Researcher ‘Care’ — that which influences researchers’ choice about what they study, how they go about doing it, and how they articulate and understand why they do it — was the topic of a 1 September Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing seminar delivered by UNSW Business School’s Associate Professor Gavin Schwarz.

To understand the shape – not state – of research in the OS field, Gavin’s co-authored research asked a simple question: Do OS scholars Care about what they do in research organisations (i.e. universities)?

“Researcher [C]are contributes to the scientific rigour, intellectual appeal, and practical relevance of [OS] knowledge…And yes, while [OS] researchers do care, [Researcher Care] has become a reflection of their [disciplinary] community rather than the individual…We are now ‘tapped out’, suppressing or relegating [the individual’s intrinsic] concern or passion [about a topic] for that of the community’s…”, explains Gavin.

So why do OS researchers alter Care for their preferred areas of research to that of their community’s? It often comes down to compliance, says Gavin: compliance with the field’s definition of what is ‘good’ and ‘interesting’ research, what a ‘competent’ researcher is, and the pressure of institutional forces such as career and reputational benefits.

“The devolution, or degeneration, in [OS] knowledge is self-imposed,” he adds. “We do it to ourselves! The irony [is that] the state of OS is healthy — it’s growing, its concepts are progressing, so we do care! The problem is the transformation of researcher Care from unmitigated passion to professional obligation…contributes to a gradual moderation of the field’s knowledge: it’s generated by community norms, is more risk adverse than path breaking, and is more reliant on external validation.”

In concluding, Associate Professor Schwarz notes that it is not all doom and gloom! To redress the devolution of OS knowledge he suggests broadening the view of what constitutes research ‘impact’, recasting OS conventions; reconsidering researcher reward systems, career practices and pathways in business schools to promote change; and at the personal level, pursuing a program of due diligence and honest appraisal about how one’s research activities aligns with their Care.

Gavin’s research was published in Academy of Management Learning and Education with co-authors, Chailin Cummings (California State University, Long Beach) and Tom G. Cummings (University of Southern California) — ‘Devolution of researcher care in organization studies and the moderation of organizational knowledge’ (2015, doi: 10.5465/amle.2014.0167).