The critical academic attitude behaviour gap

Every consumer researcher (which sadly I have to be from time to time) encounters the “attitude-behaviour gap”. That is, we observe that the things people say they value are rarely reflected consistently in their behaviour. Think about it, you probably care about the environment, but do you really do EVERYTHING you can. Do you recycle everything? Of course not.

Critically-minded academics in a business school face similar dilemmas. It would be perfect if we could align our research, teaching, administration and personal values and behaviour outside of the academic but this seems very difficult. In terms of research, it is incredibly difficult to build a career in a business school engaging purely in critical theory, political economics or philosophy. In terms of teaching, we have an obligation to educate students in the foundations of business disciplines – even if we critique those foundations in our research. As administrators, we might want to help shape our institution but, in the process, become the managers we readily critique in our research and teaching.

And then there’s life outside the academy. One charge levelled at critical business researchers is that they talk a good game but happily ignore their critical values in everyday life. Rumours abound of successful critical scholars demanding and commanding huge salaries; consulting institutions for research audits they complain about in print; exploiting junior colleagues emotionally, physically and productively; jet-setting round the world, starbucks coffee in hand and apply laptop constantly charged with little thought of their carbon footprint. They bemoan the conventional nature of journal articles by writing journal articles. They complain about journal lists but always seem to publish, work for and support them (see Rowlinson and Hassard for more on this).

Rather than simply highlight these attitude behaviour gaps, I’ve been thinking about how to work around them. In particular, it seems to me that if we accept that universally aligning critical attitudes with the demands on our behaviours is out of the reach of most of us, then which is better:

Is it better to research and teaching conventional business ideas but live an unconventional life outside the academy?

Or is it better to research and teach critical ideas but live an uncritical conventional life outside the academy?


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