Monday, January 12, 2009

Practical Criticism

I was at the Second Conference of Practical Criticism in the Managerial Sciences in Leicester last week. I think Peter and Simon are really on to something here. We had some great discussions about what actually happens on the page of published work in management studies. Have a look at the new site. There is also a blog.

The conference is motivated by the perception that management studies increasingly suffers from "an imprecision of terminology, an inability to produce or criticise a logical argument, and an absence of recourse to evidence". (I would add basic problems of scholarship to the list: an inability to accurately reproduce the claims made by a source one is using and/or to correctly represent the work of others without resorting to plagiarism.) More importantly, it is born of a sense that there is no place in the literature for the direct criticism of such problems when they occur. One often sees "appreciative" readings of existing work, but rarely pointed criticism, and almost never criticism that "merely" corrects a mistake. Such work is rejected on the grounds that it doesn't "make a contribution to theory development" and/or that it constitutes an "attack" on one or another author. The result is both obvious and disturbing: it is much easier to promote a claim than it is to correct an error. The likelyhood that false claims come to circulate as established fact is therefore all too high.

I obviously engage in a form of "practical criticism" as a matter of course in my work as an editor. The great thing about that function is that it gets a chance to do something about the problem before a paper gets published. But I am very much in favour of a movement that encourages the criticism of already published work. At the very least it will sharpen our critical sensibilities.

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