As If it Were Relevant - A Social Systems Perspective on the Relation between Theory and Practice
Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 243-255, 2009
32 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2010
Date Written: August 12, 2010
This paper discusses the concept of research relevance from a systems theoretical perspective. Based on the claim that many scholars still think of relevance as something that can be achieved and enhanced by choosing the ‘right’ measures (e.g., ‘user friendly’ writing style), we argue that such a perspective obscures the self-referential status of ‘science’ and ‘practice’ as social systems in society. Our systems theoretical discussion, which is based on the work of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, shows that, strictly speaking, science cannot produce relevant knowledge prior to application. Instead, practice has to make scientific knowledge relevant by incorporating it into the specific logic of its system. We argue that such an integration of knowledge is only possible by first acting as if the offered knowledge were relevant and to then modify and extend it according to the idiosyncrasies of the system. We characterize these as-if assumptions as fictions and show their significance for rethinking the concept of relevance.
Keywords: Research Relevance, Systems Theory, Fictions, Science and Practice
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation