Undisciplined Theory

I collected books from the university library a few weeks back and picked up a book from my list of references on the topic of qualitative research methods. I quickly scanned it for its usefulness. One such usefulness criteria is the date of publication. 1967. Who in his right mind references such an old volume today? I left it just to return to it an hour later realizing it is the original work by Glaser and Strauss.

It occurred to me that just as any student of Grounded Theory (GT) would not dream of using this methodology without acknowledging this foundation work, we equally do not challenge Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory as it supports many recent contributions to management and motivation literature today. There may be some aspects of both these theories that don’t sit well with all researchers but both these seminal works left a basis from where we can depart. The novice does not have to start from scratch or worse, start from a jelloware base.

Another little gem I found is Undisciplined Theory by Gary Genesko. Not easy bedtime reading but it has a refreshing view on interdisciplinary level theory. He challenges the limitations placed by institutional organizations on social theory, which tends to assume an established canon of work and clear boundaries. Academia ends up with concrete practices of theoretical production and reproduction.

This made me think of the state of RA material. Like in formal theory, we can argue that we have concrete practices out there and a number of war veterans who deserve a state burial the day they depart. But most of the work is a reproduction of what already exists. A proprietor, like a university or state department, that owns a body of knowledge it produced over a period of time. Unfortunately not of substance to stand the Glaser or Maslow test of time.

But this is good news. I hope that posts like this will entice other researcher to approach the study of RA in a more formal manner. Maslow and Glaser devoted their lives to their work, well Glaser is still active. This did not happen in 5 or 10 or even 20 years. A decade or two is normal and relatively little for the development of the good stuff.

I support Genosko’s notion of questioning the limits of the canon and expose the porous character of boundaries. He believes that three urgent requirements emerge for social theory.

1.    To think and feel ambivalence. The love and hate relationship we have in this industry both between groups or schools of thought and between those that believe the industry has a right to existence and those that cannot fathom what it is all about. This in my mind is good tension for a good story;

2.  To track the circulation of anomalies in theoretical texts. We circulate selectively, we quote selectively and we apply selectively. When you zoom in RA, the anomalies stand out. Yet we seldom question the reliability and validity of what we use or follow. We ignore context and personal or commercial motivation when we make important decisions affecting the common good of this colony. I sound like the narrator of Antz :)

3.  To learn from the fascination with interpretive boundlessness. I have to concede though that for many RA is just another job. It probably does not hold the fascination for many practitioners and life is too short to get over interpretive about what is really cooking under the hood. Can we see the RA movie in 4D now pleeezze?

I don’t think there are right and wrong answers but there is definitely another way to put this puzzle together.

Güera Romo
Güera Romo
Güera has many years of experience in business transformation in the engineering, defense, government, banking and telecommunication industries. She has experience in mergers & acquisition, rightsizing, re-deployment of personnel, business process re-engineering, system selection and implementation.   Güera holds a BCom Hon (Industrial and Organizational Psychology) degree and is currently pursuing a doctorate that draws on her practical experience of developing human resource capabilities within large corporations.