Learning set 8

In the Learning Set this week, you should continue to dialogue about your workplace-based problem. As you engage in the problematising process and begin taking action, consider how this week’s concepts and models inform your understanding of your workplace-based problem.
Consider the following questions with your Learning Set:
How is criticality reflected in the problematising process?
What role does critical reflection play in your pursuit of scholarly practice?
How can critical action learning help you affect change in your workplace?
What do you need to understand more about through research?
How will you review your findings from action and research? How will you review your learning?
Video: Critically Assessing Criticality
Dr. Lisa Anderson: When we’re thinking about what criticality is, we really have to go back to the roots of critical management studies and what critical management studies entails. When we’re talking about CMS, we’re looking at writers like Christopher Gray, Hugh Wilner, Linda Parroton, Max Alvesson, StunleyDeets, Michael Reynolds, who are all known as critical management studies academics, or critters, as they sometimes like to call themselves. And critical management studies has its roots in critical social theory. And critical social theory is based on the work of the group of scholars known as the Frankfurt School.
And these were quite a diverse group of left wing intellectuals who worked at the institute, the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research during the 1920s and early ’30s. And they then based themselves in the US when the Nazis came to power. But that group of scholars include people like Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas. And the term “critical theory” was actually created by Horkheimer in 1937, and he used the term to distinguish between traditional theory and the new perspective adopted by this group.
And the perspective was based on a critical discussion of all social practices.
And they challenged the thinking of prominent philosophers, like Kant and Hegel and Marx and Weber and Freud. The themes that go through the work of the Frankfurt
School are ideas like dialectics, emancipation, hegemony, democratization, anti- positivism, and praxis. And these are all central ideas which are found in their work. Many of these ideas were taken up in the work of critical management studies, critical management academics.
The idea that has gained the most credence or credentials out of all of those is this idea of emancipation, or emancipatory interest. And this is the idea that inquiry or research or research and practice shouldn’t just lead to new truths but should lead to changes which serve the interests of all groups, and particularly those groups who’ve lacked power in the past. And so these are all about systems, human needs within those systems, and societies and workplaces that are free from domination.
And critical management studies has really taken on this idea and really formed the whole questioning approach to management and organizational practice in general. Now, central to this idea of critical management studies, and particularly critical pedagogue and critical learning, is this idea of critical reflection. Michael Reynolds talks about critical reflection as having five main principles, the first of which is about questioning assumptions and taken for granted. Okay, so not simply, as he calls it, “exercising judgments of a practical, technical nature,” as we might do in normal day-to- day practice, but really looking at the assumptions which underpin that practice. Why do we do these things? Why are these things important? Why have always done it like that?
His second principle is that it has a collective focus. And Reynolds talks about the overriding preoccupation with the individual and the personal. And this really looks
at the collective focus, particularly in terms of learning. And so the DBA that we have here, that we’ve created here, is very much based on this idea of collective learning, rather than just personal and individual amassing of knowledge.
Reynolds’ third principle is about analyzing power relations. And he thinks that is the most significant distinction between reflection and critical reflection. Simple reflection really is about thinking about questioning basic assumptions. For him, critical reflection is looking at the power relationships which underpin those basic assumptions, particularly in an organizational context, and particularly looking at the relationship between management and workers.
Reynolds’ fourth principle is concerned with emancipation. And that’s really about quite a broad approach to looking at a more just and fair society, more just, fair,
and democratic society. Although other writers talk about this idea of micro emancipation, which is a lovely idea, and this is really about micro emancipations happening in pockets in people’s lives and around the workplace. And it’s a much more workable idea than thinking about changing society wholesale.
So our DBA is very much based on this idea of micro emancipations. And it’s Alvesson and Willmott in 1992 who talked about the idea of micro emancipation. And this is the key premise of what we’re trying to do in the DBA. It’s about taking something of a pragmatic approach to criticality. But in taking that pragmatic approach, we aren’t talking about losing any of the scholarly nature of what we’re doing. We’re just not overtly engaging with what might be called a critical curriculum– this critical curriculum with a capital C which has its base in the Frankfurt School and has its basis
in the work of writers such as Willmott– although I am sure you will come across their work as you go through the program, and very useful and insightful it is too. But we’re not basing our program wholly on this critical curriculum because we also think that criticality can come from an examination of practice and looking at practice in the context of scholarship and research.
So what we’re involved with on this program is much more of what we might call a small C criticality and thinking about what that means for practicing managers. And it’s very much about the creation of useful theory, theory which has an application, theory which in a practice which invites learners to be active, and leading to change both in self and in the system in question, and that might be micro systems within an organization or large systems or societal systems.
And the kind of reflection that we’re looking at, yes, is critical reflection and maybe large C critical reflection, but it’s very often small C critical reflection because we’re asking you to very much examine your practice and to think about the tensions and the unsettling that occurs in looking at that practice and looking at what the literature says. But we’re much more about reflection in action rather than reflection on action, if we use a term whichSchon has coined. So it’s very much about thinking about your practice, being very thoughtful about your practice, being very critical of your own practice, questioning those assumptions.
And we’re also interested in double-loop rather than single-loop learning. And Burgoynes used the term “meta-competence” to distinguish higher order abilities, thinking abilities, which are being about being able to learn, to adapt, anticipate, and
create as equals. So it’s about gaining new knowledge, it’s about using new knowledge, it’s about creating new knowledge, it’s about being able to think in a very, very different way, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve, and that’s the basis of criticality on this DBA program.
So we are influenced by the large C, and we have to say that that large C criticality is where all of this is actually started, but we also believe that that small C criticality comes from a deep examination and an engagement with one’s own practice. The next question is about making a paradigm shift from passive learning to critical questioning and double-loop learning. I’m going to turn that around a little bit a talk about the notion of being a scholarly practitioner and how critical reflection is at the core of what we do
at a doctoral level, particularly for a professional doctorate, which is the one we’re engaged in here and why that’s so important.
And so critical reflection on a professional doctorate programming is really about working in what we’ve called inquiry mode. So we expect managers who practice at doctoral level to work in this inquiry mode as part of their professional development and hopefully their ongoing professional practice once they’re on the program and once you’ve completed the program.
And we’re really thinking about managers as doctoral-level learners, doctoral-level researchers, and doctoral-level leaders. And we’re interested in the development
of the manager in the round, not just at looking at how managers might be better at being leaders or how managers might be better at being researchers, which, you know, are the kind of paths that you might get if you went down an organizationally focused
leadership development program or if you went down a traditional PhD route.
This is very much integrated and has a much stronger degree of interdisciplinarity.
So that’s why our focus is on collaborative inquiry, action research: encouraging students to use contextually embedded data, encouraging learners to be reflective and reflexive instead of being neutral and detached from the situation. As managers learning whilst working and studying at this kind of level, you are embedded in that situation. You are engaged in that situation every day. And we don’t, as researchers, want you to become suddenly neutral and detached from that. We want you to be able to use that embeddedness but to become reflective and reflexive, to think about what that actually means to be in that situation and, in doing so, to become more aware
of yourself as a manager, as a practitioner, as a researcher, as a leader.
So learning is about, you know, this idea of critical reflection, the development of metacognitive skills, the development of what we’ve called “tools for thinking.” So what we offer on this program are some tools for thinking, and this idea has been used several times in the literature already. We offer you ideas. We offer you actual learning sets. We offer you academic material that will make you think in a different way and help you develop these higher-order abilities. And we take in some of our ideas from work that’s been done in other professions to think about what management as a profession might look like and what professional managers who are operating at this
level in a scholarly way might be like, and so whether we’re thinking about managers and leaders as being thoughtful, as thoughtful leaders, but also as thought leaders, as being able, because of the nature of their critical approach to work, to recognize and
deal with tensions and to think about leaders as researchers.
Research is synonymous with learning. Also something that we’ve learned from the
medical profession– and I’m engaged in a research project at the moment which is looking at how medics learn to practice and then comparing that with how managers learn to practice– is this idea of professional behavior. And the medics talk about this idea of professional behavior being a state, not a trait. It’s a way of being. And I think that’s really important, something that we’re actually trying very hard to think about in terms of what that might mean for managers.
And it’s also the kind of knowledge and learning that you need in order to practice successfully and thoughtfully. And the Greek word for this isphronesis,which translates as the idea of having practical wisdom or professional judgment, and that sums up this idea of knowledge quite beautifully, really. So this shift occurs by– lots of writers have talked about the fact that in order for higher-order, higher-level, transformational learning, as Mezirow calls it, or double-loop learning, as Argyris calls it, that in order to make that transition for the acceptance of normative theories and normative ideas into that questioning and critical approach that there then needs to be some kind of unsettling or discomfort, and in order to get to that state of critical reflection, there needs to be this idea that somehow you are challenged intellectually and personally in order to be able to take on new behaviors and to create new ideas.
And in order to be able to make that paradigm shift, you have to be prepared to be unsettled, prepare to be surprised, prepare to be made to be in the wrong and to actually–to question the things that you’ve done in the past or to question your whole approach to knowledge or to how you’ve accepted knowledge before or to a piece of
knowledge which you may well have held dear for a long time which is now being called into question, and critically reflective practitioners are able to do that.
Critical reflective practitioners and people who are capable of effecting change in themselves and change in other people and in organizations are able to undergo that discomfort. And Argyris talks about espoused theories and theories in use, and our espoused theories are very much about what we publicize to the world, what we tell the world that we do.
And our theories in use are really about our actual behavior. And action learning is a really good way of testing out espoused theories versus theories in use. What do we write on our CVs or our résumés, or what do we say at a job interview, and what do we actually do? And Argyris actually has a technique for getting managers to think about where those differences lie. And that takes a great deal of feeling uncomfortable, because there then needs to be a commitment to change.
So in terms of being a force for change in your organization and somebody who, at the end of this program, will be capable of taking of an action research project and to do it justice, there is a need to be able to accept that feeling of being uncomfortable that change brings about or that higher-level learning brings about and to be able to understand that, to process it, and to be able to live with it, and to be comfortable with some ambiguity and some tension and not to have to live with certainty all the time.

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