Humanities and management

Josep Maria Lozano (@JosepMLozano),  profesor del Departamento de Ciencias Sociales de ESADE, e investigador senior en RSE del Instituto de Innovación Social.

A growing number of voices and initiatives have been explicitly calling for the inclusion of the humanities in management education. Here, this still sounds like heresy or window dressing, if not worse. There are many types of dogmatists: for some, the suggestion is as useless as mixing oil with water; for others, it is a crude manipulation – end of discussion. But are we sure about that?

To those who would shut down discussion before it even begins, we could argue that in uncertain times, when calculation and planning cannot solve everything, it is essential to develop a refined and lucid understanding of the human condition if our organisations are to be viable. Hence today’s supermarket of coaching, self-help, emotional learning and various forms of meditation, where hogwash coexists with rigorous quality. And if such a market exists, it is because it fulfils a need not yet recognised by conventional education. That’s where the humanities come in.

Discussing humanities in this context doesn’t mean organising series of lectures; it means creating spaces where shared personal exploration can take place through immersion in humanity’s great works. Perhaps we can gain a better understanding today’s world by delving into Antigone, King Lear or The Grapes of Wrath than by reading a report. If the idea is to open oneself up to complexity, to learn to listen and to avoid reproducing familiar patterns, the humanities may contribute more than the most riveting talk by the motivational speaker of the moment. The humanities can do more to create a shared culture than yet another meeting on corporate values. Paradoxically, this works when you take the humanities seriously, rather than as the umpteenth shot in the dark as you chase the latest educational trends. Taking the humanities seriously means, in the words of P. Kolvenbach, engaging in cultural criticism, not just the transmission of culture (or management, or leadership, or whatever discipline you like).

Speaking of fashion, those who enjoy importing platitudes never tire of pompously declaring that we must incorporate the liberal arts. If they want to call it that, okay… as long as they don’t forget that the aim –strictly speaking – is not to offer a new curriculum but to guide people on the path towards a sort of freedom that is the antidote to the various technocracies, fundamentalisms and populisms in our midst today.

Article published in «La Vanguardia» on March 6, 2017


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