Some researchers have recently questioned the realities of doctoral life in management science research. Certain senior colleagues highlight the moroseness and apprehension of today’s doctoral students, while the same doctoral students, on the other hand, affirm their curiosity and collective spirit.
This article in no way purports to come down in favour of one of these two visions. It merely aims to extend this reflection beyond the doctoral case, and to ask a broader question: How should we consider the future of research in a context where the star rating system is becoming increasingly dominant? Are we doomed to cynicism? How can we sustain the curiosity, the interest in fieldwork and the group spirit buoying along a section of the young generation of researchers? This article proposes an avenue for both theoretical reflection and practical application. It suggests that we view researchers as weavers.
A brief history
The “Canuts” (the name given to weavers in Lyon’s Croix-Rousse district) are an emblematic figure in Lyon’s silk industry. The Lyon weaving industry began in the 16th century and reached its hour of glory in the 19th century. The Canuts first wove silk manually on looms with large and small pulls, before working on Jacquard mechanical looms.
Although weaving looms have evolved greatly over the centuries, the principle of weaving remains the same. It requires two types of yarn: warp and weft yarns. The warp yarns, parallel to each other, are separated into two crossed layers on round rods. The first layer of warp yarns passes over the rounded rod while the second layer passes underneath. The weavers pass a shuttle containing the weft yarn between these two layers of yarn. Weaving therefore involves passing two layers of warp yarn alternately above and below the weft yarn.
If we look at the history of the Canuts, we see that a first revolt broke out in November 1831. The Canuts, who owned their own looms, worked for employers (the silk merchants) who delivered the raw material to them and collected the fabric once it was finished. The silk merchants, however, refused to pay the minimum rate that would have guaranteed a decent living for the Canuts, and so these craftsmen rebelled against the social injustice they were subjected to. Their struggle was driven by a desire to establish fairer relations in the silk industry.
The weaving legacy
What can we learn from this brief historical overview? Two things seem particularly inspiring for the academic world. The first aspect concerns the weaving technique itself. Weaving requires the joint use of two types of yarn, and we can only create an attractive and sturdy piece of fabric when these different yarns intersect. Likewise, when different perspectives intersect we can create a rich and sumptuous line of thought, while if we adopt a multidisciplinary approach and take into account the discourse of various actors (other than peers) we enable fine and high-quality knowledge to emerge.
The second element to remember in the Canuts’ story is their collective concern for social justice. But to set the record straight, we’re not talking about stepping into the Canuts’ shoes. We shouldn’t forget that their revolt resulted in a general strike, riots, severe repression and deaths. This article does not seek to encourage revolution, nor does it attempt to identify the present-day equivalent of the 19th century silk merchants. As already noted, the pressures on the younger generation of researchers are the result of a complex system. On the other hand, their solidarity and their desire for social justice are inspiring. They invite us to devise ways of establishing horizontal relations between researchers. They raise the question of how to create a link between the juniors with stars in their eyes and the seniors with stars on their CVs.
Of course it would be easy to talk about this legacy without worrying about how to implement it, or to suggest that everyone should model their individual behaviour on the weaving model. To avoid these pitfalls we therefore need to devise a concrete way of collectively reviving the weavers’ legacy. This article promotes the idea that organising inclusive events could be one such method, for example the taste research day run by emlyon business school’s Lifestyle Research Centre.
Organised on 25 April 2018 at Lyon’s magnificent Musée Gadagne, the theme of this study day was taste and the production and consumption of cultural goods and services. The event was divided into four sessions structured around the themes of wine, literature, gastronomy and music.
Each session, bringing together two researchers from different disciplines and a professional, was designed according to the weaving principle. The two researchers’ speeches represented the warp (or vertical) yarns, while the practitioner’s speech represented the weft (or horizontal) yarn. The speakers were able to weave their knowledge of wine, literature, gastronomy and music.
Intersecting perspectives and promoting horizontal relationships
The intersecting profiles made it possible to identify common concerns that reached beyond the differences between the academic fields. Antoine Hennion (a sociology professor at the Ecole des Mines de Paris) and Massimo Airoldi (a postdoctoral student in marketing at emlyon business school) both explored the importance of the context in which music is consumed. Themes common to the academic and professional worlds also emerged.
Laura Dupin (a doctoral student in strategy at emlyon business school) and Jean Dupin (a baker and teacher at the Paul Bocuse Institute) both evoked the tensions present in the artisan baker profession. Finally, study objects and concepts proved to be transversal to empirical contexts. The wine lover resembles the music lover, and literary critics have an activity and an impact on consumers similar to that of wine critics.
Beyond bringing together speakers from diverse backgrounds, the objective of the day was to establish horizontal relations between participants. Accordingly, no “keynote speaker” was invited (generally a superstar researcher invited to present a speech at the plenary session). The objective was to avoid amplifying the researchers’ voice that is already clearly heard because of their success in the academic world.
Internationally recognised and emerging researchers participated equally. Each session included a senior and a junior researcher, the underlying idea being to create mutually beneficial exchanges between these original pairings. Finally, during the breaks, eight emlyon students presented their dissertations on taste in poster form. Integrating these students was a way of rewarding their excellence and of bridging the gap between research and teaching.
Although the metaphor of weaving inspired this research day, it is by no means the only or the definitive way of thinking about the research of tomorrow. It merely defends a multidisciplinary research approach that is open to differences and that gives a voice to heterogeneous actors, whether they are researchers, practitioners or students. More events of this type should be organised so that enthusiasm, a taste for fieldwork and solidarity – values important to the younger generation – remain (or become?) the pillars of research. In this way, tomorrow’s research can be an inclusive, bold, and exceedingly subversive game.
As a Professor of Marketing, I am involved in the Lifestyle research centre. Trained as a Sociologist, my fields of expertise include market dynamics, taste, visual methods, and consumer culture. In addition to conferences and publications, I am a trainee reviewer for The Journal of Consumer Research, as well as an ad hoc reviewer for Consumption, Markets & Culture, Marketing Letters, and Recherche et Application en Marketing. I am also a member of the Board of the Consumer Culture Theory Consortium.