Marcella Campbell

  • Postmodernism and Business Management Training

    Marcella Campbell, Southampton Institute of Higher Education

    Conceptual Paper

    Theme Addressed: Training Ideologies in Business Education

    This 'work in progress' is concerned with business training in a post-modern epoch: the interface between postmodernism and business training techniques; the nature of agency, empirical knowledge and language in the experience and reflection of trainers and trainees; the relationship between empirical truth and experience through multiple perspectives (Derrida, 1970/1976; Gergen and Thatchenkery, 1996). The last fifteen years has seen a great deal of debate around consumerism and postmodernism, adapting the seminal work of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard and Baudrillard. Such debates shed light on business training methods, which intervene as trainees simultaneously respond in their roles of consumers and as they 'service' consumers. What is the nature of this intervention? Should training provision, from policy to delivery, be 'a continuous reconceptualisation of commonly held and internalized meanings.' (Slaats and Knip, 1992)? To what extent can we train for 'continuous instability, . knowledge through action and socialization, .perceptual and technological shifts (and) intersubjective difference' (Nooteboom, 1992)?

    The paper will argue that the concept of training is modernist/ structuralist, and for this reason it can be difficult to think innovatively. We are used to definitions of training from modernist perspectives, resulting for example, in quality control systems verifying outcomes that may not be desirable or even ethical. It will also argue that some modern approaches can be of value if used self-consciously/ reflectively and but that continued adherence to a devalued modernist approach calls in question 'its legitimacy, its purpose, its activities, its very raison d'etre' (Bloland, 1995).

    The outcomes we expect at the end of the training process tend to be 'one size fits all'.Nevertheless, pedagogical research methodology commonly uses ethnography, qualitative methodology or grounded theory, understanding that personal expression and the language of life provide important evidence and that theory grows out of practice, constantly adapting and evolving to explain the form taken by experienced reality. How is it that such understanding does not inform our training methodologies?

    Deconstruction (textual and behavioural) is the core of the reflective process and also the means of experiential expression, experience being the source and subject of knowledge. Is it the case that 'we scholars have failed to put the tools and findings of construction and deconstruction into the hands of potentially reflective practitioners'? (Derrida, 1991; Cunningham and Weschler, 2002) In fact, we can take the argument further and say that we do not use the tools and findings ourselves.

    It is not intended that this paper be conclusive but that it should explore some of the issues raised by the postmodern training debate. In this sense it is fragmentary. However, it is hoped that it will illuminate our understanding of the training process and Business Management outcomes. What are the training outcomes trainers strive for and how do these compare with desired business management outcomes? How do both of these interface with the experience of the trainee? Are we training for hyper-reality (Baudrillard, 1988) rather than life experience; creating a meta-narrative (Lyotard,1984) about the meaning of working life in a business environment?


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