Last week, I looked at the new Coalition government’s intention to circumscribe the range of acceptable topics for Australian Research Council grants.
I think – aside from the obvious ‘condemn’ – that might also provide a useful starting point for a broader discussion on how we formulate research priorities and research policies. (I don’t think our conversations around LNP initiatives should be a binary one of reflex opposition – radical change also opens up space for felicitous rethinking and activism in civil society).
At orgtheory.net, Brayden King links to a farewell essay from David Courpasson, departing editor of the European journal Organization Studies.
The essay is provocative and a bit pessimistic, although not unfairly so. One of the major problems plaguing our field, Courpasson believes, is the development of a culture of productivity in social science, which seems to have most severely infected organizational and management research. In this culture of productivity, scholarship is not evaluated based on relevance or the quality of ideas but rather on the sheer volume of research that a scholar can produce. Professors are compelled to write lots of journal articles, and they push them out quickly in order to boost the length, but not necessarily the quality, of their CVs. Although he doesn’t mention it, this culture of productivity seems to have numerous institutional sources, including the practice of many departments that determine merit raises and tenure cases by “number counting” (i.e., deciding that someone deserves tenure based on the number of “A journal publications” the person has produced).
The consequences of this culture of productivity is to increase the sheer volume of publications but at the sacrifice of social relevance. The culture also has negative effects on the review and editing processes. Reviewers are worn out, editors are overwhelmed with new submissions, and there are simply too many journal articles to read and process.
In Australia, it seems to me, most university research and the publication process is designed not to produce scholarly knowledge or social or policy impact (except as incidental by-products), but to produce commodities as quickly as possible which are the raw inputs to metrics and rankings and therefore “reputation” and dollars.
We could probably do with a go slow.
We could also probably do with a conversation about how socially relevant and scholarly rigorous research could be facilitated outside the Taylorised production lines of the neo-liberal academy.