Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Ekonomihögskolan vid Lunds universitet

Theory seminar III: What happens when you don't have a theory? Fantasy as science


Welcome to the third Theory seminar, this time with Håkan Jankensgård.

Fantasizing is the poor but alluring cousin of theorizing. Fantasizing involves the unfettered use of our creative faculties to come up with attractive-sounding narratives that purport to advance our knowledge on a specific topic. Our critical faculties, on the other hand, are permanently suspended. Fantasizing generates high levels of personal and intra-tribe stimulation and meaning, but is largely devoid of value to society at large.

The literature on Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) is an interesting case of fantasizing. ERM possesses all the attributes required to support a sustained effort at fantasizing: it is a poorly defined, endlessly malleable, and sexy-sounding topic that even offers the tantalizing prospect of consulting fees down the road if you manage to stand out (i.e. fantasize more successfully than others). The result is a free-for-all where the mantra of the X-files resonates loudly: I want to believe. Defying normal academic rules of engagement, the more fluffy and imaginative your work is, the more citations you are likely to get.

How can fantasizing be reigned in? The approach favoured by critical scholars – challenging the discipline's core, taken-for-granted assumptions – does not work here, because there simply are not any. Instead, the approach that holds the most promise may actually be a return to Grand Theory: a set of ideas in the tradition of Karl Popper, capable of explaining observed patterns and making falsifiable claims, whilst based on explicit assumptions whose validity can be scrutinized and discussed. Although sometimes castigated due to its association with mainstream positivistic research (i.e., boring), in a literature afflicted by fantasizing the paradoxical happens: as a unified whole starts coming together, it yields rich and novel insights, as well as radically new ways of looking at this phenomenon.

In his talk Håkan will reflect on these issues as well as on his recent publication “A Theory of Enterprise Risk Management” (and the dire fate that awaits it).

20 september 2019


Ideon Alfa1:3004
Scheelevägen 15B
223 63 Lund


Peter Svensson