Friday, 30 August 2013

Living on CSEAR island: Do we have a problem? Tell us what you think!

CSEAR will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. The network has developed from a small number of UK-based researchers in 1991 to an international network of academics and practitioners engaging in various social and environmental accounting related activities.

At this year’s Summer School, two workshops will be held on the topics of the Future of the Field and CSEAR Future(s). Conference attendees are invited to share thoughts and ideas on these topics during the workshops and on poster boards located in the open space in the Gateway.

These are opportunities to celebrate achievements, discuss the messiness, and imagine possibilities of SEAR field and the CSEAR community in the past, now and in the future. There is no expectation for the participants to develop ‘one voice’, ‘one view’ and ‘one way forward’ for CSEAR. Rather, these activities aim to create space to discuss, connect and create possibilities for research, teaching, and engagement which may emerge.

In the first of these two important workshops, Carmen Correa, Matias Laine, Colin Dey and Ian Thomson will lead a debate that seeks to confront some of the issues - and problems - facing the CSEAR community. The starting point for the workshop is the forthcoming SEAJ article, "Struggling Against Like-Minded Conformity in Order to Enliven SEAR: A Call for Passion", written by Carmen and Matias. Their paper reflects upon the behavioural and attitudinal issues of scholars within the community of social and environmental accounting research and seeks to stimulate debate by discussing the authors' views on how the CSEAR community operates. 

Correa and Laine acknowledge that many within our community may feel happy and 'at home' within CSEAR, and that CSEAR has been of great importance in establishing social structures to foster research activity. However, they also suggest that:

"such an institutionalisation of social structures is not without problems: many basic issues come to be taken-for-granted and thus move beyond discussion (Spence, Husillos, and Correa-Ruiz 2010). We concur with Gray, Dillard, and Spence (2009, 564) that SEAR scholars need to expose our taken-for-granted assumptions more explicitly. Not only do such issues easily bring the development of this research genre to a standstill, but also they may lead to in-breeding and clubbishness (Spence, Husillos, and Correa-Ruiz 2010)."
A key concern for the authors is a lack of passion within the community, which is dominated instead by conformity:
"Many SEAR scholars tend to agree with each other, but when they do not agree, the issue is not taken up in discussion at all... There is too much of an obsession with appearance and coherence, and so frequently there is neither self-questioning nor any intention to really challenge others’ assumptions. Similar arguments can be directed towards the audience. Instead of listening, we audience members often only hear. We simply interpret the ideas of others according to our own research approach and do not acknowledge the premises and taken-for-granted assumptions behind them. Indeed, these are rarely, if ever, challenged at a conference."
To address these concerns, they argue that:

"We need to engage with others in order to learn. Spence, Husillos, and Correa-Ruiz (2010) emphasised that ‘what is needed is to show the political imagination to engage with actors other than simply other members of the SER cargo cult’. However, what we here call for is a different attitude of SEAR scholars, as individuals, irrespective of the type of forum or scientific gathering that they use to interact and dialogue about their research. Engagement takes place on the individual level – organisations, communities or strands of literature do not engage. Rather, we argue that engagement starts with the ability to listen to the other. Through listening, one comes to learn what the other has to say. Instead of simply dismissing views that are not coherent with one’s own worldview, such encounters should be seen as opportunities. Then, there is the possibility of coming to understand the other. However, such engagement may not be realised if we hold on to taboos – that is, if we are not willing to expose and get deeper into the taken-for-granted assumptions underlying each piece of research."
During next week's workshop, the intention is to explore Correa and Laine's call for deeper engagement and listening. In anticipation of this, we would welcome views and thoughts on the issues and challenges raised by this paper:

  • Do you agree/disagree that there is a lack of passion, and too much conformity within the CSEAR community?
  • Are these issues symptomatic of a wider structural problem within the community - as notoriously described by Spence et al (2010) as a 'cargo cult' of CSEAR 'islanders'?
  • To what extent do structures such as the CSEAR conferences and SEAJ contribute to or alleviate these problems?
  • Is the publication of a journal article in SEAJ and the running of workshops at CSEAR likely to resolve these problems, or are we simply talking to ourselves and repeating well-worn arguments that have been raised before?
  • Rather than exhorting the CSEAR community for being passionless, should we be encouraging and helping them to be more free to pursue their passions?
  • Where, if at all, are the positive examples or role models of existing CSEAR work that demonstrates what can be achieved?   
Follow the debate here, on Facebook, and on Twitter, using the hashtag #CSEAR2013.

1 comment:

  1. Great. Perhaps some of the CSEAR community might like to come to my first paper session at this year's CSEAR (St. Andrews) conference. There will be much questioning of some of our colleagues' work and assumptions.