The essay as an endangered species: should we care?

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The essay as a literary genre has, over the centuries, delivered profound insights into a wide range of topics and even contributed to social and political change. As part of academic apprenticeship, the essay has served to develop students’ intellectual and reflective qualities and to assess their mastery of many different disciplines. Yet, in recent times, the essay has lost some of its allure, arguably becoming an endangered species both in its political and academic uses. Politics and public debates are increasingly dominated by gladiatorial spectacles, punditry, sound bites and an overt commercialization of political campaigning. Academic research in the social sciences, for its part, has come to rely increasingly on a genre of scientific writing, the ‘research paper’, which has become institutionalized and has moved increasingly away from the qualities of the essay. For the purpose of student assessment, essay-writing is rapidly replaced by other types of academic work such as projects, case studies, portfolios, tests, and indeed ‘papers’. In this essay, I argue that while the genre of the essay is neither the only nor the major means of developing and disseminating knowledge in management and organizational disciplines it retains an important role in today’s fast-moving, complex and commercialized environment. The essay gives a voice to an author’s creative imagination, enabling him or her to critique assumptions that are rarely questioned and explore new possibilities for intellectual and social change. As such it can still make a useful contribution both in academic and political fields.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-249
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of management studies
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


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