Yesterday, my article — “Going Public: Debating Matters of Concern as an Imperative for Management Scholars” — was published on the Academy of Management Review website. Co-authored with Dror Etzion (McGill University), in this review essay we assess the shale revolution through the lens of management theory and practice.
To do so, we draw on two recent books. First, based on a close reading of The Green and the Black, by Gary Sernovitz, we contend that fracking in America is a textbook example of “good” management. Nonetheless, as we subsequently document, fracking’s influence extends beyond immediate impacts in many social, environmental, and economic spheres, often with negative repercussions. Indeed, at different points during the last 20 years, fracking has been at the center of considerable contention and debate. Although management scholars have remained on the sidelines, academics from a variety of other disciplines have actively participated in this debate. We identify several topics where management scholars seem positioned to contribute well-informed opinions on fracking.
Then we draw upon Under the Surface, by Tom Wilber, which provides an up-close depiction of two non-management scholars—Professors Terry Engelder (geosciences) and Anthony Ingraffea (civil engineering)—and their sustained efforts to further the public debate on fracking in the United States. Their dialogues suggest models of possible management engagement and inspire us to reconsider what role, if any, management scholars might play as public intellectuals engaged in debates about major societal issues. Taking these two professors as potential archetypes, we suggest that one way for management scholars to increase their relevance and influence is by taking informed, evidence based, but ultimately principled positions on issues that are of concern to society.
Fracking, like many other issues confronting the world today, is values-laden. Accordingly, it is neither necessary nor likely that management scholars will agree with each other about which concerns are worth engaging or concur on how to address them. Here our essay raises issues that go beyond simply noting the absence of management scholarship on certain topics. Similarly, compared with the hand-wringing in our field that has focused on strategies for crossing the rigor-relevance divide or for deploying evidence-based management our investigation of the fracking debate suggests that a more fulfilling, and ultimately more profound route to scholarly impact might be through deeper engagement with what are essentially unsolvable, messy problems.
We close the essay by posing suggestions for what such public engagement might look like. First, we consider the kinds of problems that might lend themselves to public debate. Second, we tackle questions related to the ground rules for such debates, in terms of potential norms. Finally, we differentiate the kinds of public debates we have in mind from other forms of academic relevance. Essentially, we advocate for “going public” as a complement to rigorous and evidence-based academic research.
Etzion, D. & Gehman, J. Going Public: Debating Matters of Concern as an Imperative for Management Scholars. Academy of Management Review. In press. doi:10.5465/amr.2018.0016.