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Filling Space in a Beautiful Way: An Interview with Ann Cunliffe

Anne CunliffeAnn Cunliffe, Professor of Organization Studies, FGV-EAESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil

When Ann visited HEC and we sat down for this interview, I must admit that I was not very familiar with her writing.  I was however quite familiar with her writing style.  Indeed, while I had read only one of her papers – Managers as Practical Authors – which had been required reading in one of my PhD courses, talk among PhD students and others about her unconventional writing style was frequent.  Such discussions tended to follow a familiar arc.  They would often start with someone asking, “How did Karl Weick ever get away with publishing his Mann Gulch paper in ASQ?”  To which someone else might answer, “Well you know (emphasis on “you know”), it’s Karl Weick,” this said with a tone of deference only academic groupies in social psychology or organization theory might get, and with the implication that the rest of us ordinary scholars were stuck with the IMRAD template.  Then someone would say, “Well, Ann Cunliffe has also managed to publish unconventional stuff in pretty good journals” which gave some of us hope that we were not doomed to reproduce the excruciatingly dry writing we struggled so hard to read as newbies to the field, at least not forever or all of the time. Funny how we forget.  Occasionally, a student will comment on how tiresome they find reading in-text citations – I used to think that as well, until I got used to them. The quest for efficiency in scientific production has brought us to this – straightjacket formats, limited pages, lots and lots of tables.  These are practical, no doubt, but oh-so-boring to read (no wonder speed reading has become such a useful academic skill). The idea of an academic article that is savoured, that is so engaging to read you cannot put it down until you are done is nonsensical almost, a joke.  But why is this so?  Why is it that good science cannot go hand-in-hand with writing that is engaging and fun to read?  In this light, it is rather refreshing to talk to someone who, for her entire career, has deliberately pursued a different path and who, despite the risks, succeeded at making a name for herself. It gives hope and inspiration to the rest of us.

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