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Thinking Critically in Management Education  

Clare Rigg

Most would argue that critical thinking is core to higher education; that a fundamental purpose is to cultivate students’ capacity to critique arguments, to scrutinize evidence, and to reason logically. However, in management education, a different take on thinking critically emerged in the 1980s, provoked by dissatisfaction with a mainstream management education which appeared happy to teach managers how to reason, analyze, and critique, without asking fundamental questions about ends, means, values, and consequences for employees, consumers, the environment, or society. In this vein, critical management education (CME) promotes a critical engagement with the world through a combination of questioning the legitimacy of knowledge, critical reflection, and critical being or action. The purpose of thinking critically in management education is seen as moving in the direction of greater social justice and a world in which neither people, nor the environment, are oppressed. CME can encompass both critical content and critical pedagogy. Frameworks for thinking critically in CME have broadened from the original neo-Marxist and hegemony theory employed in critical management studies (CMS) to draw from postmodernist, post-structuralist, psychodynamic, feminist, ecological, critical-realist, postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and queer theory. Critical pedagogy in management education has drawn from the longer traditions of community and radical adult education, with their practices of participative methods and dialogue. In addition, reflexivity plays a central part. Teaching and learning methods used by critical management educators as ways to explore the messiness, contradictions, and paradoxes of organizations are wide and varied, and include film, drama, and literature as well as bodywork such as yoga and meditation. Criticisms of CME include the right of academics to unsettle students’ sense of themselves, potentially disruptive effects of critical reflection, educators’ presumed moral superiority, neglect of issues of race and gender, as well as the challenge that critical management is an oxymoron. To provoke critical thinking challenges educators to redefine their role and their assumptions about learning. Attempting to be a CME educator has been likened to working on the margins, as a tempered radical, with attendant stresses and risks of student, peer, and institutional disapproval. Experienced educators advocate finding “uncontested niches” to develop CME modules and materials such as an optional module or new course; exploiting spaces which speak to the priorities of institutions (such as esteem and rankings) as well as appeal to students. Research on CME has been largely restricted to single reflective accounts and evaluations of educator practice. Rich though these are, it means the field has many unanswered questions that invite further research. These include: • What are the implications of hyper-diversity in the classroom for critical pedagogies? • What are junior faculty’s experiences of trying to introduce criticality into management education? • How can CME respond to changing societal challenges? • What might be the implications of post-human socio-materiality? • What can CME offer to undergraduate and post-experience constituencies? • How can CME make a difference to management practice?

Article

Critical Thinking in Business Research  

Mark Loon

Critical thinking is more than just fault-finding—it involves a range of thinking processes, including interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, inferencing, explaining, and self-regulating. The concept of critical thinking emerged from the field of education; however, it can, and should, be applied to other areas, particularly to research. Like most skills, critical thinking can be developed. However, critical thinking is also a mindset or a disposition that enables the consistent use and application of critical thought. Critical thinking is vital in business research, because researchers are expected to demonstrate a systematic approach and cogency in the way they undertake and present their studies, especially if they are to be taken seriously and for prospective research users to be persuaded by their findings. Critical thinking can be used in the key stages of many typical business research projects, specifically: the literature review; the use of inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning and the relevant research design and methodology that follows; and contribution to knowledge. Research is about understanding and explaining phenomena, which is usually the starting point to solve a problem or to take advantage of an opportunity. However, to gain new insights (or to claim to), one needs to know what is already known, which is why many research projects start with a literature review. A literature review is a systematic way of searching and categorizing literature that helps to build the researchers’ confidence that they have identified and recognized prevailing (explicit) knowledge relevant to the development of their research questions. In a literature review, it is the job of the researcher to examine ideas presented through critical thinking and to scrutinize the arguments of the authors. Critical thinking is also clearly crucial for effective reasoning. Reasoning is the way people rationalize and explain. However, in the context of research, the three generally accepted distinct forms of reasoning (inductive, deductive, and abductive) are more analogous to specific approaches to shape how the literature, research questions, methods, and findings all come together. Inductive reasoning is making an inference based on evidence that researchers have in possession and extrapolating what may happen based on the evidence, and why. Deductive reasoning is a form of syllogism, which is an argument based on accepted premises and involves choosing the most appropriate alternative hypotheses. Finally, abductive reasoning is starting with an outcome and working backward to understand how and why, and by collecting data that can subsequently be decoded for significance (i.e., Is the identified factor directly related to the outcome?) and clarified for meaning (i.e., How did it contribute to the outcome?). Also, critical thinking is crucial in the design of the research method, because it justifies the researchers’ plan and action in collecting data that are credible, valid, and reliable. Finally, critical thinking also plays a role when researchers make arguments based on their research findings to ensure that claims are grounded in the evidence and the procedures.