[We’re pleased to welcome author Isabel Collien of Freie Universität Berlin. Collien recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Critical–reflexive–political: Dismantling the reproduction of dominance in organisational learning processes,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Collien reveals the motivation and challenges for her research:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
I am both a researcher and a practitioner in the field of diversity and equal opportunities in organizations with a great interest in bridging theory and practice. In particular, I seek to understand how societal power relations influence micro-level practices, such that equal opportunities programs and other organizational practices sometimes fail to cater to the needs of those we seek to empower, motivate or sensitize.
Looking into power-sensitive organizational learning studies for theoretical and practical inspiration, I discovered that the research field provided nuanced discussions on the effect of micro-level power structures and dynamics or macro-level discourses on learning in organizations. What I was missing, was a theoretical framework for understanding the effect of societal power relations (related to persisting structures of dominance) on micro-level learning processes. My paper addresses this research gap. Based on Bourdieu’s theory of practice, I lay a theoretical foundation to explain the reproduction of dominance structures in micro-level learning processes.
What was the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?
The most challenging aspect in the process of writing the manuscript was the editor’s and reviewers’ advice to decide between a theoretical and an empirical paper. The final manuscript is a theoretical paper, which draws on a case study by Heinemann (2014) on advanced training participation in Germany to illustrate its key points. The study shows how a multi-level, historically grown system of othering leads to feelings of not-belonging and demotivates female migrants from participating in advanced training programs. Building on these insights, I suggest that researchers need to take three steps to understand and potentially counter the effect of societal power relations on learning processes: being critical, being reflexive and being political.
How will your research impact the field?
The answer to this question can only be speculative or wishful thinking. Yet, I hope that my proposed triad of being critical, being reflexive and being political inspires future research on power and organizational learning. Hopefully, researchers will agree that questioning taken-for-granted practices and structures requires a multi-level and historically informed perspective to dismantle the reproduction of dominance structures in learning processes (being critical). Furthermore, I argue for a broader notion of reflexivity in relation to societal power relations, encompassing questioning the researcher’s social position, the research field and ultimately, the scholastic point of view (being reflexive). Finally, I wish for researchers to understand the importance of making their particular perspective, their research motivations and their subsequent choices more transparent to a) make ethically informed judgements about the nature of organizational learning and b) allow for an in-depth, controversial discussion of their findings in the context of unequal power relations (being political).
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Diagram photo attributed to geralt. (CC)