Articles

Making a Niche: The Marketization of Management Research and the Rise of “Knowledge Branding”

A. MEHRPOUYA, H. WILLMOTT

Journal of Management Studies

juin 2018, vol. 55, n°4, pp.728-734

Départements : Comptabilité et Contrôle de Gestion, GREGHEC (CNRS)

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joms.12336/abstract?campaign=wolacceptedarticle


In this essay, we discuss an underexplored and consequential aspect of management scholarship that we term ‘Knowledge Branding’. Knowledge Branding refers to forms of market‐oriented work undertaken when creating, maintaining and developing niches of research. We consider some of the conditions and consequences of Knowledge Branding in the formation and expansion of management research sub‐fields, and then suggest how its more damaging effects might be mitigated.We invite participation in a ‘difficult conversation’ about the culture of market‐oriented knowledge production in management research, not only by raising uncomfortable questions about its grip on our field but also because we acknowledge our complicity in what we discuss. One of us (Hugh) has had an academic career spanning four decades, has been keenly observing the evolution of management scholarship, and has been questioning recent trends such as the commercialization and marketization of higher education, the commodification of academic labour, and the rise of managerialism evident in the use of performance measurement systems such as journal lists. At the same time, he has served on panels responsible for evaluating business and management research (e.g., the UK research evaluation exercises, RAE and REF). By associating funding more directly to short(‐ish) term performance metrics, such exercises are seen to have accelerated the marketization of research that we consider here. The other (Afshin) has started his academic career relatively recently. He has closely and personally experienced and observed the intensifying pressures upon Early Career Researchers (ECRs) to maximize ‘hits’ in ‘top’ journals that are fuelled by the importance placed by ‘consumers’ (students) and managers (deans, appointment and promotion committee members) on rankings of business schools and universities.Writing this essay was prompted by our reflections on the process of preparing and revising a paper for a special issue of Journal of Management Studies dedicated to ‘Political CSR’ (Scherer et al., 2016). Our participation in a number of workshops, conference sessions, and the review processes in relation to the preparation and revision of the paper led us to reflect in a more sustained way upon a process that we believe to be consequential in the rise of Political CSR, and that we characterize as Knowledge Branding. Based on personal experiences and discussions with a number of colleagues, we have come to believe that Knowledge Branding exerts an increasing influence in the formation and expansion of management research sub‐fields which we term Knowledge Brands (KBs). Examples with which we have more familiarity include ‘Political CSR’, ‘Strategy‐as‐Practice’, ‘Institutional Logics’ and ‘Institutional Work’. There are also methodological KBs, such as the ‘Gioia Methodology’, that cut across diverse sub‐fields. This list is by no means exhaustive and it would be surprising, in the context of intensifying competition to occupy the restricted spaces in ‘top’ journals, if the phenomena of Knowledge Branding and KBs were absent from other management sub‐disciplines (e.g., finance and marketing) or other fields of the social sciences.We are not taking issue with the disciplinarity of research in management and the lifecycle of sub‐disciplines that have been explored and debated extensively by others. Nor do we seek to reflect on the role of management academics (along with consultants and other professional groups) in developing and marketing managerial techniques and in giving rise to ‘management fashions’ (Abrahamson, 1996). Instead, our essay foregrounds the nature and effects of an intensification of market‐based organizing in the establishment and consolidation of management research sub‐fields. We do not suggest here that Knowledge Branding is a wholly new phenomenon. We do believe, however, that it is becoming more widespread and significant as an outcome, but also as a medium, of the intensification of market pressures and managerialism in our field. If our speculative observations resonate with our readers, then we hope that our sketch of Knowledge Branding will prompt more systematic scrutiny and evaluation of its operation and effects


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