Pierre Bourdieu, the provocative, brilliant, exasperating French thinker, described sociology as a martial art:
“I often say sociology is a martial art, a means of self-defense. Basically, you use it to defend yourself, without having the right to use it for unfair attacks. Pierre Bourdieu
Now in my second year of my PhD, I have completed and transcribed around 30 interviews, of both family firms and policy makers. These interviews have, at times felt, like defending the value of research. Particularly if the interviewees have not themselves attended university. They are keen to talk about their struggles and successes. They also want to know how my research will help other family firms. These are valid questions and ones that every business school academic should be able to answer: why is theoretical, conceptual work important in a business school? How do we help these many small businesses succeed, or make their exit less traumatic? I hope that, for a start, putting these businesses in touch with our students, researchers and other resources can help them grow. And that eventually, yes, my research will help explain why some family firms successfully innovate, why others do not, and what “familiness” even means in the context of business innovation.
But a martial art involves violence and we should not be afraid of passionately defending our right to understand the world in more depth and to explore areas that have not previously been studied. This is, partly, what universities are for.
The family firms who have been willing to talk to me have been curious about the research, though I suspect that they are delighted someone takes an interest in their business, and wants to learn more about them. Bourdieu was passionate about the need for academics to take a stand, to be activists in the real world. As a business school researcher, taking a stand for me will involve teaching the “attack and defense” moves learned by family firms, to students, policy-makers and firm owners themselves. This will also be a way of honouring those who have given up their time to talk to me.
“La Sociologie est un sport de combat” http://icarusfilms.com/new2002/socio.html