Provocative theory and a scholarship of practice

Ramsey, Caroline (2011). Provocative theory and a scholarship of practice. Management Learning, 42(5) pp. 469–483.



The relationship between theory and management practice has been an ongoing debate during the first decade of the 21st century. This paper identifies two current understandings of how theory relates to practice – explanation and sensemaking – and offers a third, ‘provocative’ use of theory. Drawing on social constructionist ideas, a provocative theory is articulated as a relational process whereby academic theory ‘speaks into’ management practice as but one voice amongst many. The relationship is therefore one of engagement rather than the application of theory.

Having outlined the intellectual roots of provocative theory, two illustrative case studies are used to show how a provocative theory worked as managers engaged academic scholarship within a practice of inquiry to improve their managerial practice. These two stories illustrate a scholarly engagement with academic theory, as the two managers exhibited an engagement with ideas, a practice of inquiry and an attention to moment by moment relating within practice. These three processes are argued to constitute a scholarship of practice, where scholarship is seen in amidst moment by moment activity and practicing managers are involved in generating and evaluating an evidence based management.

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