Re-making 'Quality' within the Social Sciences: The Debate over Rigour and Relevance in the Modern Business School

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Against the background of previous discussions over the state of academic institutions and the specific operation of research evaluation and measurement systems, this article focuses on the relationship between academic quality and larger societal value within social scientific research. Adopting a perspective from Science and Technology Studies (STS), it specifically explores what has become known as the ‘rigour–relevance’ debate within business and management research and considers its larger implications. On the one hand, it is important to consider how terms such as ‘rigour’ and ‘relevance’ are specifically constructed and performed. On the other, this debate should be seen in the context of the modern business school as an ‘overloaded assemblage’ responsible to multiple audiences and for multiple purposes. In conclusion, it is argued that frameworks of ‘rigour’ and ‘relevance’ should be considered in terms not only of what they include but also omit – with notions of responsibility, public value, cognitive justice and public engagement providing alternative, but characteristically neglected, means of (re-)framing quality in this context.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)194–209
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Audit culture
  • Knowledge production
  • Public value
  • Research evaluation
  • Science and Technology Studies (STS)

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