Risky Business: Reflections on Critical Performativity in Practice

Nick Butler*, Helen Delaney, Sverre Spoelstra

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

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Critical scholars in the business school are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of their research beyond the confines of academia. This has been articulated most prominently around the concept of ‘critical performativity’. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with critical leadership scholars, this article explores how academics engage with practitioners at the same time as they seek to maintain a critical ethos in relation to their external activities. While proponents of critical performativity tend to paint a frictionless picture of practitioner engagement—which can take the form of consulting, coaching, and leadership development—we show how critical scholars may end up compromising their academic values in corporate settings due to practitioner demands and other institutional pressures. Taken together, these pressures mean that critical scholars often need to negotiate a series of (sometimes insoluble) dilemmas in practitioner contexts. We argue that the concept of critical performativity is unable to contend meaningfully with these tensions because it replicates the myth of the ‘heroic-transformational academic’ who is single-handedly able to stimulate critical reflection among practitioners and provoke radical change in organizations. We conclude with a call for further reflection on the range of ethical dilemmas that can arise during academic–practitioner engagement.
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)428-445
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - maj 2018
Udgivet eksterntJa


  • Critical leadership studies
  • Critical performativity
  • Practitioner engagement
  • Relevance