PhD Course

Academic Engagement and the Politics of Scholarship

PhD Course, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, 16-18 October 2023


Mainstream management research has woken up. Acknowledgment of the ecological, social and political crises that engulf contemporary life (Amis et al. 2021), calls for engaged scholarship, and injunctions to unite behind problem-driven research (Gümüsay 2023), and the injunction to discard complex theory (Tourish 2020) now proliferate across the main journals.

In the exemplary, summative words of Howard-Grenville (2021, p.11): ‘If topics – like the mental health of employees, racial inequality, marginalized work, poverty, healthcare access and provision, climate change, ecosystem health and crisis response – are now the business of business, they should be our business as organizational scholars. The theories we build, however, need to be informed by findings, assumptions and modes of explanation from fields that have long taken these issues as central.’

The workings and effects of capitalism have thus become ‘the business of business’: a matter of concern within a field of research that, at least until recently, seemed mainly dedicated to affirm and expand capitalism’s reach. Institutions and individuals with little or no prior interest in socially, ecologically or philosophically inspired research are now acknowledging structural problems, sometimes admitting historical responsibilities and conceding that change is needed which broaches the commercial, political and environmental.

Should, however, academics become activists and how can academia become engaged in the ways being called for and still remain a distinct practice? Arguably, calls for management scholars to ‘unite’ in meeting grand challenges by thinking differently, or for them to espouse an activist agenda dedicated to the furtherance of a specific cause, sanitizes the activism to a point which re-legitimizes market mechanisms and ultimately redeems (rather than ‘challenges’) socioeconomic and cultural structures and conditions.

This PhD course seeks to reflect on the conditions and opportunities of critical, engaged and reflexive scholarship. How does organizational scholarship become political? How might we understand ‘impactfulness’ (Reinecke et al. 2022), for instance in ways that do not presuppose an unenlightened other (Rancière 2004)? What layers or levels of politics and the political can we discern and work with? What are such scholarship’s spaces, publics and institutional settings and constraints? What is the role of theory, and what of practice?

Based on the participating PhD researchers’ own ideas and activities in producing work that speaks to, and perhaps seeks to intervene in, current predicaments and crises, we seek to open up a space for thought and debate on the politics of organizational scholarship, its poverty and potential.

The course is based on a few assumptions, or provocations:

1. The study of management is not the study of organization. There is a long and rich history of critical thought, critical performativity and engaged scholarship in the study of social organization. Arguably, organization studies was born as a critique of the (early 20th century) present in a time of turmoil and rapid change, as an investigation of how this time came to be. This is a history of thought that the mainstream study of management is almost comically blind to. As scholars, it behoves us to recover the broad and fruitful history of organizational critique, and its manifold forms of scholarly engagement and performativity.

2. There is something a little perverse in the recent calls to embrace, and engage with, multiple crises, given that business and management practice (and theory) has contributed to these crises in the first place. Rather than advocate humility, a stepping away, the call for engagement seems to be clamouring for more, not only for more theory, but for more involvement from business itself. By extending the reach of business and management (and its theorists) exponents can better see and sense how their actions and reasoning has erred. The error, it seems, has not been one of ambition, but a lack of ambition: its reach should extend further, and concern itself not just with trade, but politics, culture and the natural environment. The perversity is then this: Management should manage everything.

3. Some (niche) management scholars have for decades engaged in socially, politically and philosophically inspired research. Their work contributed to a more complex (including often complex theorising), multifaceted and sometimes radically critical understanding of organizations and the economic system in which they operate. Indeed, theorists have been crazily industrious in analyzing, refracting, criticizing, refining and revolting against the effects of material value creation and extraction. Only it has been the kind of theory that finds business and management theory at best unwittingly complicit with, and at worst encouraging of, the hegemony of industrialism, mercantilism and commercialism that has warranted the acquisitive and exploitative pursuit of capital, territory and bodies. This kind of theory remains curiously unacknowledged, perhaps because it is perceived as too hostile, too political, too wrapped up with an agenda of opposition to the phenomena that business and management theory has done much to nurture and extol.


The course takes place from Monday October 16 (from 9am) until Wednesday October 18 (at 3pm). The basis of the course will be the participants’ essays. Convenors and invited speakers will add input on their experience in the politics of scholarship.

The course will also be situated in Venice and connected to exemplary of its many current initiatives for countering the effects of ecological damage, rising prices and urban flight.

This is then meant to become a very interactive course equally based on key texts/input statements and the participants’ experiences, concepts and ideas. Therefore, it will take the form of a combination of mini lectures, break-out sessions and exercises, fieldwork excursions and student presentations and commentary.

ECTS awarded: 3 ECTS
Language: English

Indicative readings

Amis, J. et al. (2021). ‘Taking inequality seriously’, Academy of Management Review, 46(3): 431-439.

Gümüsay, A. A. (2023). Management Scholars of the World, Unite! Organization Studies, online first:

Howard-Grenville, J. (2021). Caring, Courage and Curiosity: Reflections on our roles as scholars in organizing for a sustainable future. Organization Theory, 2(1).

Huault, I. and Perret, V. (2011) ‘Management education as a vehicle for emancipation. Exploring the philosophy of Jacques Rancière’, M@n@gement 14(5): 281-309.

Nunes, R. (2021) Neither Vertical nor Horizontal: A Theory of Political Organisation. London: Verso.

Parker, M. et al. (eds.) (2014) The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London: Routledge.

Parker, M. (2018) Shut Down the Business School. London: Pluto Press.

Rancière, J. (2004) The Philosopher and His Poor. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Reinecke, J., Boxenbaum, E., & Gehman, J. (2022). Impactful Theory: Pathways to Mattering. Organization Theory, 3(4).

Steyaert, C., Beyes, T. and M. Parker (eds). (2016) The Routledge Companion to Reinventing Management Education. London: Routledge.

Tourish, D. (2020) The Triumph of Nonsense in Management Studies. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 19(1): 99-109.


October 15, 2023

19:00 Welcome dinner

October 16, 2023

09.30-10.00 Welcome and introduction
10.00-10.45 Faculty talk & discussion with Robin Holt
10.45-11.00 Break
11.00-13.00 Session 1
“Negotiating the Institution and Disciplines”
Host: Monica Calcagno
Participants: Ilaria Foroni, Anna Kalinina, Daniela MIcu, Angela Nativio

13.00-14.30 Lunch
14.30-16.30 Session 2
“Intervening and Making a Difference”
Host: Robin Holt
Participants: Dino Darmonski, Ottavia Dorrucci, Jesper Kollerup, Eliane Troxler

16.30-17.00 Break
17.00-17.45 Faculty talk & discussion with Fabrizio Panozzo
18.30 Joint Dinner

October 17, 2023

10.00-12.30 Joint exhibition visit
Everybody talks about the weather
Fondazione Prada

12.30-14.00 Lunch
14.00-15.00 Faculty talk & discussion with Monica Calcagno
15.00-15.30 Break
15.30-17.30 Session 3
“Participation, Care, and Critique”
Host: Timon Beyes
Participants: Isabelle Albisser, Anna de la Torre Fornell, Christina Juhlin, Alice Neusiedler

October 18, 2023

9:30 – 10:15 Faculty talk & discussion with Martin Parker
10.15-10.30 Break
10.30-12.30 Session 4
“(Academic) Activism”
Host: Fabrizio Panozzo
Participants: Sarah Holey, Will Hunter, Lena Kostuj, Caspar Pfrunder

12.30-14.00 Lunch
14.00-15.30 Roundtable closing discussion, wrap-up, and farewell