Neil Lancastle, one of the School’s current PhD students, brings his experience of curricular reform in economics to bear upon the promises (and problems) of being “critical” in a School of Management.
Early in my PhD studies I was fortunate enough to read the sort of economic work which can now rightly claim to have ‘seen the crisis coming’. Interestingly, the very figures undertaking this work had, until quite recently, been routinely side-lined by the traditional gatekeepers of the economics profession. Such crucial work, it is so often said, survived only because it was initially undertaken within refuges ‘outside’ of the economic mainstream such as the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. The voices of Rethinking Economics, the Post-Crash Economics Society and the Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism (CSEP) today offer convincing arguments against the economic orthodoxy. That this wasn’t always the case perhaps tells us something about the discipline of economics in particular and about the responsibilities of intellectuals more generally.
Alongside members of the above mentioned groups, I am currently involved in a major review of the UK Economics Subject Benchmark Statement, the statement which effectively defines the curriculum for all students of economics. My colleagues and I believe that the teaching of economics needs to be less dominated by mathematical models and better connected to real-world problems. This requires a questioning of the unstated assumptions routinely made by economists alongside the placing of an emphasis upon their greater need for humility, self-awareness and critical reflection. The process also involves engaging in an ongoing dialogue with colleagues at the French PEPS-Economie and the German Pluralist Economics Network. While certainly not denying the fact that heterodox economists have made such reformative calls in the past, or the fact that manifestos for curricular reform are hardly unprecedented, the present initiative, in my opinion, is thriving as a result of the sheer scale of student involvement, media coverage and political attention.
So what, if anything, has all of this got to do with the research and teaching undertaken at a School of Management? Those associated with Leicester’s School of Management, as a scanning of the previous contributions to this blog clearly suggest, approach their object – Management – in a somewhat unconventional manner. This “critical” approach, with its heady combination of neo-Marxism, labour process theory, Critical Theory, Gramscian theory, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, literary criticism, feminism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, environmentalism, etc., is anything but ‘mainstream’, anything but orthodox. Heterodox students of management, I believe, require something of a crisis in management, just as the status of heterodox economics has clearly benefited from the occurrence of the economic crisis.
In the meantime, perhaps a collective dialogue can be fostered within the interstices of heterodoxy. The disciplines of economics and management share a situation within which the importance of teaching is routinely subordinated to the importance of research. Research governance frameworks such as the REF impose this ‘general state of myopia’ upon academic work but why should the production of research be prioritised at the potential cost of reproducing the orthodoxy? How can critical research and critical pedagogy be combined? This is a question of intellectual ethics, a question where parallels between critical economics and critical management are more difficult to sketch. On the one hand, codes of ethics pervade the social sciences in general and management studies in particular. The 135-year-old American Economic Association (AEA), on the other hand, did ‘not have a code of conduct for its approximately 18,000 members’ as late as 2011.
What to do? Since the crisis, the economics profession has been an obvious target for reform. If students turn away from Economics in large numbers, they might turn towards Schools of Management and Business Schools. While the poetic irony of economics being devoured by market forces is ever so slightly delicious, I prefer the pursuit of a political solution, hence my involvement in campaigns for curricular reform, a call which I implore my critical colleagues in management to heed. The responsibility of intellectuals, as Noam Chomsky wrote, is less a matter of figures from one discipline interfering with the undertakings of those in another and more a matter of those figures mobilising against the hegemony of vested interests upon a common ground.