Four authors. Three books. One aim to challenge fact resistance and the current research on leadership, organization and analytical thinking. This was the premise of the book launch held by researchers in Business Administration at Lund University School of Economics and Management, together with a researcher in Sociology from Lund University.
How should academia counteract the alleged development towards a more fact resistant societal attitude? How can we celebrate books, knowledge and the art of science? These questions were raised at the triple book launch in Malmö in the beginning of December when Sverre Spoelstra launched his philosophical introduction to leadership and organization while Jens Rennstam, David Wästerfors and Peter Svensson presented their books on the analytical craftsmanship within qualitative research and discourse analysis.
Reclaiming the facts with discourse analysis
Peter Svensson’s book Diskursanalys is an introductory book on how discourse analysis and the language impacts qualitative research.
“Discourse analysis has been somewhat out of vogue for the last ten years, at least so within the social sciences. However, I can sense revival of research that pays attention to the role of language in the construction of social relations and meaning,” says Peter Svensson.
Svensson wants to highlight two main insights from the book, which both affect the everyday life of citizens and the societal development in general.
“First, that society is, in effect, a verb. Society happens. Society is something that people produce and accomplish in their everyday lives. Language use (discourse) is one of the mechanisms in this every production of society.”
“Secondly, the book is an attempt to reclaim the notion of 'alternative facts'. The response from academia to the idea of alternative facts has in my view been deeply problematic. Instead of defending and refining the analysis of the relations between power, politics and truths (plural), academics seem to have entered a state of panic and argued that the role of research is to present the absolute truth. The problem, however, is that the belief in objectivity and absolute truths tends to ignore that different truths serve different purposes and reproduce certain power relations. Discourse analysis reminds us about the complex relations between descriptions, facts, power and truths. To my mind, discourse analysis is a way of reclaiming alternative facts from populist politics,” Peter Svensson argues.
Creative analytical work - from chaos to authority
Jens Rennstam is aiming for “demystifying analytic work without trivializing it”, in David Wästerfors’ and his book Analyze! More practically, they want to encourage primarily students and PhD students to be more creative and “carefully eclectic” when engaging in analytical work. Advice from several authorities on method are presented in the book and the authors exemplify how the input can be used by drawing on their own studies in various organizational settings.
The authors suggest that all analytical work is organized around three key activities – sorting, reducing and arguing. Sorting is intended to establish order in the chaos that analysts face when sitting in front of a complex set of data. Reducing refers to the fact that even when the data has been sorted, it must be significantly reduced before it is presented to the readers. Finally, the analyst is expected to respond to the “problem of authority” and argue for their findings to make the presentation relevant and interesting. The authors provide concrete examples of how the three steps can be carried out.
Jens Rennstam argues that the book can be useful not only for academic analysts but also for employees and managers outside of the university.
“Simply put and obviously, qualitative analysis provides insight into the quality but not the quantity of organizational phenomena, such as control of engineering work, police management of scandals, or conflicts in prisons, which we analyze in the book. Practitioners who are interested in deepened understanding of qualitative analysis and social phenomena in their organizations will gain from reading our book.”
Philosophical approach to fashionable field
Sverre Spoelstra’s book Leadership and Organization: A Philosophical Introduction tries to understand and challenge what we think we 'know' about leadership. This is in line with the philosophical approach of the book: it questions how leadership is thought about in an organizational context.
“If many leadership academics assume that there is a solid house of knowledge about leadership, to which we can add a stone here and there, and eventually floors, my aim has been to show that the appropriate metaphor may rather be that of a sandcastle. What is sometimes called 'leadership science', I would suggest, is not so much an ever-expanding field of knowledge, but rather a production site of attractive images of leadership, e.g. the image of the transformational leader or the authentic leader. These images come and go, and take the form of management fashions,” Sverre Spoelstra says.
In the book, Spoelstra challenges popular and contemporary leadership concepts and questions what he thinks underpins many of these leadership ideas: the commonly referred to distinction between management and leadership.
“Management is seen as ordinary and subsumed under the organization as we know it, whereas leadership is extraordinary, transcending the organization; management is a role within an organizational hierarchy, whereas leadership is a spiritual force. Because leadership is seen as a force outside or above organizations, it can hold the promise of redemption: leadership is deemed capable of saving us from the organization as we know it or, more generally, the crisis that we find ourselves in,” Spoelstra says.
What can co-workers, besides the leader/manager, learn from the book?
“The book is not written for managers or leaders, as it does not seek answers to the question ‘How to lead?’. Instead, the book asks how leadership is thought about in business culture, and it problematizes leadership thinking in various ways. What I learned from writing the book is that there is no way of ascertaining that leadership will be a positive experience in practice, neither for the leader nor the led. The creation of positive images of leadership, such as authentic leadership or responsible leadership, too quickly give the impression that the ‘right’ form of leadership is there to save us. In practice, this is not the case. Leading is always very close to misleading, and what is leadership for the one is betrayal to the other; what is the articulation of a Great Truth for the one, is a Great Lie to the other. For me, such insights are not unsettling, but rather a good practical guide to organizational life,” Sverre Spoelstra concludes.