About SMK-N

Context of SMK-N

Sociology of Knowledge (SoK): From the work of Marx (1846 / 1971),Weber (1967), Mannheim (1968), and others, through to present-day accounts (Collins 1983; Fox 2000; Wenger 2000), knowledge (i.e., scientific knowledge) has been cast not simply as the outcome of incremental scientific processes and discoveries, but as the reflection of a myriad of socio-political actions embedded in social relationships (Kuhn 1962). Keep reading here

These contributions provide insights that encourage a questioning of the taken-for-granted aspects and certainties of accepted or received scientific knowledge that forms the basis of much of our teaching and research in universities in North America and elsewhere (Latour 2005; Tancred-Sheriff 1987).  Related critiques have brought to attention such issues as the influence of the socio-political (Chomsky 1997; Neusner and Neusner 1995; Schrecker 1986) or historical (Cooke 2003; Khurana 2007; Mintzberg and Rose 2003) context in which `scientific knowledge’ is produced, and also the socio-political influences and historical experiences that have served to privilege some aspects of knowledge production over others, not least of which are business (Newson and Buchbinder 1988; Thompson 1970; Tudiver 1999; Turk 2000), political (Keen 2004; Price 2004), national (Kieser 2004; McKee, Mills and Weatherbee 2005) and gendered influences (Bannerji et al. 1991; Guppy 1989; Hearn 2003). In terms of management and organizational studies, Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) now classic critique argued that the dominance of the natural science approach (or positivism) served to marginalize other perspectives that have the potential to reveal the socially constructed (interpretivism), oppressive and exploitative (radical) aspects of social life, while encouraging ahistorical, `presentist,’ `scientifistic’ and `universalistic’ (Booth and Rowlinson 2006) approaches to research. That is, a failure to take account of the role of the past, viewing the research outcomes of the present as valid and plausible across temporal periods, and treating research outcomes as being of more or less validity across different locations. Others have added to the argument for a `historic turn’ in management and organization studies (Booth and Rowlinson 2006; Jacques 2006; Rowlinson 2004), for greater attention to other paradigmatic approaches or traditions (Clegg and Dunkerley 1980; Prasad 2005), and to the relationship between knowledge and the gendered (feminist), racial and ethnic (racio-ethnic), and discursive (postmodern) aspects of social life (Acker 1992; Boje, Gephart and Thatchenkery 1996; Cox 1990; Prasad 2003).

This summary is only a small sample of the far ranging debate about the relationship between scientific knowledge, socio-political relationships, and context, but we have chosen to surface three crucial issues of interest:

  • Knowledge production: asking, how do certain forms of (management) knowledge develop?
  • The gendering of knowledge: asking, how do certain forms of (management) knowledge become gendered (i.e., favour masculinity over femininity; maleness over femaleness, etc.)?
  • The relationship between knowledge and history: asking, how is knowledge of the past created and how does this shape our understanding of management and organizational history (in Canada)?

The study of knowledge development: Moving beyond the various characterizations of the ontological and epistemological status of (management) knowledge, some attempts have been made to examine in detail the processes through which such knowledge comes to be. Scholars have been seeking to explain not so much what knowledge entails, but how it has become constructed and understood as such. This seeking includes at least two approaches with a degree of interest among management and organizational scholars – Foucauldian analysis (1973, 1979), and actor-network theory, or ANT (Latour 2005; Law 1994). Both offer a far-reaching methodological approach for tracing the development of knowledge over time. Respectively, Foucaldian analysis and ANT use archival data to explore the discursive nature of knowledge and how it changes through different epistemes (Foucault 1973), and ethnographic study to `follow actors’ in “scientific” projects as they construct scientific knowledge through various periods of social interaction (Law 1994).  Beyond debates around the veracity of each approach and its application (Mol 1998; Shiner 1982), both have been more cited than applied – likely due to the lengthy periods of time required to undertake adequate research (while `few have followed Foucault into the archives’ – Rowlinson, 2004, p.13, there are more exceptions in ANT — see, for example Dent 2003; Mol 2002). Both approaches have also been critiqued from a feminist perspective (Corrigan and Mills 2012), yet both also have their feminist adherents (Ferguson 1984; Haraway 1990; Hekman 1996; Hunter and Swan 2007; Singleton and Michael 1993; Thomas and Davies 2005). Finally, there is the question of history in each. While the past is the principle focus of Foucault’s approach, it is somewhat ironic that the subsequent development and application of critical discourse analysis tends to be ahistorical (Bryman et al. 2011). This may be due to the under-theorization of `the past’ (Munslow 2010), especially in management and organization studies (Weatherbee et al. 2012). Similarly, ANT, fails to treat `the past’ (specifically history) as a methodological concern (Durepos and Mills 2012a). Our approach involves a hybrid of Foucauldian analysis and actor-network theory, where we argue that the latter provides a useful and detailed approach for understanding the constitution of the social (through which knowledge is assembled) rather than Foucauldian constitution of the subject (through which knowledge is said to flow). The former, on the other hand, serves to locate knowledge production within the processes whereby a sense of the past is created. (Elsewhere we have chosen to call this hybrid approach `ANTi-History’ — see Durepos and Mills 2012a; Durepos and Mills 2012b; Mills and Durepos 2010).


Relationship to on-going research

The individual and collective research projects already undertaken relate to the project in several ways.

Knowledge production: team members have explored the relationship between socio-political context (Cooke, Mills and Kelley 2005; Dye, Mills and Weatherbee 2005; Genoe McLaren 2009; Genoe McLaren and Mills 2008b; Kelley, Mills and Cooke 2006); textbook production (Genoe McLaren, Durepos and Mills 2009; Genoe McLaren and Helms Mills 2010; Grant and Mills 2006; Mills and Helms Hatfield 1998); institutional influences (Genoe McLaren and Mills 2008a; Genoe McLaren and Mills 2011; Haddon and Mills 2008; Hartt et al. 2009; Helms Mills, Weatherbee and Colwell 2006; McKee, Mills and Weatherbee 2005) and the development of management theory in North America (Durepos, Mills and Weatherbee 2012; Kelley, Mills and Cooke 2006)

Gender and management knowledge: the Principal Investigator and Jean Helms Mills have considerable long-term track records (Mills 1997, 2004; Mills and Tancred 1992; Runté and Mills 2006; Wicks and Mills 2000). Some of their key publications include (Aaltio and Mills 2002; Helms Mills 2002, 2005; Helms Mills and Mills 2008; Helms Mills and Mills 2009; Mills 1988, 1995, 1998, 2006; Mills and Tancred 1992; Thomas, Mills and Helms-Mills 2004)

Management, the past and history: all members of the team have engaged in research that looks at some aspect of the history of management thought in North America (see knowledge production above), but also theorizations and engagements with history and historiography in management and business studies (Durepos, Helms Mills and Mills 2008a; Durepos, Helms Mills and Mills 2008b; Durepos, Helms Mills and Mills 2008c; Durepos and Mills 2012a, b; Dye and Mills 2012; Genoe McLaren, Durepos and Mills 2009; Helms Mills 2002; Mills 2002a, b, 2006, 2010; Mills and Durepos 2010; Mills and Helms Hatfield 1998; Mills and Helms Mills 2004, 2006; Mills and Helms Mills 2011; Myrden, Mills and Helms Mills 2011; Weatherbee 2012; Weatherbee et al. 2012).

Research techniques: Team members have made various contributions to the development and application of the methods used, including case study strategies (Mills and Durepos 2013; Mills, Durepos and Wiebe 2010), archival research (Durepos, Helms Mills and Mills 2008c; Mills and Helms Mills 2011), textual analysis (Genoe McLaren, Durepos and Mills 2009; Genoe McLaren and Helms Mills 2010), critical sensemaking (Helms Mills and Mills 2009; Helms Mills, Thurlow and Mills 2010; Thurlow 2010), ANT (Durepos and Mills 2012a; Weatherbee and Durepos 2010), ANTi-History (Durepos and Mills 2012b; Mills and Durepos 2010), historiography (Mills 2006; Weatherbee, Dye and Mills 2008), feminist methods (Thurlow, Mills and Helms Mills 2006) and business research methods in general (Bryman et al. 2011).

New research: The proposed research moves our research from analyses of knowledge outcomes and their relationship to relatively broad (macro) factors of influence (e.g., socio-political context).  The planned study focuses on micro sociological and socio-psychological processes, through which actors – in networks of relationships – create a sense of knowledge. In the process we will examine not so much how gendered understandings as knowledge influence management thought (Weedon 1997) but how those understandings become assembled to form a network of actors that produce the knowledge. Finally, it will also move us from debates about the need for a historic turn in management and organization studies to the study of how notions of the past come to be developed and how that contributes to historical accounts of the field. Another important development in the overall project is a shift toward study of management thought in Canada, building on our preliminary work in terms of studies of the Atlantic Schools of Business (ASB), the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada (ASAC), the introduction of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation in Canadian business schools, and socio-political influences on the status of business schools in Canada (Genoe McLaren and Mills 2007; McKee, Mills and Weatherbee 2005; Myrden, Mills and Helms Mills 2011). Within this framework we would be moving into a new area of interest, which is the examination of whether the knowledge work/context of Canadian-based business professors contributes to a sense of a Canadian history of management theory. Here we are seeking some explanation of why, compared to the United States and the UK (George 1968; Urwick 1963; Wren and Bedeian 2009), Canadian-based scholars appear to lack much of a sense of  their `own’ history of (management) ideas (Austin 2000a, b; Boothman 2000).

The importance, originality, and anticipated contribution to knowledge of the proposed research

The importance of the proposed research is four-fold. Through a focus on selected sociological and socio-psychological processes it can reveal how management `knowledge’ is developed and disseminated, providing insights that can be of use to management scholars/educators. Anticipated outcomes include:

Educators will gain insights into the socio-political processes of knowledge creation and development. An important outcome could be the development of a field of management knowledge that encourages scholars and students alike to take a more multifaceted view of the role, and potential outcomes, of business in a democratic society; moving from a focus of efficiency and effectiveness towards an approach that considers the impact of business on peoples’ and communities’ sense of well-being;

A greater understanding of the processes by which discriminatory thinking develops and becomes reinforced by/embedded in knowledge; assisting educators, feminist activists, and policy makers alike to plan strategies for addressing discrimination at the level of process;

A contribution to the development of Canadian management history, encouraging business scholars to develop research on the relationship between (Canadian) context and theory;

The development and/or improvement of new techniques for studying on-going developments of knowledge and knowledge production. This may (at least initially) have an added contribution in helping Canadian-based scholars to achieve better insights into the dissemination of `knowledge’ as we initially circulate the results through Canadian channels of communication (seminars, conferences, publications, etc.).

The originality of the research is embedded in a number of factors, including

Novelty: studies to date have been small case studies of a single organization in which the findings are limited to the organization. We are proposing to `follow the actors’ (physically, in interviews, and across the Internet) across a series of organizations (Bonner, Chiasson and Gopal 2009; Bonner and Chiasson 2005).

Scope: we are planning a study of the influence of three scholarly organizations (ASB, ASAC, AoM), one administrative organization (the Canadian Confederation of Federation of Business School Deans, CFBSD), selected scholarly journals, and textbooks. The research will involve a team of researchers – a PI, 5 co-investigators and two PhD research students – rather than the one or two researchers involved in previous ANT studies (see, for example, Latour and Woolgar 1986; Law 1994).

Research strategy: in contrast to the purely ethnographic and observational ANT projects to date, our study will involve a longitudinal approach, examining a ten year period (2007-2017) through archival research, interviews, observations, web tracking (Kozinets 2010), content and critical sensemaking analyses, and ANTi-History to track developments in, and the influence of, knowledge of the past.

Anticipated contributions to knowledge include a greater understanding of the relationship between the social interactions and the socio-psychological sensemaking of actors and knowledge production, thereby making an important contribution to:

  • The sociology of knowledge and the mechanics, or micro processes, of knowledge production;
  • Teminist theories of the processes of discrimination;
  • The development of a greater interest in the relationship between management theorizing and the Canadian context; encouraging a greater awareness of the potential for histories of Canadian management thought;
  • The strengths and limitations of actor-network theory across various sites and temporal sensemaking;
  • The development, through greater application, of both critical sensemaking and ANTi-History; and
  • Tistoriography in management and organization studies through a detailed study not only of the contexts through which knowledge is developed, but the potentially iterative processes of extant notions of the past and their production and reproduction in the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Theoretical framework

The team can be characterized as postpositivist researchers from a critical management studies tradition. Simply put, this means that our research outlook shares a common reaction to positivism in questioning “social reality and knowledge production from a more problematized vantage point, emphasizing the constructed nature of social reality, the constitutive role of language, and the value of research as critique” (Prasad 2005, p.9). Within this broad framework, our critical approach  takes as its starting point a concern to address those aspects of organizational arrangements that impact negatively on people, including such things as discrimination and other inequities. This overall approach inclines us toward examination of knowledge as socially constructed. We examine the ways that it is produced, but also the ways that its production serves to mask its social construction and its impact on such things as equity and Canadian identity.

Our approach to the study of knowledge creation draws on actor-network theory (ANT), which, in brief, is an approach that studies “the assembling and stabilizing of diverse human and non-human entities [e.g., computers, websites, proceedings, etc.] within diffuse socio-material systems” (Alcadipani and Hassard 2010,p.420). It does so by tracing relationships between people and people, and people and things, and how and where the relationships cohere and come to maintain a sense of something (knowledge) through various performances of that knowledge. In short, ANT views knowledge as an outcome of the socio-politics of actor networks as they engage in “endless interest work, translation, and enrollment of other actors into their cause . . . where the interests of a group of actors have become aligned and durable” (Durepos 2009, cited in Bryman et al, 2011, p.446). We move beyond ANT to a fusion with poststructuralist historiography (Foucault 1979; Jenkins 1991; White 1973) to account for knowledge of the past and its movement to the present. We call this fusion ANTi-History, which, in brief, refers to the differentiation and problematization of the past (what happened before) versus history (accounts of the past), in the processes and performances of actor-networks; viewing the past/history as both an actant (influence) in the creation of networks and as iterative performances in the creation of knowledge. Thus, “ANTi-History sets out to simultaneously represent and destabilize past events with the ultimate idea of pluralizing history” (Mills and Durepos 2010, p.26). We also draw on Critical Sensemaking, or CSM (Helms Mills, Thurlow and Mills 2010; Mills 2008) to add a hitherto neglected element to ANT. This is an examination of the socio-psychological processes that people bring to bear when they are undergoing processes of enrollment, translation, and alignment, etc. In brief, CSM is largely about utilizing Weick’s (1995) sensemaking properties – retrospection, cues, plausibility, identity work, on-going sense, social sense, and enactment – as a heuristic for fusing individual (Weick 1995) with discursive (Foucault 1979) and structural (Mills and Murgatroyd 1991) ways of knowing.



Our overall research strategy involves drawing on key concepts from ANT (e.g., interessments, translations, punctuation, enrolment), ANTi-History (e.g., the socio-constitution of the past-as-history) and CSM (e.g., plausibility, enactment, identity work, etc) as the basis for a series of observations and content analyses.

The strategy centers on five case studies that have independent as well as interdependent levels, with a focus on ASB, ASAC, the Academy of Management (AoM), textbooks and journal articles, and the CFBSD. Each will be studied over a period of 10 years (2007-2017) to allow for a longitudinal approach using archival material (2007-12) and (participant) observations (2013-2017. Each team member will take overall responsibility for one of the case areas, but all team members will take an active part in each.

In each of the first three case studies we will be tracking new scholars who present papers at the Organizational Behaviour (OB) and Gender, Diversity and Organizations (GDO) divisions of the respective scholarly conferences. The idea is to make the study manageable by focusing on a selected area of management, i.e., OB. Focus on the GDO Division is for the purposes of comparison to see how work specifically on gender gets disseminated as compared to OB (Mills 2004).

New scholars will be identified through the use of Internet searches, archival research of conference documents, and contact with selected authors. As far as possible, all the papers presented in the respective divisions for the years 2007-2017 will be collected, analysed for content, and regularly checked for citation counts (using Google scholar, Web of Science, and other citation counting tools).

Content will be analyzed across the main three foci of contribution to extant knowledge (what is/is not being cited/downloaded? what is being disseminated in the leading OB textbooks? how do the papers relate to identified central themes in selected journals and textbooks); gendered notions of people and behaviour; and a sense of the past as it relates both to Canada (or the US) and the history of management ideas.

In short, we will use the following indicators to assess an author’s contribution to management knowledge: citation and download counts, relationship to selected journal themes, and dissemination in textbooks (amount of importance/space devoted to the work). We understand that these are all highly problematic proxies and will also problematize them in our accounts and analyses. However, they also simultaneously serve to raise questions about what counts as and legitimizes knowledge itself.

Based on this process, we will construct a ranking table purely for the purposes of identifying highly noted (e.g., well cited, etc.) and unnoted authors in order to follow 10 people from each of the 3 conferences (5 high/5 low in each case). `Following’ will involve interviews, archival and internet searches, and observations to get a sense of the influence of such things as the business schools in which they work, research associates and collaborators, and schools at which they obtained their doctorates (including supervisors, contemporaries, etc.). We will attempt to follow a selected group of 30 new scholars across all 10 years plus — using the same process — a further 30 people who we identity as new scholars in 2012 and whose conference presentations (at one or more of the three selected conferences) can be observed at early career stages [NOTE: in keeping with ethical practices every attempt will be made keep all our identified subjects anonymous]. In short, we will attempt to `follow’ a total of 60 new scholars – thirty from 2007 to 2012 and thirty from 2013 to 2017. The first group will provide a sufficient time frame to track career trajectories and contributions to management theory. The second group will allow us to develop observations of selected processes they are engaged in (presentations) from the beginning. The following cases have been identified along with the lead team member, the rationale for its selection and some of the central processes involved.

Case 1: The ASB (Gabrielle Durepos and Amy Thurlow): with around a 100 participants annually this scholarly association offers a small local (Atlantic Canada) venue, and a relatively new area of study. It is also the only regional management conference in Canada and it is an important actant in the generation of management knowledge in the region. All team members have experience and associations with the organization, simultaneously providing insights but also a need for greater reflexivity. Thus, we propose – through archives, interviews and observations – to gather understandings on how and why it was established and maintained. Here we will attempt to interview a series of people, from the earliest period  (1970) to the present, to understand how a sense of the ASB has developed and changed over time.  The number of interviews will depend on the availability of early participants (likely 5 early members) plus interviews with our selected group of 10 to understand their perceptions and how they influenced their decision to present at ASB.

Case 2: ASAC (Patricia Genoe McLaren): chosen because it is the leading management conference in Canada, and has attracted up to 800 members. We propose to undertake a similar `history’ as that for ASB, as well as use existing written histories (Austin 1994, 1995, 1998) and reactions to them, along with interviews with history author Barbara Austin, early members of the association, and selected new members.

Case 3: The AoM (Jean Helms Mills): chosen because it a) it attracts papers from a large number of Canadian-based scholars; b) is useful for comparative purposes vis-à-vis notions of management history; and c) it provides US data that will make it more attractive to US journals and other scholarly outlets. Similar approach to history as to ASAC, drawing on existing histories (Wren and Bedeian 2009), with interviews with AoM historians and long-serving members of the association as well as with selected new scholars.

Case 4: selected management textbooks and journals (Terrance Weatherbee): chosen as central sources for the dissemination of management theories and ideas. The plan is to examine selected journals (including the Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, the Academy of Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, and the Administrative Sciences Quarterly) for the period 2001-2016 to identify central themes and ideas against which to compare selected OB and GDO papers from 2007-2017. The idea is to see how far new scholars reflect or move beyond those themes. Interviews will also be held with journal editors for the periods in question to assess their thought process and decision-making in accepting papers.

Case 5: CFDBS (Albert Mills): chosen because they influence the relationship between publications and tenure decisions, but also such things as AACSB accreditation (Coleman, Wright and Tolliver 1994; McKee, Mills and Weatherbee 2005). Aim to interview selected Deans and Directors from the period 2007-2017.