The following is a short essay I wrote last year for the course “Developing professional skills in academic work.” In it, I outline some ideas how to do management research that
- is useless for those who wish to use it to advance commercial interests
- is indistinguishable from research that actually is useful
- still produces recognition, grants, and other rewards
- may collapse the capitalist system.
The essay was originally published in 2011 in Räsänen, Keijo (ed.) Tutkijat kertovat. Kymmenen esseetä akateemisesta työstä.
An English version may follow, or not.
Very interesting! Could you clarify what the anarchist’s goals eventually are? The title invites the reader to think that they have to do with the researcher’s self-interest, but I found more social goals on the Internet. According to the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary, anarchism is “a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups.” I would assume that in this instance anarchism attempts to undermine the legitimacy of management research, and the institutions surrounding it (journals, universities, etc.). I wonder if making research useless is the most effective way to achieve this goal. Would leaving oneself outside the system work better? Also, doesn’t the anarchist enjoy the resources of the system and, thus, support it in a way? Aren’t you describing another form of a tempered radicalism after all?
A tapeworm enjoys the resources of its host system but does not seem to support it in any meaningful way. Not that I regularly think of myself as a parasite, but strictly speaking, I am living off the surplus of our society…
Perhaps the best explanation I have for what I mean by anarchism in this context is, appropriately, in Finnish:
“Pienen miehen hiljainen kapina.”
I don’t have goals as such; the difference to tempered radicalism or most ideologically motivated approaches is that I don’t pretend to change the world with my research, not even to the extent of undermining the system. If anything happens as a result of my research, it can be a bonus; but given the track record of revolutions, I’m not very enthusiastic in actually pursuing any.
I study because I believe knowledge has intrinsic value; research is a performance that should be appreciated in a way one appreciates art. (In my philosophy, art and science are basically the only reasons why the humankind even has a reason to exist at all.) If I were independently wealthy, I’d probably study something even more outrageously useless, like, say, mating habits of dung beetles, Assyrian cuneiform or variations of the Iliad. But it’s easier to get funding for management research.
Of course, the essay can also be read in another light: why do we pretend that the research we do has much if any impact? That’s where I got the most chuckles from, thinking that doing purposefully useless research could actually be indistinguishable from the research we’re supposed to be doing. It would be interesting to get off-the-record comments from those who make the funding decisions; do you guys really believe what we write in our grant applications? Or are you thinking like I am: at least half of all the research is completely useless crap, but the problem is knowing which half.