an argument against academic papers

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Coming to you live, swaddled on the couch in my turtleneck, slightly sweating out a slight fever, and slightly more than slightly frustrated with the academic paper I am supposed to be writing on the topic of business ethics (can you say procrasti-blogging? Me neither)

Business ethics is a topic that lies very close to my interest – I am a disenchanted business student (to say the least) who often annoyingly rolls her eyes at things like ‘the bottom line’ in my marketing courses, who is thoroughly enjoying her class on reimagining capitalism, and is totally unsure where in the consumer world to find myself in just one short year post-graduation.

So obviously, I entered this course with high expectations – top business school, PhD candidate professor of the Institute of Social Innovation, classroom full of international peers with individual views on the role of business and we got to discuss ETHICS while the world around us broils with consumer desire for shared value!

A session and a half in, I found myself defining legitimacy as it applies to the moral understanding, the cognitive understanding, or the pragmatic understanding, and its relation to the modern conceptualization of instrumental CSR. Did I lose you? Because I lost me.

So I, as a mildly obnoxious student that I have the ability to be, went up to my prof at the end of class and in polite, smiling, hesitant words, asked her, essentially, “What’s the point?”

What is the purpose of academia without application?

Of forming the Global Environmental Council for the Health of the Ailing Alpine Sheep and studying in great detail The Coalition in Support of Less Cotton Candy Coverage in Social Media?

(The mention of sheep cannot be either confirmed or denied.)

The response I got was two-pronged, and (spoiler-alert) I think the real Prongs would have called the responses less impressive than a strong Befuddlement Draught:

Prong 1: To get a good job! [This seems to be a be-all, end-all answer to a lot of “why’s” in business school. Why learn this? Because everyone before you had to suffer so now you do to, because when you get out you’ll be expected to show your battle scars. Sounds a lot like hazing to me but what do I know?] Because when you’re a high-paid CSR consultant to a boxy corporate company, they will expect you to reference academia so they can reference academia and the cycle shall continue.

Prong 2: Sometimes academia is simply for the sake of discussion. And though I’m all for educational, thought-provoking discussion to get the creativity flowing on date night, this sounds like a whole lotta “no reason” to me, especially in a topic like business ethics that has all this relevance and practicality and in a room full of the world’s future business members, shouldn’t we be DEBATING something? Practicing our ability to consider ethics in the face of profit, or practicing our ability to totally ignore it at the very least?

I don’t want to paint a completely bratty picture of the education I’ve been getting here – most of my courses at ESADE thus far have been engaging and thought-provoking in a way that I am very grateful for, especially considering the amount of time I have been able to dedicate to them and truly absorb their material.

But when ethics surrounding business, a topic that has killed thousands of people, and taken homes, health, families, and food away from another set of thousands is addressed in this clinical and sterile way, I don’t know what to do with myself.

I welcome every criticism of my viewpoint, I’m so naive when it comes to most topics that are past my bubble-sized scope of understanding, that putting an opinion of anything out in the world is one of the scarier things I might do. And I’m truly searching for an answer to this question – what is the purpose of academia surrounding a pragmatic topic, if it is not connected to a practical goal? If the purpose of debate is debate and the issue being debated involves humanity, why take time in the citations?

Until I figure it out, I guess I’ll start this paper.

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