Article | Organization Science | July–August 2013

Relaxing the Taboo on Telling Our Own Stories: Upholding Professional Distance and Personal Involvement

by Michel Anteby

Abstract

Scholars studying organizations are typically discouraged from telling, in print, their own stories. The expression "telling our own stories" is used as a proxy for field research projects that, in their written form, explicitly rely on a scholar's personal involvement in a field. (By personal involvement in a field, I mean a scholar's engagement in a set of mental activities that connect her to a field.) The assumption is that personal involvement is antithetical to maintaining professional distance. In this paper, I argue that the taboo against telling our own stories stems in part from an epistemological misunderstanding. Learning from the field entails upholding both distance and involvement; the two dimensions should not be conceptualized as opposite ends of a continuum. Moreover, I suggest that the taboo has become too extreme and stifles our collective capacity to generate new insights. To make this argument, I start by discussing the general taboo against telling one's own stories. Second, I focus on the rationale set forth to justify not only the taboo but also its limitations. Third, I examine what distance entails and how involvement, far from lessening distance, creates opportunities for generating potentially strong theoretical insight. Fourth, I showcase several areas of theoretical development that might benefit from revisiting the taboo. I conclude by reviewing key practical implications of such a shift for our profession and by arguing that organizational scholarship could gain a great deal from relaxing the taboo.

Keywords: fieldwork; research practiced; distance; involvement; taboo; Practice; Ethics; Education Industry;

Citation:

Anteby, Michel. "Relaxing the Taboo on Telling Our Own Stories: Upholding Professional Distance and Personal Involvement." Organization Science 24, no. 4 (July–August 2013): 1277–1290.