer.

The key to the first mentioned paper is the distinction between two different kinds of research processes: one following the “true scholarship logic” and another driven by the “playing of the game logic”. The paper presents an interview based, abductively tuned analysis of how researchers of our time perceive the performance management regime around them and choose their strategies of leading their researcher life surrounded by that. Since the mapping of researchers’ strategies indicated a quite wide dispersion, the outcome of the analysis was somewhat relieving with a view of the general motivation of the study – the worry of the dominance of the harmful implications of the current instrumentalist tendencies in the academe on good scholarship. However, the study still indicates how the “playing of the game logic” is quite strongly supported by many recent institutions (like many kinds of rankings) and emerging local factors (like the strengthening performance measurement hype). Therefore, it is likely getting continuously more foothold and will need determined counter-agency to be sufficiently tamed down. This would be important particularly with a view of junior researchers, so that they would not only learn how to play the game to get published but rather to become good scholars. The role of local performance management systems and practices as well as the visionary agency of academic leaders is argued to be crucial herein.

The second paper discusses and analyzes the idea of willful ignorance in organization and management studies. The piece takes its inspiration in the German Enlightenment era scholar Friedrich Schiller’s inaugural lecture in 1789 as a professor of history in the university of Jena. This speech that was our topic of discussion at TSElosophers previous encounter, distinguishes between “philosophical minds” (who follow the scholarship logic) and “bread scholars” (who follow the game logic). The study specifically focuses on the relationship between empirical data and its analysis and understands willful ignorance as conscious efforts of scholars to repress doubts and ambiguities about their empirical data. Here, willful ignorance is not considered as a sheer lack of knowledge or the fabrication of data. The argument is that it moves between researchers´ inability to resolve ambiguities in their empirical material and a pronounced will not to follow up on these ambiguities and uncertainties with the more or less willful intention to not challenge oneself intellectually too much – and get a publication out instead. The study uses empirical examples and previous published research to demonstrate that there appears to be an inattention to source critique and an unreflective pursuit of formulaic methodologies and career paths in the field of organization and management studies. The research community as a whole needs to stand up to these tendencies to raise the level of quality of research and avoid willfully ignorant research practices from further contaminating the field.

The discussion at the meeting echoed the situation described in these two working papers: Many examples of researchers, research groups and communities having become tempted to follow “playing of the game” kind of logic and “Brotgelehrte” mind-set were brought forth. For instance, one of the club members recounted how his doctoral education was nearly entirely featured by the publication-induced “playing of the game logic”. Another member was frustrated about his experiences of becoming dismissed when he had tried to raise some out-of-the-box type of content issues to the discussion among his colleagues, since the mind-set was so strongly oriented towards just getting something publishable done in a straightforward manner.

One of the challenges of good scholarship comes from research ethics. While this is of course an eternal challenge, the increased dominance of the “playing of the game logic” may make some of the classic ethical challenges even more serious and bring to fore new issues in that regard. Willful ignorance is certainly an old challenge of researchers’ ethics, but it likely is ever more an issue in the academic environment featured by constant rush, gap-spotting research motivations, and straightforward seeking of publications. But it is particularly the rush towards performance results, plaguing the current academic work, that also leads to dismissal of research approaches that would take considerable time, like years-long ethnographic or interventionist field research even in situations where such approaches would be needed to be able to study some complicated research questions, involving the significance of subjective meanings, for instance.

There are also other challenges regarding how important topics and research questions can be explored and reported on in such ways that the interviewed or observed participants of research do not feel having become abused and are treated sufficiently anonymously. The club members yet agreed that the principle “all topics should be able, and allowed, to get explored in research” should be the first and highest guiding principle in research. Therefore, researchers need creative imagination to conduct and report on their research in such a way that the complex set of criteria of good research (importance of the research question, overall research quality, ethical issues…) are simultaneously tackled, without compromising any important aspect concerning the overall quality of the study.

Brotgelehrte or a philosophical mind? On history and on the burden of making choices

TSElosophers’ meeting on the 30th of January, 2018.  Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Jonathan Van Mumford, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

The nature and value of universal history: an inaugural lecture, Friedrich von Schiller, 1789

Editor’s note:

While our discussions yet again soared free in ways difficult to replicate in a concise blog, the main theme was the dichotomy of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, captured already by Schiller, and even today witnessed in all such spheres of human activity where passion becomes profession. The following blog by Katja captures the sentiments of our discussions, yet weaves them into a beautiful entity in its own right.

Blog by Katja

The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre famously exclaimed that we are ‘condemned to be free’. With this he meant that what he considered a basic human condition, freedom, implies that we must make choices – and making choices is often difficult. Especially when our own choices may complicate our lives. Yet, we cannot escape making them. In fact, we make choices even when we decide not to do anything. Just knowing something is inherently wrong or immoral, makes us directly responsible. Being free to choose is at times a heavy burden.

Researchers and academics whose job it is to seek new and challenge existing knowledge make these types of choices every day, more or less consciously. Do I correct the Master’s thesis by reading it diagonally and give a good grade to spare my time (and boost my popularity ratings), or do I really set my mind to making sure he/she gets best possible help to leave the school with the best possible thesis? I have a nagging feeling that my research results do not reflect the reality out there—but do I really have time to go investigate more, dig deeper, since I know I can probably get away with this (and get published)? Performance pressure, budget constraints, personal ambitions and the famous ‘publish or perish’ imperative are pushing many to cut corners in their research and teaching, and scale down their intellectual ambitions to ‘make it’ or remain credible in the modern academia. In particular, juniors who do not have tenure or other form of job security need to make tough choices what their research is going to be about. More research does not necessarily mean better research, even when the System we are part of (or trapped in) guides us to choose quantity over quality, speed over reflection. In fact, an increasing amount of voices within the field of organizational and management studies, feel that much academic research today is low on substance and meaning.

The more things change, the more they stay the same’, goes an old saying. In 1789, the German Enlightenment poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright, Friedrich Schiller, a protégé of Goethe, delivered his inaugural lecture on universal history at Jena University. Students flocked in to listen. His concern for what he must have thought was at the time a tendency to weak research and unambitious researchers, more at the service of their careers and ‘masters’ than knowledge, was so strong that he started his speech with a careful distinction between what he called ‘Brotgelehrte’ (bread-fed scholars) and the Philosophical Mind. Schiller used the very beginning of his speech to warn the young, pure minds with thirst to know, from ‘being wasted unworthily by fraud and deception’. I use Schiller’s words here directly to explain the distinction between the Philosophical Mind and Brotgelehrte to highlight their relevance in today’s academia (and because I cannot think of a more eloquent way to transfer their meaning):

The course of studies which the scholar who feeds on bread alone sets himself, is very different from that of the philosophical mind. The former, who, for all his diligence, is interested merely in fulfilling the conditions under which he can perform a vocation and enjoy its advantages, who activates the powers of his mind only thereby to improve his material conditions and to satisfy a narrow-minded thirst for fame, such a person has no concern upon entering his academic career, more important than distinguishing most carefully those sciences which he calls ’studies for bread,’ from all the rest, which delight the mind for their own sake. Who rants more against reformers than the gaggle of bread-fed scholars? Who more holds up the progress of useful revolutions in the kingdom of knowledge than these very men? Every light radiated by a happy genius, in whichever science it be, makes their poverty apparent; their foils are bitterness, insidiousness, and desperation, for, in the school system they defend, they do battle at the same time for their entire existence. On that score, there is no more irreconcilable enemy, no more jealous official, no one more eager to denounce heresy than the bread-fed scholar.

Then comes the other part of the speech in which Schiller delivers a passionate account of how he thinks the whole history of mankind has inevitably led to the Age of Reason that finds its peak of sophistication in the Holy Roman Empire and Germanic civilization, purified from corruption by the Protestant Reform. Travellers who had visited the ‘margins of civilization’ overseas, only inflated this hubris with their rendition about the ‘savages’ they found.

In some places, there was not even the simple bond of marriage, as yet no knowledge of property, and in others the flaccid soul was not even able to retain an experience which repeats itself every day; one saw the savage carelessly relinquish the bed on which he slept, because it did not occur to him, that he would sleep again tomorrow.

After thousands of years of war and barbarism, a new era of Reason and Peace led by Europe was dawning.

How many wars had to be waged, how many alliances concluded, sundered, and become newly concluded to finally bring Europe to the principle of peace, which alone grants nations, as well as their citizens, to direct their attention to themselves, and to join their energies to a reasonable purpose!

Now what do these travellers tell us about these savages?

With the benefit of the hindsight, this part of the speech is naïve, euro-centric and to a large extent, incorrect. Indeed, being historically embedded means also to be myopic to the present– a tendency that will hardly be avoided by the 21st century man either.

Let us now return to the Brotgelehrte-Philosophical Mind distinction, the part with pressing everyday importance to us, today’s researchers. There is no easy separation between the two types – and classifying researchers or research according to these categories seems unproductive. I suggest instead that we take these as rhetorical types and make them more visible in our discussions as we practice our science and art. Who do we ‘serve’ in the classroom and when we conduct research? Knowledge — or something else – morally dubious, corrupting our community and deceptive of our audiences. For me the question is about an existential choice – choice not made easy for todays’ practicing academics.

Katja Einola

Theory about theory calls for practice

TSElosophers meeting 26.5.2017
Otto Rosendahl, Jonathan Van Mumford, Kari Lukka, Milla Wirén

Building Theory about Theory Building: What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?
Kevin Corley, Dennis Gioia, Academy of Management Review, 2011

Quick summary:

While extensively written, the article can be summarized to the following key points:

– theory can be either revelationary or incremental, and contribute to either scientific or practical knowledge

– current theorizing focuses too much on the scientific contribution and pays lip service to the practical utility

– in order to bridge the gap between theory and practise, the “best minds” in the profession of academia researching the profession of management should be employed in anticipating themes that will become relevant, and produce theory around those emerging themes to provide the vocabulary with which those themes can be discussed

– this would advance management science from upholding institutions to performatively contributing to the development of the business sphere


The article defines theory as “a statement of concepts and their interrelationships that shows how and/or why a phenomenon occurs”. More importantly, it asks what is a theoretical contribution and creates a 2×2 matrix for theoretical contributions which includes originality (revelatory, incremental) and utility (practically useful, scientifically useful). First, this article mentions that revelatory and scientifically useful articles are easy to publish. Then, it argues that a change is needed “in the guidelines of authors and reviewers” so that the authors would be “rewarded for developing more pragmatically useful […] theoretical contributions”.

This needed change is illustrated many times with different concepts pointing to the same direction: “adaptive role of academia”, “pragmatic utility”, “projective futurism” and finally “prescient scholarship”. Thus, the length of the article could have been condensed to a lot less than 15 pages. However, this style might have better impact for those readers unfamiliar with the previous discussion. We can contend the writing style has not been a failure since the paper is currently cited 641 times according to Google Scholar.

It is easy to agree with the article’s claim that courageous attempts to increase pragmatic utility should not be overlooked. The article leans to the traditions of American Pragmatism and states that “knowledge should be treated as a process” and it should be treated as “a recursive dialog between theorists and reflective practitioners”. This paves the way for prescient scholarship, where researchers aim to anticipate and theorize future problem domains. The sense-giving practices of the prescient scholars should be able to affect both the academic and the practitioner discussions. As the authors note, “the best way to predict the future is to influence the conversation about what it could or should be”.

Although the authors positively painted a future where researchers could have a better societal impact, we need to criticize the underlying assumption in the article. Contrary to the authors, it seems that even scientifically revelatory articles are not easy to publish. To put it differently, researchers are more bogged down by the incentives of the current publishing system than the article admits: it is mostly incremental articles that get published. According to Alvesson and Sandberg (2013), articles that try to challenge too many assumptions easily get rejected as they feel absurd to the reader. In practice, the reviewers often reject revelatory scientific contribution attempts by referring to the negligence of existing scientific discussion about the topic within the field. This sounds too much like rejecting a manuscript just because it is revelatory.

In sum, this article is ambivalent. There are certain ironies in it: although it touts that revelatory theoretical contributions are easy to publish, it only presents an incremental theoretical contribution; although it advises researchers to take a wider scope, it delimits the conclusions of its own valuable thoughts. Some of us recommend reading it; some of us recommend not reading it.



Yes, science should discuss at least the contemporary issues, and when groundbreaking, even anticipate novel pertinent themes. However the underlying tones of the article reveal an intriguing assumption: is it really so that if we just managed to harness the “best minds” of academics into shaping the emerging discussions through sensegiving, the world would be better off? Do we (or those deemed the “best minds”) really hold such truths that would validate this mission?

On the other hand, I admire the writing style of the article, as it is clearly cleverly designed in a way to elicit citations. It consists of catchy oneliners, like “lost before translation” (referring to the gap between the issues of interest amongst scholars or pracitioners) and “lost in translation” (referring to the inability to communicate the relevant insights from one field to another), provides a nice 2×2 matrix to quote, and addresses the everlasting discussion about the gap or bridge between theory and practice. As such, it reads as a pop rendering of the theme elsewhere discussed with more depth.

While it may be that the wielders of a hammer tend to see all problems as nails, I cannot escape the feeling that essentially this again pivots around the sticky theme we’ve been discussing from several angles at TSElosophers: what is science really about? What is the relationship between performativity and objectivity, or normativity and positivity, and what side should we aspire taking? Should we really bring in the third tenet of J N Keynes (1891) dismissed by Friedman (1953), called for by eg Colander (1992), the applied science – would that clarify the role of our endeavours? Would it help, if we really could box in the positive approach aimed at revealing how things are and work, the normative approach of how should things be and progress, and the applied approach bridging the two by making a statement about what we want (based on normative science), and assessing and creating the methods (based on the foundations deducted by positive science) through professedly applied science?

Personally I actually struggle with the normative part: based on what grounds can we create the scales of desirables (eg Thompson 1967, March 1982) that would not be narrowly context-bound? It is the lack of this discussion I find the most troubling part of the Corley&Gioia paper. They call for more applied approaches, however not explicitly engaging in the discussion of the accompanying normative element that inherently preceeds – or should preceed – this aspiration. But maybe I’m just too far from the supreme “best minds” to understand the benefits of the supreme wisdom that could be diffused throughout the more mundane endeavours of the rest of mankind – if the divine minds should only choose to do so.

Treading the line between researcher and consultant

TSElosophers meeting 21.3.2017
Jonathan Van Mumford, Otto Rosendahl, Henning Christner

Conducting and publishing design science research: Inaugural essay of the design science department of the Journal of Operations Management, Joan van Aken, Aravind Chandrasekaran, Joop Halman 2016

Quick summary:

This essay, written by members of the Design Science department of the Journal of Operations Management, is an explanation of, and call for, academic submissions using design science research (DSR) as a research strategy. The aim of DSR is to conduct field research aimed at finding solutions for real world problems (or to achieve real world opportunities), and, from this research, generating ‘generic designs’ which form mid-range theories that can be then contextualised to problems in other contexts. These generic designs are repeatedly tested and redesigned to establish ‘pragmatic validity’. The authors suggest that through DSR a stronger partnership between research and practice can be achieved in the social sciences as already is exists in fields such as medicine and engineering – thereby counteracting the “ivory tower” syndrome that often separates academia from practitioners. In effect, the essay advocates for researchers to tread the line between researcher and consultant in developing research driven designs of best practice.

Longer outline of discussion:

The authors describe DSR as being a separate paradigm from that of regular academic research (which they label “explanatory research”) inspired by engineering. Explanatory research aims to uncover explanations for universal truths, usually about average relations between cause and effect. On the other hand, DSR aims to improve the present and, as such, shares some similarity with consultancy. Unlike consultancy, however, DSR does not aim merely to improve local contexts through case-specific designs, but follows the academic aim of producing generic knowledge applicable across various contexts within a particular domain.

The concept and rationale of DSR as a research strategy is straight forward:

  • The researcher goes into the field and works towards solving an existing problem in a particular context (in the case of the essay, this will be an operations management context);
  • From the proposed solution to the problem, the researcher can then draw up a generic design for the solution and field test it to establish it has “pragmatic validity” (does it work?);
  • The innovative generic design is based upon a design proposition which is an explanatory account, identifying the contexts in which the design is useful, the mechanisms involved, and the connection between actions and outcomes;
  • The generic design, formed from the “high ground of theory” can then be applied in the “swamp of practice” through contextualisation to other particular contexts to create new case-specific designs.

Unlike engineering and medicine, which derive from the natural sciences and involve physical systems, DSR in the social sciences involves creating designs for social systems. Therefore, the main potential issue with DSR in the social sciences comes from the effects of human agency.

While this essay is targeted at specific field of operations management (OM) which the authors note, “is widely regarded as a problem-solving discipline, seeking to create knowledge by interacting with the real world”, our discussion was more general. We contemplated questions such as can, and if so should, such a DSR research strategy be utilised in our various disciplines? This led to broader questions of whether or not there is too large a separation between theory and practice, and what is our goal as researchers of social science? One primary issue we had with this mixing of research and practice is that the two sides of the coin ask very different questions. As was mentioned in the article, research aims to explain certain universalities about, or patterns within, the social world (why and how does something happens), while practice is more aimed at finding solutions for problems or planning courses of action (what and how should we do something). If we are to confound the two approaches in a single research activity, do we run the risk of chasing two rabbits and catching neither?

As for the question on whether or not we, as researchers, should intervene more directly in matters of practice and management, we do agree that inciting social change is often an important goal of the social scientist. However, the goals of practitioners and researchers are often divergent. Most businesses are motivated by their bottom line, but helping firms achieve profitability and efficiency does not always equate to what is best for society and is not always the goal of the researcher. While researchers can, and do, take part in consulting, and while such cases sometimes do generate the data for research (i.e. through ethnography, action research, participant observation, etc.), the development of theory is still clearly separate from the development of managerial practice. Does this mean that we raise high above the swamps of practice, looking down from our ivory towers, contributing nothing more to society other than the occasional theoretical proclamation? We think not. Research feeds into practice through teaching, policy papers, opinion pieces, public seminars among many other channels. Could this be done better? Always. Is design science research the answer? Mostly not, although we recognize that it is sometimes useful to collect empirical data with interventions.

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