Exploring the BAM 2015 Conference

The British Acnetworkademy of Management (BAM) hosted their 29th Annual Conference at the University of Portsmouth from the 8th – 10th September 2015.  As a member of Leeds Beckett’s Centre for Governance, Leadership & Global Responsibility I was lucky enough to be one of the  750 delegates along with other Leeds Beckett colleagues, Professor Jeff Gold, Dr William Sun and Dr Nii Amoo.  The theme this year was “The Value of Pluralism in Advancing Management Research, Education and Practice” and there were many tracks and symposia of interest as can be seen in the full programme. I was there to present and further my own research interests in management education for responsibility and received some invaluable feedback on my paper “Finding Our Way: Pluralism and Plurality in Management Education for Responsibility”.  In particular I was most grateful for the input of Dr Dirk Moosmayer, Associate Editor of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal, who kindly shared his views on my work and his own research data.  His paper with Oliver Laasch “Responsible Management Competences: An Integrative Portfolio for Sustainability, Responsibility, and Ethics” argued for a competence-portfolio for the responsible management inter-discipline with six integrative domains of competences related to ‘knowledge (know)’, ‘analysis (think)’, ‘action (do)’, ‘interaction (relate)’, ‘character (be)’ and ‘self-adaptation (become)’.

As a BAM “virgin”, to be honest, I did not know what else to expect from this mass gathering of academic interests.  What I found there was rich and diverse conversation which challenged and extended my thinking. With so much to engage with, of course any one delegate’s path is specific and limited however I try to share here a flavour of what I heard and learned.

Arriving slightly late on the first day, I was disappointed to miss the opening plenary address by Professor Mats Alvesson on “The Triumph of Emptiness. Grandiosity and zero-sum games in contemporary organizations and society” pointing to how, in our age of branding and marketing, the perceived importance of concepts such as strategy, leadership, knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship is promoted to the deficit of good understanding within management theory and practice.  However I still felt included in the audience as delegates talked about the relevance of these themes and the insight offered by this plenary in many of the subsequent sessions I was able to catch.

I was able to benefit from the “Meet the Editors” session later that day where British Journal of Management (BJM) Co-Editor, Dr Pawan Budhwar, Journal of Management Studies (JMS) Coordinator, Dr Margaret Turner, International Journal of Management Reviews (IJMR) Co-Editors, Dr Caroline Gatrell and Dr Ossie Jones and Organization Studies Senior Editor, Dr Mike Zundel provided insider tips on submitting to their respective journals.  This was encouraging and useful, enhancing my understanding of the unique interests and needs of these prestigious journals.

With so many options for the next two days, I am sure I missed many very valuable paper presentations (including sadly those of my Leeds Beckett colleagues), however I was energised and excited by those I was able to attend.

My “highlights” included the session by Dr Leonard Holmes on “Management learning – the very idea!”.  The paper explored conceptual and theoretical notions of management learning, i.e. of how we might understand what is taking place when we talk of persons who are (or who aspire to be) managers learning and persons learning management. Such an exploration is required, it was argued, because the notion of learning remains a source of conceptual confusion, compounded by the ‘learning turn’ that has taken place over the past three decades or so.  In our later more detailed conversation I was very interested to hear of Dr Holmes’ broader research interests in critical realism and his work on emergent identity.

Dr Efrosyni Konstantinou presented her developmental paper “Blanchot – the new black: an essay on the nature of project work and the relationship between the project professional and the work” which raised fascinating questions on the ideals driving professional work.  This short conceptual essay focused on the work of Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) and explored his thinking in relation to the nature of project work and the relationship that the project professional has with the work. Blanchot focuses on the unique demands that work makes upon our attention – his ideas answer the questions ‘what is the nature of work?’ and, by implication, ‘who does work require me to be?’. He uniquely conceptualises work as an entity that could almost be seen to have a life of its own and make demands upon those who have chosen to deliver it. Hence attention is drawn to serving the work and contributing towards the demonstration and manifestation of a higher order of meaning and an ideal which can be seen as the foundation of ethical and professional practice.

Jonathan Louw’s session on “PRME: A study of institutional entrepreneurship” was of great interest given Leeds Beckett’s own recent sign up to PRME, The UN Global Compact on Principles for Responsible Management Education.   This paper is a work in progress towards an account, from a neo-institutional theory perspective, of the implementation of PRME.  The analysis is empirically based and draws on narrative interviews conducted in UK business schools. The paper aims to address two questions (1) What are the reported practices and strategies deployed by PRME advocates (institutional entrepreneurs) in their work to institutionalise PRME? and (2) What are the macro/micro dimensions of institutional logics within business school settings – at both organisational and field levels – that hinder or promote the work of PRME institutional entrepreneurs?

“Fidel the musical’ and hairdressers – turning research into impact” by Dr Denise Baden told a fascinating tale of how academics can make an impact through broader social action as well as through their writing in “serious” journals.  Inspired by Principle 4 of the PRME framework which claims that ‘we will engage in conceptual and empirical research that advances our understanding about the role, dynamics, and impact of corporations in the creation of sustainable social, environmental and economic value’, this paper describes two initiatives that in very different ways have addressed the challenge of turning research into impact. In the first, students in schools and colleges across the UK were engaged to write songs for a musical about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. The second was an account of a high impact study using hairdressers to disseminate sustainable practices across the UK population.

I am very much looking forward to continuing my conversations with these new colleagues over the coming year, perhaps meeting again if not before at next year’s BAM conference at the University of Newcastle which I commend to you.

Marie Kerr

Marie is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Strategy, Marketing and Communication, Faculty of Business and Law at Leeds Beckett University.

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