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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Introduction from the Editors
This is not a “special issue” of CPOIB but in it, by chance rather than design, we bring together a series of papers that address the broad field of “management education”, and set it into an international context. Since management education will have a major, long-term impact on activities in the field of international business, we consider it crucial to open up critical debate on the nature and content of management programmes in universities and business schools, particularly where these programmes are aimed at an international student cohort, and proclaim to advance discussion from multiple cultural, national and ethical perspectives.
The various articles deal with issues of what constitutes “management knowledge” and its transferability across national boundaries, with the experiences of students and teachers of management and organisation studies in different national contexts, and with questions of “identity”; how it is constructed by or about the individual and read by others. Empirical data are presented and discussed in order to underpin critical reflection upon the experiences of students of business studies from Chinese-speaking cultures in the “second culture” context of a UK business school, upon the transferability of management knowledge from US business schools to the developing economy of Argentina, and upon the construction and projection of identity by the MBA student in the global context. Finally, a personal reflection upon a journey through South America highlights the nature of difference and fragmentation across what might be seen by many in the First World context as a by and large homogeneous socio-economic region.
In their paper on the “cultural experiences of overseas business students’, Martyna Sliwa and Gina Grandy engage with the narratives of a group of “Chinese” students and their “English” teachers in a UK business school context. They acknowledge the limitations of these labels of national/international identity, but playfully incorporate their usage into their discussion of the nature of the cultural experience of the students, and of the responses of the educators. Through recounting and discussing illustrative examples from their interviews with the two groups, they challenge positivistic approaches to delineating cultures, which posit them as definable, distinct and measurable entities. This may not come as a major revelation to the critical scholar, but the discussion moves rapidly from a breakdown of this single reality, and beyond notions of the multiple realities of different groups, into consideration of Baudrillard’s concept of hyper-reality; a situation in which teachers and students can no longer distinguish between the real and the unreal, truth and falsity, and between what is possible and impossible within their context of thinking and acting. The authors explore the varying reasons expressed as to why an English education in business studies might be considered of value to the Chinese student. Discussion of the simple act of adopting an English name presents the possibilities of the naming; and by inference, the entire educational process; being both meaningless and significant, instrumental and symbolic, underpinned by respect and by mocking; all of these to the same individuals at the same time. From their consideration of the hyper-reality of their informants, Sliwa and Grandy invite us to be more critically reflexive about the nature of the education process, about the content of education, and about our own role as educators within the process. They pose the question of whether both the processes of cross-cultural communication and of knowledge transfer are reality or mere illusion.
The concept of knowledge transfer is the focus of the paper by Ernesto Gantman and Martin Parker, on “organising management knowledge in Argentina”. Here, the geographical context is that of developing world dissemination of knowledge, rather than that of developed world generation and imparting of that knowledge. Gantman and Parker address two contradictory approaches to consideration of the process of knowledge transfer; first, the managerialist approach in which the acquisition of this knowledge is seen as being of prime importance to increased productivity and growth in developing economies; and second, the counter-argument that the uncritical adoption of the approaches offered may lead to suppression and discounting of valuable local knowledge, and may be counterproductive. However, they point to a general lack of detailed analysis of the nature of management knowledge circulation in the context of its enactment, and here, offer a contextual analysis based upon empirical study in Argentina, seeking to “bring the periphery closer to the centre of scholarly attention”. Gantman’s and Parker’s discussion of the Argentine context begins with consideration of the growth of management knowledge in the developed world, primarily in the USA, and its subsequent bifurcation into academic and practitioner literature sets which; despite some degree of overlap, as in Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review; are constructed around and distinguished by the “common language for business practitioners’ and the “obscure and pedantic” academic language. The authors show that, in the Argentine management education context, it is the practitioner-oriented literature which has gained a dominant position, in terms of its application to teaching and as a model for writing and publication by Argentine academics. Constrained, in part, by lack of engagement with the “core” model of academic writing in the field of management, Argentine academics are shown not to have published in core publications. This is in contrast to other fields, such as economics, where Argentine academics have gained a global reputation. A further constraint on academic ambition is shown to lie in the close linkage and crossover between the worlds of teaching and consultancy, whereby “most of the academic elite are also members of the consulting elite”, and engagement in academic endeavour is the secondary activity. In the end, Gantman and Parker highlight the uncritical transfer of popular US managerial thinking into the Argentine academic and consultancy arenas, where its usefulness is accepted without question. They then leave the question of whether or not this is useful for Argentine society at large for the reader to decide.
In the final reviewed article, Nic Beech considers the nature of the “international MBA”, and of the construction and projection of identity assigned to MBA students in the marketing literature of business schools. Beech opens his argument by reference to Mintzberg’s critique of MBAs, and his assertion that there is no identifiable “international” MBA programme. Rather, in most programmes there is a focus on silo-based, didactic teaching, with a hierarchy of information flow from the teacher to the student with no space for reflection, and with a resultant dominance of one way of thinking about and in management. Beech refers to challenges to Mintzberg’s model by others, who identify a broader range of diverse models and a greater balance between didactic teaching and reflective learning. However, his main argument is that, despite the espoused individualism of business schools, and the centrality of the self-reliant, self-realising individual to the MBA discourse, there is an overarching convergence and conformity in relation to the dominant projected identity of the “typical” MBA entrant/student/graduate for most programmes. The paper presents summary data from an empirical study based upon narrative analysis of the brochures of 140 business schools in the USA and Europe. The author shows that the target entrant to an MBA programme will already have most, if not all of the characteristics of the graduate, being able to demonstrate excellence, leadership, and interpersonal skills. The discourse of the MBA brochure is not on what the graduate will have, but on what they will have become. Beech points to the unresolved tensions in this process of becoming; between individualism and collectivism, between didactic teaching and group learning, between instrumentalism and altruism. He also highlights the unknowable nature of the “missing ingredient” that the MBA adds to the individual. In the end, Beech does not agree with Mintzberg, that MBA programmes are singular in form, but he highlights that whilst MBA brochures may show culturally and ethnically diverse groups of people, the nature of the MBA identity construction process means that there will not be a genuine diversity of views and identities within the group.
The three papers outlined above each use empirical data to engage with a range of theoretical stances in order to demonstrate that there is both a set of forces which drive convergence and similitude in relation to issues of cross-cultural communication, knowledge construction and transfer, and identity construction within management study and education, and a set which drive divergence and difference. The tensions which are inherent in each argument are seen to remain by and large unrecognised by many of the actors in the situations discussed. All of the authors raise important questions to which they offer no simple answers. Rather, they seek to stimulate further thought and critical reflection in the reader.
In his “postcard from South America”, Miguel Imas offers a descriptive account of his travels to Chile and Brazil, and of his engagement, both physically and intellectually, with a range of individuals and groups; from the academic community of the Brazilian Academy of Management, to the piquetero movement and their weekly roadblocks in Buenos Aires; from his cousin, the “manager of the month” in a Chilean bank, to the marginalised people who cannot afford education and healthcare in a country which offers the “American dream” to all who come. Imas’s reflections highlight further diversity, from the dominant position of science and rationality in Chilean management thinking, to the emergence of “genuine intellectual debate” and a challenge to USA and European academic thought in Brazil. However, as in the USA and Europe, it appears that the critical debate is peripheral to the core managerialist hegemony and, as highlighted by Gantman and Parker, “pop” literature from American managerialists dominates mainstream thinking. Imas points to the divides between and within South American societies, and within the field of management and organisation studies and, crucially, he hints at the need for a critical approach to managing, as an act, rather than to management, as an abstract concept and subject of philosophical posturing.
In her review of the International Handbook on Globalisation, Education and Policy Research, edited by Joseph Zajda, Roulla Hagen outlines in a limited space the extent to which this “serious, scholarly tome” raises awareness of the dominance of a “neo-liberal “economic metaphor”’ as a driver of international business activity. She outlines how this leads a drive towards “mechanistic” forms of education, and how education becomes both a vehicle for, and a passenger of the drivers of privatisation, commercialisation and the dominance of market forces. This book offers critical commentary on a broad range of issues from a wide range of social, cultural and political perspectives. Hagen commends this book as an essential reference source for all who wish to understand the position of management education in the political gamesmanship of globalisation.
This issue concludes with a review of a short book; Neil Crofts’ Authentic Business – an Inspiring Challenge, reviewed by Geoff Moore. In contrast to the previous reviewed book, this is a “how to do it” book, which sets out the author’s views on how to create and sustain an “authentic business”. Whilst this may sound like just another “airport book”, as Moore points out, this is not a sales pitch about personal or organisational success. It is a book in which the author seeks to promote interest in an alternative way of doing business, where there is a central, and genuine concern for issues of climate change, sustainability and environment, social justice and poverty reduction, biodiversity, and approaches to these which offer education, inspiration and authenticity. The book offers illustrative examples of “authentic businesses” and seems to admit that these will always be small. There is no overt theory offered, but Moore suggests that, as educators, we might learn a lot from the examples and the principles set out.
We hope that the range of papers included in this issue will stimulate thinking on the nature of management education, and on its significance in the field of international business. Should we question whether an international education programme offers students a truly international experience, or merely transports them from their own context into an alien environment where they are exposed to the socio-cultural hegemony of their hosts? When we consider the nature of knowledge transfer across national boundaries, do we see commitment to inform and to stimulate new ways of thinking and acting, or do we observe attempts at imposing rationalistic, pseudo-scientific models of management for political and economic purposes? We welcome development of the debate within the pages of CPOIB.
George Cairns, Joanne Roberts