Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rank Irrelevance

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rank Irrelevance

Article excerpt

The ABS' flawed guide to journal quality is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in business and management studies, says Dennis Tourish

T he latest iteration of the so-called International Guide to Academic Journal Quality, published last month by the Association of Business Schools, has provoked deep unease on the part of many academics. It has even been formally criticised in a British Academy of Management press release, suggesting that whatever residual confidence remained in journal rankings is fast being eroded.

But to my mind, the ABS guide is only one symptom of a deeper malaise in business and management scholarship.

The guide purports to identify those journals in which the "best" work is likely to be clustered, thus helping new scholars to decide where to publish. At the same time, its editors acknowledge that top-quality work is often found outside the "top" journals. Although they do not say so, it is likewise widely recognised that such journals often publish work that is uninteresting, mistaken and irrelevant.

The 2014 research excellence framework illustrates the point. Data compiled by members of the business and management studies subpanel are currently circulating, comparing the scores awarded to 1,000 submitted outputs with the ABS rankings of the journals they were published in. They show that a paper in a top-ranked ABS journal had a 39 per cent chance of being graded 4* by the REF panel, roughly similar odds of being graded 3* and a 20 per cent chance of being deemed 2*.

As the British Academy of Management points out, the guide is also hopelessly biased in favour of US journals: of the 33 publications it currently identifies as "world elite", 31 are American. It strikes me that these journals are no less drawn than their "lesser" cousins to the triviality that pervades much of the scholarship in our field. They are dominated by functionalist and positivist perspectives that take the status quo for granted, ask few critical questions of business practice, and largely ignore the most important issues facing business and society.

For example, four of the ABS' world elite, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly and Organization Science, have yet to publish a substantive paper dealing with the 2008 banking meltdown. What use are "world elite" journals that can ignore the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, one that has impoverished millions, threatened the eurozone and revived the supposedly dormant prospect of sovereign debt default? …

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