Fairness in scholarly writing: Examining the professional distance and personal involvement trade-off

  • Alexander Styhre University of Gothenburg


In management studies, several scholars have proposed that the ideal of professional disinterestedness is questionable as it either prevents scholars from engaging with matters of joint concern that are important for social and economic welfare (Tihanyi, 2020), or because it invites scholars to act under the veneer that their personal interest and concerns are strictly contained during the field work and the writing of scholarly papers (Anteby, 2013; Langley and Klag, 2017). That is, scholar either commit time and resources to research that are of merely of theoretical interest (Hambrick, 2007), or they fail to productively handle the paradox of “professional distance and personal involvement” (Anteby, 2013: 1278). These scholarly concerns regarding how institutional conditions and social norms effectively shape scholarly research agendas need to be understood against the preference for justice as fairness (Rawls, 1971) and the epistemic ideal of objectivity in scholarly accounts derived therefrom. If scholars are instructed to increasingly recognize their “personal involvement” in both emotional terms in and practical ways when the scholarly paper is being written, then certain key terms being part of the epistemological framework, normatively structuring scholarly writing, need to be critically examined. For instance, the concept of objectivity, widely endorsed as an epistemic ideal at the same time as it is repeatedly remarked that at least what is called mechanical objectivity (Porter, 1995; Cambrioso, Keating, Schlich and Weisz, 2006; Weiss and Huault, 2016) is an unattainable goals in the social sciences, need to be reformulated so that the authority of scholarly writing can be maintained on basis of a novel set of epistemic standards. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the concept of objectivity and to fashion a more accurate complementary term being better aligned with the newly recognized quality of the value of personal involvement in scholarly research. In order to formulate a more useful notion that replace the concept of objectivity, a series of concepts such as justice, fairness, judgment, and writing—with writing being the end-point of the sequentially divided scholarly research process—need to be assessed and compared.  The paper concludes that to deal with the professional distance and personal involvement paradox, core elements of the scholarly research process need to be revised and modified, or else the acclaim of e.g., personal involvement as a scholarly virtue is made in principle but not in substance. Some implications for the revised view of how objectivity, honoring the principle of justice as fairness as scholarly accounts portray things as they actually happened or occurred, are discussed, and management studies scholars are instructed regarding how to balance personal involvement and the preservation of scholarly authority in an interpretative research tradition.

11.1 Contemporary Notions on Theoretical Contributions, Empirical Work and Knowl