The HEG brochures are impressive, suitably so for a business school. Ours (IU) is nice enough and is appropriate for a university, but it lacks the bullet-point clarity and the visual attraction of the design. Something, though, strikes me about the message in the “Create your future” brochure. If you can forgive me for presenting my thoughts rather bluntly, I will lay them out here. It may be the case, however, that what I perceive is more of a cultural difference between a business school approach and a university one more than anything I write from now.
The second chapter of Schön’s (1983) famous work, The Reflective Practitioner, focuses on defining and contrasting technical rationality with professional knowledge and practice. Technical rationality is based on positivistic notions of epistemology and, as Schön forcibly points out, the superiority of abstraction over application. Schön problematisises this position in his discussion of the case study method used by business schools (p. 30). Case studies supposedly promote applied, and by implication lower status, education. The main task of academia was to work towards the development of grand theory, ideas that abhor generalisation. To provide some background, I’ll cite the longish section.
“Although some of the strongest advocates of case teaching admit that they cannot define these skills or relate them to general theory, they believe that the case method stands on its own unique merits. President Bok [then President of Harvard] has made a contrary assumption. He assumes that the business school faculty accepts both the mission to develop “better generalizations, theories and methods” and the normative idea of a curriculum which places general principles and methods before the skills of application” (Schön , 1983, p. 30).
This quotation argues for the reconceptualization of case studies as a method for locating more precise areas of investigation that will inform general, or grand, theory.
Schön’s argument comes 25 years after C. Wright Mills (1959) made the case against grand theory, demonstrating its ineffectiveness in explaining the complexities and intricices of human interaction. Mills limited his arguments to sociological concerns, but the principle that grand theory (to use Mills’ term) cannot ultimately answer many questions in the soft sciences left a residue of doubt that challenges the case for abstract education. Since Mills and more pointedly, since Schön, the establishment of the professions inside the university has taken a deep root. This position is no doubt strengthened by the rise and acceptance of qualitative research paradigms since both scholars.
And this brings me to the HEG brochure. Usually I can get a sense of an institution’s stance on the abstract/ applied continuum. There will be statements to the effect of the promotion of particular skills or the development of the whole person and so on. Yet, in HEG’s case, any orientation seems to be missing. I can’t see what kind of individual will be the product of HEG’s education (based on the 8-page brochure). Somehow, I feel disoriented when reading the brochure.
Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books.
Wright Mills, C. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. (T. Gitlin, Ed.) (Fortieth Anniversary Edition). Oxford.