We’ve been encouraged to engage in our reading with a lens of applicability and relevance. What themes apply to my present situations and are relevant to my dissertation research? The challenge of journal articles can be that one is withdrawn from the overall context that shapes and informs the subject at hand. However, though I am somewhat unfamiliar with management theory these two articles on provocative theory and attention within a scholarship of practice demonstrate something about the author. Ramsey is committed to engagement, willing to step into new areas of learning; she is adaptable and responsive to both students and management colleagues. In other words, she models what she writes. Her focus in both articles centres on the relationship of engagement rather than just applying a theory.
As I was reading I responded to each article within two specific frameworks, the first was Church oriented. The second pertains to my dissertation research on those (of the baby boomer generation) that leave church. I realize there is a tendency (perhaps it is always present) to want to know what we need to know so that we can take what it says, apply it to our present situation to achieve desired results. In both articles Ramsey invites us to consider whether this is really sustainable long term. As I am writing I also wonder if, without actually saying it, she confronts the subtle mentality of consumerism – just tell me the “thing” to do (object/product) so I can do it (exchange for benefit). If we had not been invested in this program I would not have considered such a thought. But I digress!
Actually, might be digressing is the more fitting, because my reflections on our reading fit more into the musing realm. Caroline has given me (us) things to consider and not cast away. Within much of my church life (Remember church has been part of my life for more than 50 years!), management, especially business management was frowned upon and doubted. This doubt under minded the good that academic management theory might have provided within my church context. Then in the 1990’s I witnessed a dramatic shift, management practices were being utilized within the Church, especially in terms of church growth and structure. I do not begrudge the need nor the benefits of this application. Yet when church industry grows up in response with ready answers and application something is lacking. Ramsey addresses this complexity. She shifts the attention from one directional – “theory, concept, framework or research finding towards how management-learners appropriate ideas from within such management thinking to their day to day managerial practice.” No wonder it is provocative! Rather than learn first and then apply a very specific set applications, provocative theory takes us into relationship with, both learning and the direction required takes place within social processes.
Many churches have moved toward a “missional” approach. I am part of a church that is committed to living the gospel in the heart of our community. This outward movement resulted in a revitalized church. It was not just that programs were started as a response to community need; it was the relationships that were fostered because of those programs. The challenge I sense today is how and what we are learning, “knowing in practice” is how Ramsey phrases it. Provocative theory presents knowledge as something that is incomplete apart from context. “Knowledge is seen as situated and emergent, created and expressed in social practices.” There is adaptability that is required. I wonder if we have somehow lost the voice of our neighbors? We are developing a cooperative project, which has the potential to significantly impact our neighborhood in response to its needs. I wonder “who’s” voices have we not heard that might be impacted by this project? In a missional approach are we too reliant on cause and effect?
The challenge we might have undergirding us is confronted in provocative theory. “Provocative use of theory promotes practice-as-learning, for it brings into focus a generative conversation between symptoms, ideas, work context and action in creation of changed practice.” In the stories of Mike and Kieran those that were involved either as stakeholders or subjects were vital in the direction and outcomes. This is exactly what I am recognizing as I begin to work on developing my interview questions and method for my dissertation. I have interviewed fewer than 15 people, yet I am learning from them what it is I need to be asking. At least I think so. For Mike and Kieran their success ultimately depended on their ability to listen and adapt. I appreciate the wording “circle of inquiry.” It is a vivid and imaginative representation of what takes place in this process.
The challenge of provocative theory is that is calls us to new practices. This challenges our desire for stability as opposed to change, a mindset that there is only one possible result (or right way), and it brings the issue of power into the picture. How am I engaging with ideas, for instance? What if I stopped being stuck in ideas and considered the action that is afforded? When I am presented with a problem, a challenge, an opportunity what are the questions that need to be asked, not just what are the desired outcomes? Am I paying attention?
As I reflect on both my dissertation and in particular what I am seeing on the church landscape regarding theology I wonder how this needs to be rephrased as a question within the church, “Our ‘teaching’ should, therefore, emphasise the process of this attentional relating rather than an understanding of academic theory.” If we did so, what practices might evolve?
 Ibid. 472.
 Ibid. 478.
 Ibid. 487.
 Carolyn Ramsey, “Management Learning: A Scholarship of Practice Centred on Attention?” Open Research Online 45, no. 1 (2012): 13, accessed March 9, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1177/1350507610394410