Invasion of the mutant science scholars
August 6, 2007
Yesterday I attended a fascinating workshop at the Academy of Management. It was titled “Does STS mean business?” and organized by Elena Simakova and Catelijne Coopmans. The session argued for the extension of science and technology studies (STS) to management. And the question here is, how would such an extension look like?
The participants provided very different answers to this. One of them is, reinvent organization theory, placing controversies at the center. This is what both Raghu Garud and I argued for. I view finance as the production of value claims: just as scientists turn scientific claims into facts, I see financial intermediaries turning value claims into prices. Seen from this perspective, the capital markets seem to me as a forum for controversies.
Raghu argued in the same direction. He pointed to “a multi-million dollar debate taking place these days.” A scientist has made a meta-analysis of the health effects of Avandia (a drug by Glaxo SmithKline), and found a statistically significant threat to the patients’ health. The stock price of the drug company dropped immediately. And the company responded by entering the fray and disputing the relevance of meta-analysis.
A very different answer was provided by Eamonn Molloy and Wanda Orlikowski: STS already lives comfortably alongside organization theory. “In never had problems presenting STS to a management audience,” Eamonn said. The only potential problem that Molloy saw was relates to the counter-cultural aspect of STS: “what will happen,” he asked, “to the radicalism of STS once its audience becomes the profit-maximization crowd?”
The optimist view was vocally supported by Guido Mollering during the debate. “The central issues of STS,” Mollering argued, “already are part of organization theory. Just think of James’ March idea of ambiguity, conflicting goals, etc.”
Finally, Elena Simakova and Christian Licoppe gave more practical answer to the question. The key problems reside in translation. The authors reflected on the ethnographic experience in translating across the two fields. At a telecom company, the resident technology theorists (the sociologists and the managers) were busy contesting knowledges about the innovation in its social context. Dismissing and sustaining their ways of gaining knowledge of the “usages” of the gadget included making sense of “STS” (inviting and uninviting it in). And if this was not a smooth and always friendly practice, how does this problematise the nature of the engagement between management (studies) and STS?
Overall — a productive, contentious, exciting session. I have left out my own take on several of the crucial issues that came up in the discussion… radicalism, the relevance of STS, the differences with org. studies, etc. But I promise additional posts.
Please find a link to my presentation:
Controversies over value