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?