Can improvisation be paradoxical? Learner positionality and the improvised digital disruption

Shehla Arifeen, Farooq Mughal

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Using the case of the COVID-19 plockdown as a disruptive event, this article aims to show the paradox of improvisation by investigating students’ experiences of transitioning from in-person to digital learning spaces across three select business schools in Pakistan. Using Foucault, we analyse the discursive strategies deployed by students as they oscillate between different subject positions under improvised digital conditions. Our analysis reveals contradictory views about the agency of the improvised subjects which is often considered as enterprising in the sense that individuals are willing agents of change. Findings suggest that improvisation can also be paradoxically experienced as it misaligns with predispositions of agents. We show this through the struggles of students in getting to grips with the digital move, giving rise to uncertainty. This study, therefore, makes three distinct, yet interrelated, contributions to the literature on management learning by identifying: the risks of taming embodied subjectivities, the changing positionality of learners and the paradox of improvisation. Our work has implications for understanding improvisation in business schools during disruptive events, as overlooking the predispositions of students can lead to an enterprising agency of a different kind (e.g. resistance) that forfeits the purpose of improvisation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalManagement Learning
Early online date3 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2023


  • Agency
  • COVID-19
  • Foucault
  • digital learning
  • improvisation
  • paradox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management


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