Hannah Arendt and the Raising of Conscience in Business Schools

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Abstract

Business schools should be grounded in questions of meaning, not knowledge. Using this basic distinction, inspired by Hannah Arendt, I argue the scientific (e.g., economic and financial theory), moral (e.g., codes of conduct) and practical (e.g., training) forms of knowledge being taught in business schools corrode students' ability to think. They are corrosive because they are unthinkingly governed by a singular view of education: To instill habits that eliminate mystery, thereby making the world a more certain place. The aim is to realize organizational conditions of control, order, and uniformity, which in management practice equates to the conscious pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness. Given the extensive critique of this pursuit, both in terms of its hubris and of its pernicious effects on human relations and the wider environment, I ask "What if questions of knowledge were subsumed by ones of meaning?" Here, control, order, and uniformity make way for thoughtfulness. For Arendt, thinking is the capacity and willingness to refuse the monopolizing force of truth, and to keep truths in the company of their contraries. Education that institutes thinking rather than knowledge, encourages a plural, open awareness of a world that is, essentially, ungovernable. To relate to things thoughtfully, rather than knowledgably, is to develop what Arendt calls conscience. The conscience she speaks of is not a restraining force that pushes away untruths and installs certainty. Rather, it arises from the experience of questioning the certainties woven into human practices by considering how to begin them anew. If instituted though business schools, it places unruliness at the heart of management practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Learning and Education
Volume19
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)584-599
Number of pages16
ISSN1537-260X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

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