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‘Capitalism in Question’ at Annual Meeting of Management Profs

‘Capitalism in Question’ at Annual Meeting of Management Profs

Photograph by Michael Reynolds/EPA/Landov

“Capitalism in Question” sounds like a consciousness-raising session from Occupy Wall Street. But it also happens to be the theme of this year’s annual meeting of the Academy of Management, an association of management professors with more than 19,000 members in over 100 countries. It’s happening on Aug. 9-13 at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Readers are left to draw their own conclusions about whether the questioning of capitalism is a sign that management professors have been infected by the liberalism of their colleagues from the philosophy and sociology departments, or whether capitalism has performed so poorly lately that even the people who teach it for a living are asking hard questions.

Whatever the case, the call for submissions of papers is provocative:

“The recent economic and financial crises, austerity, and unemployment, and the emergence of many economic, social, and environmental protest movements around the world have put back on the agenda some big questions about this vision: What kind of economic system would this better world be built on? Would it be a capitalist one? If so, what kind of capitalism? If not, what are the alternatives?”

Some of the session titles:

• Making Space for Indigenous Worldviews: from Received Economic Hegemony to Diverse Ways of Knowing

• Cross-National Capitalism in Question

• Is Postcapitalist Organization and Management Possible? Some Answers to Matters of Concern

• Capitalism in Question: Towards an Economics of Justice, Sustainability, and Economic Thrivability

• Capitalism in Crisis and Other Conundrums: Tackling the Big Questions

Gar Alperovitz, a left-leaning professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, was invited to give a keynote address. In a blog post he said he was “a bit taken aback” but pleased by the invitation. He wrote that the conference’s request for submissions “outlines the kind of sophisticated research agenda we’ll need if we’re serious about building something over time beyond the traditional systemic capitalist model.”

“Amazing how strong is the critique of capitalism they have produced for this event,” Alperovitz wrote in an e-mail.

Paul Adler, who chose the theme of this year’s conference in his role as program chairman, is a professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He was educated in Australia and France and was previously affiliated with the Brookings Institution, Columbia University, Harvard Business School, and Stanford’s School of Engineering.

Adler wrote in an e-mail that “my colleagues on the Executive Committee and Board have been very supportive.” He added: “Of course, we all have different ideas about what the term ‘capitalism’ refers to and what exactly is or should be in question about it. … But there is a real eagerness among my colleagues to consider these ‘broader’ issues and how they should be reflected in our research and teaching.”

By the way, the 2014 conference should be less controversial. It’s tentative theme is “The Power of Words.”

Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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