Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Got what it takes soldier?

To be truthful, it has been tough not to write a blog this past month, however it was partly due to time constraints, and partly due to being lost for words in what to say, but I’ll explain that comment in a bit…

I went to Glasgow at the end of November full of excitement to attend the mandatory Research Methods course.  This was though without an assigned supervisor.  Naturally the course passed quickly, with a healthy amount of winter snow which was fun for the first 15 mins at least.  Frankly, I found myself dipping in and dipping out of the materials based on how the topics interested me (I seem drawn to the qualitative approaches like interviews and ethnography, and shy away from quantitative sampling and surveys).   The course was well done braking the sessions into various vignettes of numerous research methods available undertaken by people already with their PhDs.  I found in the end quite that the vignettes were a curious mixture of concepts at different layers e.g. a case study within a case study within which there could be various methods.  I also started to sense a serious difference between research ‘as planned’ verse research ‘as practiced’ by many of the professors who shared their own research experiences.  Without a doubt, instrumental case study, ethnography (observation), interview, and artifact analysis of some kind will be in the mix of my research preferences.  I like to understand something in depth – the survey although quick and efficient just seems to lack for me.  In the spirit of qualitative studies there is a sense surpassing the concept of triangulation and looking at reality from as many points as possible.


During the visit, I felt the need to respond one night to some criticism directed at a paradigm table (I created) from one of the Critical Realist Professors on the Research Philosophy course site.  This person felt that the PhD students’ who were  obsessed about thinking in ‘paradigms’ was not the right way to be heading i.e. getting hung up on paradigms.   I responded equally as I received – but this was like me entering into the ring with a heavy weight boxer in philosophy and I knew there was only going to be one result – to be knocked out :o)


The next evening after eating his knuckle duster – I did make the final comment that summed up my perspective – “What seems to be emerging is a quite complex dialectic between philosophy, history and trends in the field, the phenomena under research, choice of methods, supervisor, and the researcher….and this is where the focus of the new researcher should be i.e. no single aspect dominating the conversation.”  Sometimes my being an experienced practitioner I can forget that these professors have been around academia a long time to read and understand philosophy, and research to such a level of detail that will be almost impossible for me to play on a level playing field.


Anyhow, getting through the week seemed to me to be really quite difficult.  I was waiting for a meeting at the end of the week with a potential supervisor I greatly admire, and after being dropped so cruelly by the last advisor I knew this meeting would be important.  Even on the last day when we were split into teams to work on the research methods presentations I found I was sometimes absent in mind, half participating, and getting ready for the 430pm meeting.  Well, the time arrived and I nervously went over to the department to meet this advisor – hoping for a positive result – I mean surely, I am a great catch – intelligent, studious, creative, and not to forget a full fee paying student etc…


Oh what a shock that was before me.  After some niceties… I was hit repeatedly with comments like: “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes”, “you are not focused, you have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place”, “you don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction”, “you are too revelational and not critical”, “you seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory”, and “I don’t like advising part-time PhD students”, etc etc etc.  Oh my god – what a meeting, not at all what I had expected.  Tough – truthful? – devastating!

I left the meeting quiet, I walked quickly to Waterstones to buy some books for Leo, and I smoked along the way – the smoking was more important than keeping my fingers warm.  I felt emotional to be honest, I wanted to scream and throw in the towel.   What just went on there?  Was I so out of touch with reality?  After picking up the books I went back to a coffee shop and sat down to the laptop defeated – and skyped the love of my life.  At once she calmed me.  Eating the scottish pie and mash, and seeing her beautiful face put me in a better frame of mind.

But what to do?  I knew I needed to sleep on this for a few days.  So with tail between my legs, and still no supervisor – I flew back to a warm welcoming Abu Dhabi.

A few days afterwards I spoke to some of my PhD friends and discovered from one of the them that this is probably a just tactic – one that was played on her when she did her PhD.  The idea is that from the advisor’s perspective they will be investing a lot of time over many years so the interest, confidence etc that it will be done must be assessed thoroughly i.e. it is not actually about me but about the research, about being successful, and about adding to a field.  Other friends disagreed telling me that this is not the way to treat a part-time full fee paying customer (Phd student) and I should look else where.  What to do?

Thankfully, after about three days I realized that it was not important for me to analyze to death everything the potential supervisor had said was right nor wrong, but I had to respond, and learn to play by the rules of the institution – it simply doesn’t matter my status, my age, my history, my fee paying etc.  If I want in at this university – I have to succumb or look elsewhere.   So I decided to give it one last try.  I would choose a new topic aligned to this person’s interests, re-write a solid proposal, and submit it for approval to become an advanced graduate programme in the MRes to be followed by the PhD.

The big news is that this means I have finally dropped “Sustainability” and replaced it with “Identity Construction” within the Project construct.  So, this past Monday 13th December – 10 days after the disastrous meeting – my proposal was re-submitted to the University for consideration.  So here’s hoping.  For therapy last week, I moved from student to local counselor and marked students’ strategy assignments!   :o)

This past weekend, I looked for the first time since being back from Glasgow at the Research Methods assignment, and I studiously started to download and investigate the methods used in other such organisational studies of identity construction, and began the start of preparing a bibliography of articles and research in the area of Identity studies in Organisations.  I believe I have found my equilibrium.

How do I respond to the original criticisms?

  1. “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes: Not true – I definitely have what it takes.  It will be tough, but my resolve is unshakable!
  2. “You are not focused, your have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place” – This is true, I might say I have been too easy with it, and I am ok for things to get tighter.
  3. “You don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction” – partly true!  Sometimes I am not sure, sometimes I want to follow my own way, and sometimes I might misunderstand something.  I pledge to do better.
  4. “You are too revelational and not critical” – true, and something I will grow out of – hopefully!
  5. “You seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory” – not true – I just want the contribution to theory to emerge from field research, from practice.  Arguably it is what theory needs – a credible, empirical, and practice base.

So what’s next?

Well, I’ll wait for the decision and respond in turn.  I’m not going to give up.

THIS SOLDIER HAS GOT WHAT IT TAKES – this university or the next :o)


What is pragmatism?

Well I’m chuffed that I submitted my Research Philosophy Essay on time this week.  It was fun researching Pragmatism and picking up the odd subtlety along the way.  I promised a couple of PhD friends I would gather a few references and post to my blog my ideas.


‘Pragmatism is a philosophy of human conduct and practice that seeks to account for lived experience’ (Simpson, 2010).


It is part of what is called in history as the social science ‘interpretivist turn’ in the late 20th century influenced by Europeans Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Alfred Schütz (1899-1959) [phenomenology], Heidegger (1889-1976) [hermeneutics], and the Frankfurt School and Habbermas (1929-) [critical theory] and the americans (see below) with symbolic interaction, ethnomethodology and of course Pragmatism!


Pragmatism is anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist, anti-dualistic, and does not reject facts/objective realities nor principles/morals/subjective realities.  Here are some of the points I took away from the American Pragmatist’s:


Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) – I don’t yet know a great deal about Pierce except he was the founder of Pragmatism, and he brought an early pragmatist idea an alternative theory of meaning.  Pierce argued meaning comes from its results, or a function of its practical outcome.  If I am correct I also think he was grounded in a sort of experimentalism ‘in the laboratory’ version he later renamed is Pragmaticism to avoid being confused with James.


“Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings,we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.” (Peirce, 1878)


William James (1842-1910) – my favourite Pragmatist due to his directness and that his writing is easily understood.  He builds on Pierce’s theory of meaning into a theory of truth.  Where truth is what works, and he believes the ‘a priori‘ understanding of knowledge i.e. without experience is not possible.  He says truth has a ‘cash value’, its instrumental, perspectival, fallible, plural, subjective but not necessarily relativist.


I love his way of resolving dualisms in life looking at the pragmatic differences between, and searching for a new way of thinking.


“Most of us have a hankering for the good things on both sides of the line. Facts are good, of course – give us loads of facts. Principles are good – give us plenty of principles. The world is indubitably one if you look at it one way, but as indubitably as it is many, if you look at it in another.” (James, 1907, 2007, p38).


I like this perspectival part of James, as I also like Nietzsche (1844-1900) who has been called the teenage version of James.  Nietzsche in some ways took perspectivalism to be kind of negative an in his book Gay science says “What are man’s truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors.”  James on the other hand viewed it as a charter for positive change.   (Staloff, 2000)


John Dewey (1859-1952), wow – what a prolific writer on society, education, philosophy and more.  I took from him his ideas on method of inquiry and experience.  For him research is not an armchair exercise – it is grounded in positive action.  Some argue that Dewey’s method of Inquiry is only a similar to Pierce in terminology but not intent.  I am not yet that well read on the matter, but I have understood that Dewey’s method of Inquiry is centred on the idea of dynamic inquiry of action and is not meant to be passive but tightly related to the process of experience.  Experience can be a hard thing to understand but I think I get it.  In Dewey’s terms is multi-dimensional, temporal, it is also inter-subjective between people around social practice.  Interestingly for Dewey the knowledge is not the end production from Inquiry but instead Action is.  Means are used to reach ends, but ends only become means to future ends in an emerging self, and world.  Experience is also a fuller picture combining thinking, emotions, and values.


Not all agreed with Dewey’s account of inquiry, one I know of is Bertrand Russell who argued – “Knowledge, if Dr. Dewey is right, cannot be any part of the ends of life; it is merely a means to other satisfactions.  This view, to those who have been much engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, is distasteful.” (Russell, 2009)


I think I prefer Dewey’s view, that even knowledge is only a means to a better human life!


George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), extended for me Dewey’s idea of experience and the wider transaction, in the intra-subjective and the objective ‘me’ and the subjective ‘I’, and in the wider social sense.  Actually, it was here in Herbert Mead I found a link to Jean Paul Sartre’s view of the historical, transcendental and ‘being for others’.  Perhaps Sartre read Mead???  This however is where the existentialist commonality ends due to the distinctly social nature of peoples experience.  Mead added the concept around gesture and response i.e. symbolic interactionism.   Requires further reading!


Richard Rorty (1931-2007), known as the neo-pragmatist (i.e. new) is the most contemporary, and I hear rumblings that he was not popular as a philosopher.  I think this might mainly be because of the trait that sits behind all the pragmatists.  The sense in which Pragmatism is an anti-philosophy, it sidesteps old debates, accuses the 2,500 failed philosophical project of wasting time, energy and resources, and instead he suggests lets change the conversation!  Too be honest I am not sure why he often get’s left out in the ‘practice turn’ and pragmatist references within Organisational studies?  If anyone out there knows then I’d love to hear why.


Rorty was influenced by Wittgenstein’s work and said in his book Mirror’s in Nature that ideas in the mind had been replaced by language as the medium the sits between objective reality and ourselves, and because of this we can never objectively know something in itself.  This for me shares a common thread with phenomenologists who say in the process of observing one’s lens, frame, paradigm, or worldview just gets in between!


Pragmatism verse Critical Realism

The key aspects from the Pragmatist view that are shared with Critical Realism are the fact that they both accept the constructed nature of knowledge, and acknowledge deduction, induction and abductions as valid forms of reasoning.  Where they depart is that Critical realism starts from objective reality not human experience, assumes actual reality can be approximated rather than have pluralist multiple meanings, and that dualisms provide frameworks for entitative analyses and as noted previously these are rejected outright by James, Dewey and Rorty.


Pragmatism verse Functionalism

While Pragmatism rules out dogma, it is worth sharing what I learned when compared to functionalism which in may ways feels like a polar extreme in that it treats the social system like in the natural world with universal laws (Bruce & Yearly, 2006).   According to scholars (Albert & Whetten, 1985; Godfrey & Whetten, 1998) functionalist research searches for an objective, independent truth out there and looking for causality;  uses the scientific method and scientific grounds for evaluating the research contribution; usefulness is in how true and applicable the theory is; using positivist language like hypothesis, prepositions, deduction, tests, validity, and reliability etc; building theories up front before testing; implicitly it assumes that the social science is stable and deterministic.


Interestingly, and I agree that functionalist research often falls short of the mark.  Recently I opened a core management textbook and most of it seemed vaguely interesting but largely not useful in the real world.  Some accuse functionalism of exploring how the individual works within the systems and norms around him/her mainly in order to create predictability and better organisational control systems for management.  There seems to me to be much truth in that statement.  Shrivastava states that today’s functionalist organisational theories are ‘inadequate ways of describing organisational reality’.


Position of Researcher in Pragmatism

Functionalist/Objectivist research attempts to do research independently from a value free position, and avoid change.  One of the most appealing aspects of Pragmatism is where the researcher is located!  I agree that all research is socially and politically situated (Reason & Bradbury, 2008), and because of that I think it is really important to put the researchers biases, motives, and beliefs ‘out in the open’ for anyone see.


As you can see, I have taken more than a superficial journey through some of Pragmatism’s history, and there are many questions left unanswered.


How will this philosophy REALLY impact my research?  I understand that we can be innovative and avoid the old paradigmatic dogma, yet I still feel some confusion.  Can I use facts but not search for them (otherwise this is kind of functionalist!), can I use principles but not search for them?


Am I just simply trying to explain how the world hangs together in organisations?  Where is pragmatism helping change the world or just understand it?  Should I be going directly to  Action Research, or being critical from a critical theory rhetorical sense of interpretivist ethnography…. GRRRRRR


So I’ll admit it – I have learned a lot – only to realize I don’t know enough…..  Hopefully my Research Methods course and further dialogue will help – but getting a new advisor and official recognition I’m on the PhD program will be EVEN BETTER.


Feel free to give me your advice!   






References for today’s blog:


Albert, S. and Whetten, D. A. (1985) ‘Organisational Identity’, Research in Organisational Behavior 7: 263–95.


Bradbury, H. & Reason, P., 2003. Action Research: An Opportunity for Revitalizing Research Purpose and Practices. Qualitative Social Work, 2(2), pp.155-175. Available at:


Bradbury, H. & Reason, P. eds., 2008. The SAGE Handbook or Action Research. Participative Inquiry and Practice. 1st ed., SAGE PUBLICATIONS INC.


Bruce, S. & Yearly, S., 2006. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology, SAGE Publications Ltd.



Eden, C. & Huxham, C., 1996. Action Research for Management Research. British Journal of Management, 7(1), pp.75-86. Available at:


Elkjaer, B. & Simpson, B., 2010. Pragmatism : A lived and living philosophy . What can it offer to contemporary organisation theory ? Research in the Sociology of Organisations, Special Ph.


Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. & Jackson, P., 2008. Management Research Third Edit., SAGE PUBLICATIONS INC.


Godfrey, P. & Whetten, D. 1998. Identity in Organisations: Building Theory Through Conversations, SAGE Publishing, 300 pages


James, W, (1907, 2007), Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, FQ Publishing, October 22, 2007, 184 pages


McNiff, P. & Whitehead, J., 2010. You and Your Action Research Project 3rd ed., Routledge.


Russell, B. (2009) The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Routledge Classics


Shrivastava, P., 2010. Pedagogy of Passion for Sustainability. Higher Education, 9(3), pp.443- 455.


Simpson, B., 2009. Pragmatism, Mead and the Practice Turn. Organisation Studies, 30(12), pp.1329-1347.


Simpson, B., 2010. Pragmatism A Taxonomy of Research Perspectives. In Research Philosophy. Glasgow.


Staloff, D., 2000. Jame’s Pragmatism. In Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition. The Teaching Company, p. 65. Available at:

Dear John…

After some weeks of terse emails, obvious disconnection, and slow pace from the advisory team I received a Dear John letter from my PhD supervisor regarding us parting ways and moving on!


For six months I have been working on my research area, ducking and diving, moving from here to there, often on the direction of my supervisory team….so to wake up this morning without one is quite strange – and highlights the risks commonly talked about in ‘how to get a phd…’ guides.  It was like holding the assumption that the future will not behave like the past as it has for others i.e. it won’t/couldn’t happen to me :o)


The reasons for the parting are reasonable enough – at least logically speaking.  For one the Abu Dhabi DBA has not lifted off since the first cohort meeting six months ago – and I was feeling a lack of direction and structure even if the personal support was there.  My frequent requests for clarity did not weld any results – so I sensed that all was not well in this regard.  One nail was being driven into the coffin!


Since my entry in September on my case for Inductive Research I also sensed tension and a diverging set of ideas about what is research, what is knowledge and how to go about getting it.  There was also this constant background noise of what has this Sustainability research got to do with Dept. of Management and Business?


It was only once I attended the Research Philosophy course did I find the right paradigmatic home for me i.e. Pragmatism, Interpretivism, and Radical Humanism.  This was the place where I was meant to be playing – irrespective of the research question or topic.  The final nail in the relationship coffin must have been my requesting adequate support from the supervisory team in this regard i.e. it seems very risky to spend the next 4 years in the ‘practice turn‘ if the rest of the team were looking for objective realities out there!


So, what’s next?  Well I have fired one request to Glasgow to work with someone I greatly admire and who is very inspiring when it comes to researching on the fringes.  I was declined once before but six months has passed with much progress and I am hopeful.  If not, then I will need to trawl through the available academics and look for a chemistry and shared interests that will help deliver results.


I had planned to spend the next week while on Eid break looking for theorists in the non functionalist and non structuralist camps who I might be able to anchor my research e.g. Shultz, Weick etc. I think some of that is possible – but perhaps the time will be better spent looking for a new advisor, getting registered, and finalizing my research philosophy.


Looking back on the October 4th Blog titled – ‘6 months down the drain….’ I could easily have inserted this as my title again today but I won’t.  For one I think it is untrue and unfair.  I have come along way – and I have gained an appreciation of the early difficulties one goes through on the PhD journey, and for that I will ignore placing blame for a Abu Dhabi cohort that never got off the ground, and instead I will thank Dr Catherine for her patience and kindness, and her advice.


It’s simple really – in the past six months I have learned a great deal about the Phd game itself, Sustainability, Education, Technology, Research, Philosophy, and most importantly I found a place I would like to be as a researcher – on the fringes banging at the edges of dominant functionalist research paradigms – looking for emancipation, and an increasing the acceptance for the practice turn and the Pragmatists – for me a clear bridge between the tender minded academics and tough minded practitioners!


If you would like to be my advisor or know of one! – drop me an email :o)

New Questions…

I have noticed an increase in the activity in the Research Philosophy discussion forum set up for the Strathclyde research cohort – and it has got me thinking.


With exabytes (1 billion gigabytes) of information “out there” in the social world wide web, it seems just impossible to sift through the relevant “valid” information – and yet I get a mild level of anxiety that I might miss a cool twitter link or must read blog entry if I don’t keep my finger on the digital pulse!


Perhaps in this overload and lack of control is the reason why the university sets up a forum, wiki and glossary on Moddle for the researchers to use for the Research Philosophy course.  I find myself asking, even within this microcosm how does one discern the good content from the confused?  I would go so far to suggest that the discussion forums seem an inefficient form of sharing knowledge, and would recommend all to use a long form blogs and share links to useful materials instead.  At least in the blog you can take the time to think about what you want to say – and say it, leaving a comments section for people to reply.  (Today’s blog will fall short of this ideal!)


My own challenge this past week or so is trying to find an equilibrium between the multiple roles in my life – husband, father, student, teacher, manager, subordinate, etc and activity overload…., and I am failing.  The trap I have fallen back into is one of too much activity spread too thinly, with little reflection. There was a moment to reflect over the weekend while running a business simulation game for new SBS MBA inductees.  The game involves 8 teams competing in a manufacturing business with four markets and three products.  Sounds simple yet the game itself is extremely complex.  The participants must make HR, Operation, Financial and Sales/Marketing decisions within a competitive environment while discerning the trends and macro-economics going on around them.


Some new questions arise from my reflection:

  • Do we sometimes in the Sustainability context over simplify the demands on businesses?  There was no sustainability angle in this game – but it was a reminder to me on how these tensions between functions in businesses, and the competitive environment that businesses operate creates so much complexity and pressure to perform.


  • Is there a need to be more understanding of these pressures and complexity faced by people in business so that Sustainability discourse carries some semblance of fairness and balance i.e. put yourself in the shoes of the CEO?


  • As individual’s in the multiple roles we live, just how can we be more sustainable?  The personal sustainable project (PSP) is one idea that I have been playing about with for a while now and if I struggle to get to grips with Sustainability in real terms when I am currently working in the Environmental Agency,


  • what does it say for the millions of people out there working around the world, doing their part within a company, in their homes and their lives who may not understand what sustainability even offers?


  • Can the “digital information loop” be useful to learn about sustainability in our lives?  I think so, however, exabytes of information might be as hard to deal with as confused microcisms of information, or none at all!  Can this technology offer material to large audiences, with limited barriers to entry (internet connection a given), and extract the power of the “digital information loop” for personal and organizational change?


  • Then there follows the question of distinction between or separation of the personal and the organizational.  Organisations are made up of people – and individual personal change may have an impact on the organizational level, surely.  Yet, businesses are politically oriented, with purposes, objectives, division of labour, controls, and the need to make money for the owners.  Just how can I expect the individual to have any impact in areas not in their mandate?


The essence of my proposed research will hopefully lead to addressing these questions through the experimentation of Web 2.0 technology (in particular the Massive Open Online Class, MOOC), through connectivist and constructionist learning, and through maximising the overall benefit of the digital information loop, and Habbermasian communicative participation.


You can see an in-flight MOOC running via #PLENK2010 on twitter and @

I do believe people can make a difference (with the mandate) as indicated in the following news item posted recently via web 2.0.


Thanks for lasting this long reading my blog… you are my kind of person!  Feel free to reply to my blog post with more questions, answers or anything you would like to share!  Be part of the digital information loop!  Follow me on Twitter @kiwicito.



Philosophy 101

The mere size of the PhD cohort on Day 1 on of the Research Philosophy course was an unexpected surprise.  I expected to see half dozen to a dozen people when in fact there were over 30!  From my past two years on the Abu Dhabi MBA I have been accustomed to the level of part-time Masters students, and here in front of me were predominantly full-time PhD students and there was a noticeable difference in quality.


The two professors were Dr Viktor Dorfler (hereafter Viktor) and Dr Barbara Simpson (hereafter Barbara), with one supplementary class visit by Dr Paul Thompson (hereafter Paul).   I noticed that they brought amongst them many years of experience, much knowledge, large doses of humour, and a real sense of empathy and support for the new students before them.


Viktor made an impressive start enticing us in to the subject of philosophy with his straight talking manner, sense of humour, and quick thinking.  The course aims for students to become aware of the philosophical alternatives, to explore the implications of alternatives, and to debate the nature of social sciences and management research.  I was hooked, and excited as I had read plenty on the subject prior to arriving, resulting in me not having to grasp too many foreign concepts, nevertheless, I hung on every word he said, making new connections between the loosely connected ideas in my brain!


Viktor gave the impression he is a supporter of Kuhn and kind of painted Kuhnian ideas of normal science and revolutions as fact, but there are scholars that have challenged this by looking carefully at the boundaries i.e. where does normal science start and end, and how revolutionary is revolutionary science?  An example perhaps that fits Kuhn is Einsteinian Physics overthrew Newtonian Physics, but the discovery of the DNA or the Gnome hardly looks like either normal or revolution science yet these are AS big as other scientific discoveries.


Barbara my advisor from the MBA Project, followed suit with a visceral and down to earth account of 2500 years of thought in the west, leading into and following up on the concept of a scaffolding paradigm.  It was not until she went through Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) sociological perspective of research that that an ‘a-ha’ moment was coming.  This taxonomy as a set of four quadrants across the tensions of subjective-objective, and regulation-radical change.  Each quadrant is named: Radical Structuralist, Functionalist (dominant), Interpretivist, and Radical Humanist.  Something was coming together…I just did not know what.


We learned two pet hates of the teaching team on Day 1.


1. Methodology is largely misused in academia.  Methodology is the discipline of studying methods for the teaching team, and contrary to how most people use it to describe their approach to research and the methods used thereafter.


2. Quantitative does not equal Positivism nor does Qualitative not equal Subjectivism/Social Construction!   The latter blasphemy will result in an automatic fail…its tempting to use it as an opening rhetoric!


Moving to the second day, Vickor took us through the Positivist and Interpretivist paradigms, and the inherent problems of inductive and deductive reasoning.  This was the beginning of much discussion between the paradigms, mainly for broadening our knowledge of course, but personally, I think that the science wars that try to determine what is knowledge for all is mostly hot air and boils down to power ultimately.  Frankly, when I look at a apple tree – I believe it is real, out their, living, make up near 30% of planet, will make a sound when an apple drops (whether I am there or not) etc. in objective ways – yet I also see the subjective knowledge on how people interpret the tree as shade, a hiding place, adventure, love, and even a business if it is turned into paper or sell the apples!  Is it not ok to simply agree that there are different forms of knowledge, different ways to measure the quality of that knowledge, for different purposes?  Seems like a no-brainer to me – what am I missing?

After Viktor’s session, Paul unveiled his strong preference for Critical Realism arguing that Critical Realism separates ontological and methodological parts of the edifice and therefore was not a research philosophy at all but a meta-theory.  To be honest I have no idea what that means, but in post-positivisit, post-structuralist, and post-modern times I thought this neutral method thinking was par for the course for all paradigms even if they have their preferences!  Putting my criticism’s on Critical Realism to one-side – I did think his slide on the Subjective/Objective false choices researchers can make was really helpful.


I too was fascinated with his example of the glass-ceiling that face many working women.   I nervously suggested that this must be largely ‘subjective’ and in the minds of the executives and employees i.e. you can choose to see it or not, accept it or ignore it.  He replied quickly that if it had a causal effect on someone who hits it while not believing it, for the Critical Realist it is still very real.  This seems a valid argument, however, I find a so what coming.  This might be objectively real but I can’t see what the objective knowledge can add?  The glass-ceiling feels more dynamic and a moving thing shaped by the perceptions and attitudes of the actors involved – hence is it not more useful question to ask what increases or reduces its power, or how does one remove it from organizational life, or reduce its ill effects?  These just seem more interesting and move away from some objectivist to interpretivist analysis.


Later, Barbara unveiled her position on philosophy of Pragmatism hovering over the interpretivist and radical humanist quadrants of Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) sociological taxonomy.   There is not doubt that I had previously misunderstood the nature of pragmatism as I had associated with Functionalism – thinking this is a practical way of going about things!  While it has the spirit of getting on with the business of things, Barbara described it as being process oriented, interpretivist and seeking radical change!  AHA!  Insight time!  As Barbara shed more light on the concept of Pragmatism, it was like I just arrived home after a long trip, a welcoming, warm and supportive place awaiting, and even though people were speaking a language that I have never heard before now – it was one I understood from the very first moment :o)  There was a real sense I had arrived to a place where I could settle down, clearly refine my thinking on my research questions, research outcomes, and put my case for the philosophy that will underpin the research.


It is worth unpacking this insight a little – why does this radical call for change and ‘let’s get on with the job’ strike a chord with me?  Being action oriented, a co-creator of knowledge, an emergent thinker, and ‘bashing on the edges’ of the very dominant paradigm of Functionalism feels like the type of thing that I like to do!  Born in New Zealand, and from a young age the Kiwi culture instilled in me the pioneer spirit and always to support the under-dog.   When I moved to England at 23 I remember I struggled with the invisible but ‘real’ class system – it annoyed me – a different form of the glass-ceiling.  I also find myself motivated when someone says I can’t do something, and instead I find a way and do it anyway!  This has at times felt a little dangerous going up against whatever dominant paradigm (even came with a warning from the HR department once!) – but, I feel alive when I am doing it – it feels right, the right thing to do.  Something I later heard living in England is that Kiwis carry this ‘little country syndrome’ i.e. a form of insecurity when in the precence of the large country… you can imagine how I responded to that nonsense.


Ok, so back to the course – in the evening the debate was run with one Critical Theorist, one Critical Realist, and one ‘pretend’ Positivist :o).  I wrote about it in the class forum where I rudely suggested that post-modernism was under-represented, as the critical realist and positivist seeming more similar than different.  Apparently there are 12 schools of positivist thought and with methods becoming much philosophy neutral across the board, I think the difference between Critical Realist and the Positivist seemed exaggerated.   I did feel that the Pragmatist was missing from the debate!


One day three we broke into groups and had to prepare a 10 minute presentation on the research philosophy within the assigned literature given to each group.  The presentations were helpful especially during the questions and answer time.  In particular, I noticed more than one group using a term like Social Construction in different levels of the edifice which confused me.  Barbara highlighted the fact that these terms can and often are used in multiple ways.

– Ontology: Reality can be socially constructed

– Epistemology: How we know can be socially constructed

– Methodology: How we find out can be socially constructed


Viktor added, it is important as researchers to be clear how one is using these terms.


The big news sits with these new insights with respect to my research on Sustainability in Business!!!  It has some clear parallels with pragmatist way of viewing the world.  Sustainability is often regarded as a process not an end (realistically in my lifetime), it is up against the dominant functionalist and economic paradigms, and along with power and self interest they don’t play nice until something like the Financial Crash or BP Oil spill creates a dent in their armour. I have liked the interpretations of William James and John Dewey but before now had not sensed their contribution to radicalism.  It is time to find some core text.


Adult sustainability education is conspicuous by its absence in society, it seems largely left to sporadic universities, NGOs and social marketing.  The World Bank, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes etc. are all examples of the business sensing change that they need to be better – but the institutional flaws within them make it hard to achieve (Chomsky, 2010).  Reporting on Sustainability and CSR is largely voluntary, hence, there is a lot of green-washing in my opinion.


Viktor described at one point in the course the process of thesis – antithesis – synthesis, which the synthesis becomes the new thesis and new anti-thesis is born… It has always been for me the place to be on the anti-thesis – stretching, critiquing, arguing etc.  Sustainability is the antithesis and ‘Business without Sustainability’ is the thesis…. frankly we need a new synthesis – the human race by the end of 21st century will depend on it.


But where will the revolution come from, where does it start?  Government, big business, small business, consumers??  Naturally a combination, yet I believe it will primarily come from grass roots realization that we need to change our ways AND protect our futures, economically, socially, and environmentally.  To do this we need solutions, we need innovation, we need collaboration, we need agency, we need conflict and creativity… all of these attributes point towards a pragmatist research philosophy.  A research project based in action and iterative.  Let’s test new learning and technological innovations and the ‘netocracy’ (Viktor’s term for democracy offered via the internet/web 2.0). My research is all about this education catalyst through Web 2.0 and Massive Open Online Classes providing learning materials and supporting connectivist learning.

The three days Research Philosophy programme was absolutely wonderful and enlightening, but did it achieve its goals, what does this weekend mean to me and my research direction?


Speaking for myself I more aware of the philosophical alternatives but I only go so far to say I have a light sense of the implications thereafter.  To describe my change in thinking I will use an analogy.  For the past 6 months it is like I have been trying to design a new vehicle which has one wing, train wheels, a sail, and a motorbike seat – all in all confusing and totally useless.  After the course, I can say with more certainly that I am trying to build a plane with two wings, fuselage, jet engine, cockpit etc. – clearer, less confusing and fit for purpose.  Later if someone says well why did you not build a motorbike – I can say that I wanted to carry 300 passengers large distances and a motorbike will not cut it!  Is that plane is pragmatism – OR – do I need to build a boat?  More reading required.


Absolutely fab three days with the Glasgow cohort and nice to meet you all!

Noam Chomsky

“As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, 

human science is at a loss.” Noam Chomsky 


Yesterday evening the Second Life group called Matanomics hosted Noam Chomsky from MIT to discuss issues of the day.  In one part of the interview he eloquently and profoundly describes the Sustainability issues that face the world, the opportunities, and the systemic obstacles to progress.  One of those obstacles that hit home for me – is the corporation.  The business whose (note the “business as a person” represented linguistically here) core mission in life is to make profit for its owners while at the same time they can and often ignore the true costs of externalities within the supply chain.  Part of this mission is the secondary goal to pay as little taxes as possible which can ultimately result in moving the choice away from people outside the business to people with power inside the business – on how much and where to invest these funds from their voluntary CSR programmes.  For Chomsky, there are many benefits that Capitalism brings us, but he considers this a major systemic and institutional flaw and obstacle to achieve sustainability!  One of the opportunities helping bring the costs of externalities into the corporation is by addressing these issues at the “grass roots” for consumers and employees via innovative educational research.  I believe that Noam Chomsky is both a thought provoking scholar, and one of the worlds greatest contemporaries on Sustainability.  I hope we get to hear from him repeatedly in the coming years.


Now moving down to my research dilemma.  Firstly, becoming a researcher feels a bit lonely in a very real sense.  Often you feel like nobody is really interested in what you are doing – and if you stopped nobody would care, nevertheless, I must acknowledge I have two marvelous people on my supervisory team and patient friends who chip in regularly to support me, not to forget the visionaries like Noam Chomsky who support by their example.


I left my last blog entry wide open on the whether Sustainability would be part of my research after being knocked off balance by the devil’s advocate, note how I am being kind here!  I have had little to write about, and I left my mind to wander all over the place looking for equilibrium!  So was the last 6 months a waste of time, do I change direction, do I change university or have I made progress, and am I exactly where I need to be?  What follows are my musings inspired from conversations with my team as I tried to answer these questions.


I will be well to learn that I don’t have to take all the problems on my own shoulders and, I need to allow the “team” into my consciousness.  One of the ways I can help my team help me – is to play the game a little better.  From that I mean it is a better strategy to start small, not trying to sound like I am trying to change the whole world, just taking an area of relevance and interest, keeping it tight, and bringing in the other areas of interest slowly into the programme!


Being passionate about the work, building a character ready to defend research is important on one hand, but one needs to “hold on to issues lightly” according to one of my supervisors.  Sometimes people on the team are not going to agree with decisions – that is the nature of teams and equally must not too easily derail your ideas.   This seems like a dichotomy with the previous point on being personally driven but flexible at the same time. :o)  Perhaps an analogy might help by thinking of fresh water running down from the mountains to the sea – it has its own considerable force removing sediment and carving out routes in the rocks along the way over the thousands of years, yet it turns frequently and moves with some agility.


According to one advisor, I do have another 6 months before the research question really needs to be nailed so that robust literature review and initial research preparation can begin.  That gives me space to keep looking and focus on learning the ropes so to speak on research methods and methodology.  The same person told me that research will to a certain extent always be problematic and uncertain even up to the very end – so hold on tight.


I have learned this week that domains and disciplines do have Kuhnian style dominant paradigms when it comes to research methodology, so I need to make some time to get to know what the Department of Management within SBS is! :o) I have also learned that there is a need for me to read and critique better – seems strange, at 41 saying I need to learn how to read but I must grow from reading as consuming to reading as researching.   There might have been times I read anything and everything I could get my hands on – but I have been more selective in recent times.  The reading though does help inform direction and I have moved the points around on the project DNA quite often (see the new one at the bottom of the page), but that has been getting less and less, nonetheless it moves again today.  10 days ago the focus was on Learning Theories, Sustainability and 3D Virtual Collaborative Spaces.


  •   Learning Theory is still in and fundamental to organizational change towards Sustainable practices but it will move from individualist to connectivist focus.
  •   Sustainability in business is still in – as sustainability for organizations is at the heart of this programme.  It is where the passion comes from, and it is the passion that is needed when going up against the dominant economic paradigm – and getting the research done!
  •   3D Virtual Collaborative Spaces will take some place in the research but with a greatly diminished role in the realization that finding innovations for organisations to embrace change needs both a scalability that current 3D virtual technology cannot provide, and a reduced learning curve to be used effectively in learning.  I believe innovations are better supported in conjunction with other Web 2.0 technology.


So where are the changes?  Well in one sense there are none – but in another sense I think there is a major shift towards research that brings organizational benefits as well as benefits for the cause called Sustainability.


Simply framed, if one could deliver education using the flexibility of Web 2.0 technology and the potential power of connectivist learning to your entire organization in one hit – this seems like an effective proposition for any organization that would like to work on subjects like values, leadership, strategy development, sustainability, innovation, knowledge management, and other interesting subjects.  It of course can even go much wider than one organisation by helping connect industry sectors or government agencies in forms of macro and micro level learning!


Learning about sustainability is at its core about individual living and working with a certain mindset, yet tackling education on individual one at a time seems inefficient, plus the fact that it is when people in groups can come up with wonderful new insights and solutions through the group participation and connectivism.  Take Strathclyde University as an example.  They have the David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability within the Civil Engineering School, and yet they still ranked 131 in the UK (see blog post ).  How much change has been effected so far from traditional change programmes like these?


Here I can see a special Web 2.0 connectivist learning programmes for example using a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) that could reach a sample of thousands of employees and students all at once, in an asynchronous and synchronous manner that suits the preferences of time, effort and content to the participants whose output feedback into the learning environment from blogs, twitter, email etc. creates virtuous cycle of learning and content.  If you take HSBC with 100,000+ staff, or take the global aviation industry with even larger audiences, you may see just how can we leverage the collective social capital and spirit in a cost effective manner that brings about change – be it strategy, sustainability or otherwise…


Recently, I have been participating in a MOOC called #PLENK2010, and while I had a slow start working out what it all meant, when it clicked I immediately saw the value for this research.  There is a downside in that technology is still a barrier i.e. your skill in using it influences the results that come from it, hence, getting to know the Web 2.0 technologies will be an essential first start for participants but more on that in a later blog post.


For the first time since starting this programme I can see the real possibility of useful productive experimentation with an entire organization of some kind.  There is of course much work to do but potentially much less than trying to set up a full 3DVW university elective, and certainly less hoops to jump through – as by definition a MOOC is Open and Free.


So to end my post by answering my starting questions – I have not wasted my time, I am not changing direction violently, although I’ll admit I have broadened the technology front,  thankfully there is no need to change university, and I am exactly where I need to be!!!  


I am back!!!!


To finish, here is another great quote from Noam Chomsky –

Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; 

it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.


Chomsky Quotes from:



6 months down the drain?

I missed my own deadline for completing my blog last week due to some work commitments that encroached on my weekend, and due to a meeting with a Professor and Associate Dean from the Strathclyde Business School.  A meeting necessary to proceed further with my PhD onto the research courses later this month.


Firstly, I introduced my area of research in terms of learning theory, adult sustainability education, and using 3D collaborative spaces to deliver this training.  The Professor’s feedback appeared harsh,  for one he suggested I sounded more like a journalist than an academic, and from that I assume he meant I was telling him a interesting story but it was lacking real academic perspective.


Secondly, he suggested if it is education I am interested in then perhaps the Education Faculty or another institution would be more appropriate, if  it is Sustainability of interest then he said “I can’t see how this might be of any relevance to a business school?”, and if it is how to effectively use “flight simulators” (using his words), then perhaps this might be of relevance to business in the effective or not use of such technology.


Feeling a little off step, I tried to convince him of the need to set up a Sustainability Elective for the university, when he immediately pushed me back suggesting that many a consultancy had approached the school for curriculum development in this area – subtly he was saying – who am I, or what credibility do I have to create such an elective?


Thirdly, he mentioned that in his many years of advising many PhD students – they always start out with a broad research topic which is in turn refined into a robust research question – and then they move on and get the job done, however, he said in my case he had never seen such a broad beginning?!


There is clear evidence in the literature that there are major short falls in Sustainability Education on MBA programmes worldwide, nonetheless, the Professor makes some valid points. What am I really going to focus on?  What experiments do I hope to create and robustly defend? Who in the business community really has any interest in this area of research?


I could, and I did for a few days take this to be a rather de-motivating experience, but at the same time through support of friends and family, I will admit he is not wrong either, albeit I can imagine it seemed like I was receiving the news from Simon Cowell that I would not be not proceeding to the next round of X-Factor!


Can I stand up tall and discern the messages?  Here is what might be required moving forward:


  1. Step back from the advocacy of Sustainability and 3D Virtual Worlds and ask some academic questions, and knuckle down to find some specifics.
  2. Tie my research to relevant business issues if I am to continue with the SBS Dept. of Management.
  3. Make independent from my research my grand idea of setting up a new elective on Sustainability for the MBA programme.


I have spent considerable investment this past six months thinking, reading and writing about my research ideas, looking at coaching, learning theories, virtual worlds, values, behaviour intentions, sustainability etc. only to walk out of that meeting thinking I might have no idea of what I am going to research, and why it would be of interest to anyone anyhow?  This sounds like a pessimistic interpretation, one which my colleague at the Environment Agency rebuked, paraphrasing –  “It is not time wasted, it can help later on in terms of defending decisions made and directions embarked, and in part is simply just part of the journey!!!”


So, I find myself trying to get my balance and make sense of things.  Two new ideas have come up in the past week, the first being on researching the power of collaboration in virtual worlds:

  • 3D collaborative spaces may offer businesses’ cost effective means of collaborating and innovating across domains and businesses – this is of interest.  There are exemplars around the world e.g. IBM who are actively using the technology.
  • 3D collaborative spaces may offer benefits such as fun, safety, and being able to create things and test ideas at low cost.
  • Eco businesses is a new industry in the making, and innovative ventures/products thereafter may be able make use of 3D collaboration, that may offer leveraging the social capital needed to find new solutions with global players across disparate disciplines.


The second idea that has come up is on researching economic behaviours in virtual worlds.

  • Experimental economists are finding that virtual world economic behaviour maps well to real life behaviour estimation.  This may offer the ability to run scenarios from ethics, corporate social responsibility or sustainability with employees using the same attributes that these technologies purport.


So I have some hard questions with few answers:

  1. Does Sustainability really matter to business, and do I have what it takes to set up valid experiments that are useful for business?
  2. Will I drop Adult Sustainable Education altogether or is this an over-reaction and all I need to do is get more specific in terms of interest and focus?
  3. Will I drop the focus on changing values, beliefs, attitudes, skills or many other constructs I was investigating?
  4. Where will my data come from?  Will I now create the environment or observe existing environments?  Just – “who am I” to think I can create these and pass the stringent tests of academics that one day will sit before me?
  5. Do I move to collaboration theories, behavioural economics or stick to the adult sustainability education focus?  These new ideas may be of interest in general but is this of any interest to me?


Why even write about the backward steps of my PhD journey?  In the spirit of Kuhn’s historical perspective of science, I want my diary to be an accurate reflection of the journey – and not one rewritten to show a story of heroism and success.


Should I be annoyed at what transposed from this meeting, reject a perceived indoctrination, and stubbornly continue with my previous train of thinking, – OR – should I recognize it might be more about my ego, and my perceptions of essentially a very useful discussion – and move towards a more modest end?  Importantly, perhaps I should be forever thankful that this particular Professor cared enough in his own way to prevent me from wasting many more months of effort, wandering about with little to show for investment?  My intuition is whispering the latter but the jury is still considering!


What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you – give me your vote to stay the current course on adult sustainability education, move to collaboration theories for eco businesses, or move to economic behavioural analysis in virtual worlds?