Meet the editor of... Society and Business Review
An interview with: Yvon Pesqueux
In this interview
Yvon Pesqueux is professor at Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), a French public sector body dedicated to research, training and networking in the area of scientific and technical knowledge. He holds the Chair of "Développement des Systèmes d’Organisation" (organization science) and, before his appointment to CNAM in 2000, he taught at the University of Paris IX, Dauphine, and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. His special interests lie in the area of philosophy, ethics and management, and he is the author of numerous journal articles, book chapters and books in a range of areas, including business ethics and accountancy.
Society and Business Review (SBR) was launched by Emerald at the beginning of 2006, and is devoted to issues around the social impact of business, and the way society and business interact. Intended as an international forum for the sharing of ideas, it welcomes articles which are the fruit of academic research but which also have practical applications. The first issue contains articles looking at theories of corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, stakeholder theory, and the role of humanism in organizations.
Education for Yvon Pesqueux included a spell at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, where he studied Political Economy (he is anxious to emphasize the difference between "French style economics" as distinct from the "formalized" economics of the Anglo Saxon tradition, i.e. it was economics linked with politics). Living as he did in Paris in the 1970s and 1980s meant being caught up in the current intellectual tradition with its strong Marxist leanings, and rubbing shoulders with such French theorists as Derrida ("I was lucky enough to have a drink with him") and Foucault.
Such intellectual influences remain strong, and despite the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and the fact that few today would call themselves Marxists, he still finds Marxist theory a powerful critique of societal issues. What surprised him back in the 1980s was the extent to which French theorists could be used as key authors to critique business issues, despite the fact that they were less well-known in the Anglo Saxon world than in France, nor were they generally quoted by management science academics.
It was around the late 1980s that along with a few others – notably academics at IESE in Barcelona – Pesqueux became interested in business ethics, seeing it as a way of introducing societal issues into management. At that time he was teaching at the distinguished French business school, École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), where he started an elective course on "French style business ethics", being one of the first to do so. Early pioneers of business ethics courses formed a network within Community of European Management Schools (CEMS), which ran a special workshop and created awareness of the subject at a time when it had not really caught on in Europe.
Pesqueux and his colleagues at CEMS quickly became aware that continental Europe considered business ethics very differently to the USA , and a transatlantic closed workshop was established to create a dialogue (it takes place biennially, the next one being scheduled for October 2006). At the first of these workshops, a distinguished American delegate, Thomas Donaldson, author of several books on business ethics, discovered that whereas books by his European counterparts were being sold in bookshops, his could only be found in specialist academic libraries – an indication of the way the two traditions diverged.
SBR grew out of a couple of special issues of another Emerald journal, Corporate Governance, edited by Nada Kakabadse, a contributor to the former’s first issue. When Pesqueux wanted to build on the success of these issues with a third, "my Emerald friends and correspondents said no, we should try to create a new journal". Thus the conception of SBR in 2004, with a gestation period of two years for thinking, developing the first two issues and finally launching early in 2006.
Pesqueux clearly saw the journal’s mission as addressing the transatlantic divide: "The ambition I had for SBR was the ability to deal with these two intellectual traditions, on the one side the European one, very related to the philosophical background, moral philosophy, political philosophy, and at the same time, the applied business ethics approach in the USA. I think that a journal like SBR is a unique opportunity to have this discussion between the two representations of what is business ethics, societal issues related to business, on each side of the Atlantic ocean."
However, there are three other journals in the field: the American Business Ethics Quarterly, Business Ethics: A European Perspective, and Business and Society. How will the new kid on the block position itself?
Pesqueux points out that Business Ethics Quarterly contains more American than European contributions, and sees it as caught up in what he archly describes as "the American social game of publication", although admits that the editorial policy has had to reflect the field’s growing preoccupation with diversity of views. Business Ethics: A European Perspective has strong links with EBEN (European Business Ethics Network), and with the "humanist religious" Christian democrat tradition – but France is a bit of a "black hole" here, having for over a century firmly separated church and state. Business and Society is a more recent publication reflecting greater awareness of the impact of societal issues on business, but is from a liberal tradition where society is secondary to business. Both these philosophies (the liberal and Christian democrat) predominate in business schools, which Pesqueux sees as fundamentally conservative institutions, concerned with building business elites.
Fundamentally, SBR is rooted in the European social democratic tradition, and sees business as in rather than alongside society, affected by and affecting society, a point Pesqueux elaborates in his first editorial. As such, it will challenge the Christian democrat and liberal notions being promoted at business schools and offer a more societal view of business.
The journal aims to appeal to both academics and practising managers, and in response to the inevitable question about how can one appeal to these two groups with different information needs Pesqueux candidly admits that there isn’t an easy link between research and practitioners, although he believes that one may be found in the business schools. For the latter, since the beginning of the millennium the societal impact of business has been firmly on the curriculum, and a research imperative in Europe. And what goes on in business schools filters through to the practitioners they teach.
Will the European focus of the journal determine provenance of authors? Papers recently received by SBR have included many from developing countries – India, China, South Africa, and most recently, Ghana. Pesqueux is very happy to have not only authors but also case studies from such countries, and responded to the Ghanaian authors that he wanted to see "more Africa"!
If you look at the first issue of SBR, more or less all papers have a strongly theoretical perspective, and Pesqueux is very keen that submissions should have "ideas value", usually rejecting those which do not. He is particularly anxious for papers to link business activity with political issues, and welcomes theoretical perspectives which take account of political and sociological, rather than management, theorists – "I am very happy when there is a kind of dialogue between areas like politics like sociology with business management".
What issues does he expect to cover? "All the things related with business consequences" – and he talks excitedly about a forthcoming issue devoted to marketing to children, looking at topics such as vending machines in the school playground, advertising and links with obesity. "I just received [a submission] "Big food and childhood obesity in the United States", from an author in the USA, so I am very happy when I get texts like this – and this text seems very interesting –- this author looks at the amount of food served and the way in which advertising encourages big portions…". He will not cover corporate governance topics, unless there is a strong societal link, but will direct any articles to Emerald’s sister journal of that name.
Going back to my perception of the journal’s strongly theoretical bias, I ask what weight he intends to give to empirical research, and empirical studies. He is keen that articles should contain some empirical proof, although this does not need to be statistical. As an example he cites the obesity article mentioned above, which is based on the Surgeon General’s warning of increased obesity rates, as well as particular studies.
He is clearly keen on case studies, but differentiates between what he terms "a rich case study and a quick and dirty case study". An example of the former is "Meaning of corporate social responsibility in a local French hospital: a case study", which looks at understanding of corporate social responsibility in a real case and compares it with the literature, and which he sees as "the best kind of empirical study". Quick and dirty case studies, by contrast, are ones that are included in an article as a way of giving a quick proof; he cites here an article by two Thai authors, who used as empirical proof case studies from second-hand documents and made no reference to their native Thailand. He is keen to see things situated in real life, and to have examples from all over the world – as when he demanded "more of Africa" from the above-mentioned Ghanaian authors.
Pesqueux is clearly keen on solid political and social content and wants to get away from mainstream formula publishing. Both sets of authors mentioned above were surprised at his initial response to their papers as they thought that what they had done was in the mainstream tradition. But at least in one case, a dialogue was established and the final product, although on the same theme, shed different light on the problem and expressed ideas in different ways. I put to him that his ideal article is one set in a theoretical perspective associated with politics and sociology, but with empirical reference; he agrees and claims not to be keen on purely conceptual articles, although he is working on a special issue which will concentrate on theoretical issues.
Pesqueux clearly finds being an editor immensely enjoyable – "The position of the editor is very interesting, I had no idea how interesting!". He prefers to have themed issues – "When I read journals, I am often fed up by the fact that they are all publishing scattered themes, and you find everything". Future such issues include one on purely theoretical perspectives (the editor’s brief was to have authors not only from different countries but also from different theoretical traditions, including ones about which relatively little was known such as those from Scandinavia), marketing to children, the European intellectual social democrat humanist tradition and business ethics, HR management and social issues, and one drawing a particular theme from the Transnational Business Ethics Summit at Wharton.
Themed issues however can be difficult to get together from the point of view of schedules and getting articles reviewed, and require a special [guest] editor or link with a conference or workshop. The other type of issue is therefore the "normal" issue, which mixes up "all these kinds of papers". The second issue has recently been published, but the third one will be a themed one.
Pesqueux desk rejects many articles that do not fit in with the journal’s requirement to be strong on ideas, and only sends to review those he thinks have some chance of success. He is very happy with his team of reviewers, who look mainly at content, but also at language issues and academic style (e.g. bibliography). Content-wise, reviewers look at articles from three perspectives: the way the argument is developed, for example does it "flow", or are there awkward jumps between paragraphs; the use of references; and the empirical research which backs up the argument. Use of references is important because erudition in the form of a lot of citations does not impress; proper discussion of a few key authors is preferred. Papers should weave together empirical research and discussion of other authors in a well crafted argument. Above all, well argued papers stand the best chance of success.
Are we getting to the stage, I ask as my final question, when we need to see business from a social and political perspective as much as from a wealth creating one? Pesqueux agrees with this citing the multinationals as an example: "Their power is increasing to such an extent that it will have to be regulated within the next decade, the next few years even. Here you see ordinary men conducting extraordinary organizations with uncontrolled power. They are not elected, but they address private norms. Take for example the issue of marketing to children, one of the outcomes of which is childhood obesity. We need regulation to address these issues. For example, marketing to children is forbidden in Sweden, and we may see some countries outlawing vending machines in school playgrounds". It will be the prerogative of nation states – as opposed to the EC which he sees as more of an economic forum – to address such matters. And it will fall to SBR to air the debate.
- See László Zsolnai’s edited book The European Difference: Business Ethics in the Community of European Management Schools (1998, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston) for an exposition of the difference between the two traditions.
Professor Pesqueux was interviewed in June 2006.
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