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The nature of knowledge in business schools

Chia, R. and Holt, R. (2008) The nature of knowledge in business schools. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 7 (4). pp. 471-486. ISSN 1537-260X

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Abstract

We contribute to the debate on the future of business schools by investigating the nature of knowledge being produced and taught within them. We identify how a preference for abstract causal explanation over practical knowledge, and for reason and truth over what works, has led to a privileging of detached contemplation over involved action. Despite repeated calls to make management research and education more "relevant" to practice, many business schools continue to privilege rigor and precision as the arbiters of authoritative knowledge using representational devices such as conceptual models, case studies, and other formal classifications. We argue that risks of ignorance and detachment emerge from this singular attachment to knowledge-by-representation in business schools. We identify the need for an alternative, accompanying form of knowledge associated with the art of management that can only be transmitted through exemplary behaviour within the business education process. We call this knowledge-by-exemplification: one that is demonstrative, creative and unreflectively performative, transmitted directly through the demeanor, style, and mannerism of management educators rather than through the content of lectures. For us, it is this relatively unnoticed aspect of the education process that provides one possible answer to the predicament of relevance facing business schools.