Problematizing international business futures through a 'critical scenario method'

Sliwa, M and Cairns, George and Wright, George (2010) Problematizing international business futures through a 'critical scenario method'. Futures, 42 (9). pp. 971-979. ISSN 0016-3287 (

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This paper proposes the need for change in how managers in international business (IB) determine organisational objectives and what criteria they use in addressing complex problems. We propose a move from a largely firm-centric focus; on profit maximization and shareholder value; to a broader societal and environmental view. We see the educational context as the locus for initiating such a shift. However, we see obstacles within the canon of mainstream IB textbooks, with their focus on exposition of normative models of managerial action, illustrated by case studies of successful multinational enterprises (MNEs). Whilst we acknowledge their incorporation of critical issues, we view the lack of substantive critical reflection on the wider implications of IB activity as underpinned by an implicit assumption of the ‘good’ of IB. We posit that the normative structure of mainstream texts militates against students understanding the full range of possible futures for IB practice, and against developing the capability to cope with situations of uncertainty and ambiguity. Seeking to promote a critical pedagogy that accommodates consideration of both mainstream approaches and critical responses to these, we propose one approach to teaching and learning about IB futures that is based upon development of what we term ‘critical scenario method’. This offers a basis for active investigation of complex problems in the ‘real’ world from a range of perspectives, beyond that of profit maximization. We provide a worked, case example of our new method and demonstrate how it will enhance perceptions/understandings of involved and affected actors’ interests and their likely (re)actions as a particular scenario unfolds. The theoretical grounding for this approach is based upon contemporary social science interpretation of the Aristotelian concept of phronēsis, or ‘practical wisdom’.


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