Narrative Change Management in American Studies

A Pragmatic Reading

by Silke Schmidt (Author)
©2021 Postdoctoral Thesis 468 Pages


Management means getting things done. How can research on the theory and practice of management help American Studies move forward? This book offers a pragmatic approach to bridging the gap between the humanities and business studies. Based on a critical reading of the disciplinary cultures of American Studies and Business School education, the book analyses narratives of U.S. management theorists and practitioners, including Peter F. Drucker, Mary Cunningham, and John P. Kotter. The stories help readers acquire effective management and leadership tools for application-oriented humanities in the digital age.
"With her outsider perspective on the discourse in management research and application, Schmidt proposes interesting questions that can turn into fruitful research issues in Business Studies and its interdisciplinary exchange with American Studies. I hope this book falls on open ears." – Evelyn Korn
"Schmidt did pioneering work by taking the risk of entering novel terrain to show new paths for the further development of American Studies." – Carmen Birkle

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • 1 Introduction
  • Overview of Hypotheses
  • American Studies Today
  • Business Studies
  • A Pragmatic Perspective
  • Target Audience and Impact
  • Structure
  • PART I
  • Part I: Reading Disciplinary Cultures
  • 2 A Pragmatic Approach to Interdisciplinary Dialogue
  • The Potential of Crisis for the Humanities
  • The Need for Solution-Oriented Thinking and Communication
  • The Liberal Arts as Disciplinary Pluralism
  • Defining the Liberal Arts
  • Pragmatic Experience
  • Pragmatic Dialogue
  • 3 Narrating Cultural Change
  • Disciplinary Cultures
  • Narrative Organization Studies
  • Organizational Culture
  • The Value(s) of Methodology
  • Epistemology as Ideology
  • 4 The Two Cultures
  • The Humanities and the Natural Sciences
  • The Science Wars as Culture Wars
  • Disciplinary War as Colonial Project
  • The Third Culture: The Social Sciences
  • Limited Prospects of Interdisciplinarity
  • A Value-Oriented Reading of Disciplinary Cultures
  • 5 The Culture of American Studies
  • Interdisciplinary Self-Reflection
  • Critical Reading as Practice
  • Linguistic Pragmatism
  • Post_After_Trans_Anti Theory
  • Synopsis 1: Values of American Studies
  • 6 The Culture of Business Studies
  • Management as History, Theory, and Practice
  • Professionalization
  • Science as a Quasi-Religion
  • Pragmatic Problem Solving
  • Monetary Utilitarianism
  • Humanistic Reform
  • Synopsis 2: Cultural Differences and Commonalities
  • Part II: Reading Management as a Liberal Art
  • 7 Pragmatic Reading
  • Efferent Reading in Economics
  • Empirical Approaches to Reading
  • Reading in Numbers and Trees
  • Descriptive Reading as Pragmatic Experience
  • Reading as Reflective Practice
  • Self-Reflective Management as Art and Pedagogy
  • Pragmatic Reading as Problem-Solving Practice
  • Application and Selected Narratives
  • 8 Managing Structures in Peter Drucker’s The Concept of the Corporation (1946)
  • The Philosophical Storyteller
  • Structures
  • Decentralization
  • Effectiveness
  • Knowledge Worker
  • Self-Management
  • Summary and Pragmatic Reading of Key Concepts
  • 9 Managing Strategy in Mary Cunningham’s Powerplay (1984)
  • The (Self-)Analytical Storyteller
  • Strategy
  • Power Politics
  • Leadership Style
  • Experiential Learning
  • Summary and Pragmatic Reading of Key Concepts
  • Pragmatic Reading of Powerplay (See process model page 234)
  • 10 Managing Change in Kotter and Rathgeber’s153 Our Iceberg Is Melting (2005)
  • The Educational Storyteller
  • Change Leadership
  • Diversity Communication
  • Empowerment
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Summary and Pragmatic Reading of Key Concepts
  • Pragmatic Reading of Our Iceberg Is Melting (see process model page 234)
  • 11 Conclusion and Outlook
  • Executive Summary
  • Summary of Hypotheses
  • Digital Humanities: Closer to Data but Not Close Enough
  • Humanistic Management: Toward Disciplinary Pluralism
  • The End as the New Beginning: A Call for Pragmatic Literacy
  • Epilogue
  • Bibliography
  • Series index


Knowing “What” to Do Is Not Enough. (Pfeffer and Sutton 1)

The two organizational researchers Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in their book about the Knowing-Doing Gap (2000) employ the above-mentioned quote to demonstrate that smart companies do not always do what they know is best. I think that this can also be transferred to the academic realm beyond Business Studies. Before I start telling my longer tale of how I would like to fill the scholarly gap, I need to start with some “auto-ethnography” (Van Maanen 106). This is not only because John Van Maanen, the forerunner of ethnographic writing in scholarship, is an organizational researcher and works at business schools – both elements will be important in this book. It is also because I share H. L. Goodall’s conviction that the world needs more “stories” of researchers who write “Tales of the Future” (262). In order to prepare the reader for the future that this book envisions, I want to prepare my storyline by sharing three short anecdotes. To the reader who thinks that academic books are not the right place for anecdotes, I understand the hesitation. Since I am a pragmatist, however, the point is that these anecdotes provide the executive summary of the 300+ pages that follow. So, in order to be efficient, I would encourage all critics to give reading the anecdotes a second thought, especially since the practice of reading will be the central theme in this study.

The first event happened about three years ago. It was nothing extraordinary, just an experience that turned into something noteworthy. At the graduate school where I was working as a postdoc, I took a masterclass on pragmatism. This might sound funny now because, after all, I had graduated in American Studies. So, I should have known something about pragmatism. That was not the case, however. In contrast to French theory, which is what most of us are taught in American Studies as the course of study is taught in Europe, pragmatism is not part of the standard theory curriculum in Germany, even though it counts as the only truly American philosophy (more on that later). So, in preparation for this class, I read all the texts required, including such classics as William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. The funny thing was that the lecturer who taught the class ←17 | 18→was not really into the philosophy and neither were the other participants. Most of them did not buy into the ideas of “cash value” and “truth” as it matters in the world. But that did not matter to me. I enjoyed every single word I had read before class and every single part of the discussion. Why? Because for the first time of my still early American Studies career, I recognized the way I was thinking and had been writing and arguing for a long time. I just had not had a proper label for it. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was not a French thinker. This was the beginning of a long philosophical journey that keeps progressing up to the present. Part of this progress will become visible in this book since pragmatism provides a key to thinking the humanities alongside Management Studies.

The second story happened about one and a half years ago. It was a Tuesday afternoon in 2015 and I was listening to a guest lecture on post-human studies by a Cultural Studies scholar from Australia. Then the issue of the future of the humanities came up. I listened carefully because I wanted to hear what one who talks so much about the post-human has to say about the human. A lady in the second row raised her arm and said that many efforts were being undertaken to work interdisciplinarily, especially with the social sciences and life sciences, in Post-Human Studies. Well, no contradictions here. Then I raised my hand and asked: “How do economics come in here?” The speaker gave a very short reply. “I have no idea about economics,” she said and somehow smiled in a non-caring way. “But what is clear,” she added, “the humanities need better ‘marketing’ to demonstrate their true value.” All people around me nodded in mutual agreement. I was puzzled – and angry. Not because of the conclusion she drew but because of the perspective and the underlying notion of scientific knowledge/ignorance. How can she talk about “marketing” if she, as she had just admitted without blushing, has no idea about economics, I thought? Does she know that marketing is part of Business Studies? Has she ever heard about the difference between economics and business? Is it even fashionable to not know about Business Studies if you want to market the humanities as a good ‘anti-capitalist-post-modern-post-human-humanist’? And above all, why does Business Studies hardly ever appear in the list of potential interdisciplinary cooperation partners of Literary and Cultural Studies?←18 | 19→

The third story happened not long ago towards the end of my postdoc phase. I gave a brief presentation about part of my work on management, the humanities, and new approaches to reading at an international summer school. As always, I tried to make the talk as clear and little boring as possible. Part of it was related to using a design thinking framework as a new reading model. It is not the same you will find on the pages to follow, but it was similar. One aspect of it was that I urged Literary Studies scholars to think about solutions to social problems a little more and a little less about the problems only. The professor had been listening quite attentively. Upon finishing, I already noticed that something was wrong with what I had said because with all the previous presentations of participants, the professor had always said something appreciative right after the talk and added some minor critical comments. In my case, however, he did not say anything at first. Only toward the end of the discussion which went a lot over time because my talk had obviously torn the group into one pro and one contra group, did the professor raise his voice: “You are shaking the very foundations of the humanities with your work. Literary Studies are part of the humanities and by definition our field is not to be instrumentalized by any means.” Strike! There were two voices in my head and heart now. One was a little hurt because I had obviously done a terrible thing and he would forever after despise me. The other voice said: “Wait a minute, you can be quite happy about this. He and all the others totally got your point.” The latter voice actually triumphed because it was true. I knew before that I was hitting some nerves with my work but I had not been aware of the extent of the shaking. I had two options then: To row back and do mainstream or keep going. The fact that you are holding this book in your hands now, tells you what I decided to do.

The reader might still wonder now what these stories are supposed to mean and how they relate to each other. So, I am going to make it very clear and put down the gist straight away. The first story was my philosophical coming out. Without it, I would never be able to position my voice any longer. The second story kept haunting me during my studies of management theory. The third story was like an alarm clock going off in the morning: get up and do it, now or never. Thus, all you as the reader need to do is keep these stories in mind like a flower with blossoms that have not opened yet. The narrative thread of this study will open and at ←19 | 20→the same time connect them. And to the American Studies professor, just like the business professor or manager who needs to know what is in it for him/her or the company, I can promise that the results will be colorful, surprising, and maybe even a bit thorny.

Wiesbaden, June 2017



The master’s program North American Studies deals with the complex literatures and cultures of North America (USA and Canada). It will offer prospective students interdisciplinary teaching and the latest academic research. Above all, the program focuses on the multi-facetted interculturality of the respective countries by incorporating recently developed research methods and approaches, also in a transnational perspective. Moreover, students will obtain additional comprehensive knowledge and can specialize in the fields of Gender Studies, Media Studies, and other disciplines in North American Studies. (“M.A. North American Studies”)

Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art: ‘liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; ‘art’ because it is practice and application. Managers draw on all social sciences – on psychology and philosophy, on economics and on history, on the physical sciences and on ethics. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results. (Drucker, New Realities 223)

What is not in a name? Readers familiar with the history of American Studies will notice that I am hinting at the widely debated presidential address of Janice Radway at the 1999 American Studies Association convention (ASA) (45). Radway’s speech “What Is in a Name” was groundbreaking because it touched the core of the self-definition of the field. My alteration with the small but important insertion “not” is to shift the focus to the content of the field, rather than to the name. The example of a program description of the M.A. in American Studies above illustrates that there is quite a range of topics, methods, and approaches in the name “American Studies.” The concepts of ‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘culture’ obviously claim particular significance. My study is going to demonstrate ←21 | 22→that there are still limits to this interdisciplinarity. One of them is American Studies’ troubled relationship with Business Studies. Given Drucker’s definition of management as a liberal art, one wonders: Is management not part of American culture? Does it not have a history that Americanists can and possibly should study? And if so, what would be the benefit?

My study aims at providing answers to these questions based on a very simple thesis: I am arguing that the lack of interdisciplinary collaboration between American and Business Studies can be explained by a disciplinary culture clash. This culture clash is an epistemological one at the core. American Studies does not know much about Business Studies, its methods, its practices, its application. And American Studies rejects what it knows so far about the nature of management and business practices. The same might hold true for Business Studies and its perception of American Studies. The reason for this lack of knowledge is rooted in different methodologies that prevent mutual learning. Since I am writing from a pragmatist perspective, this study is not only going to explore this problem. My aim is to contribute to a solution. The goal is to build an interdisciplinary bridge from American Studies to Business Studies that fosters the advancement of our field in three distinctive areas: 1) research, 2) teaching, and 3) organizational culture change. The starting point for all this is to read management from a pragmatic perspective. Why would one even want that?

Overview of Hypotheses

H0: The lack of interdisciplinary collaboration between American Studies and Business Studies can be explained by a disciplinary culture clash. Overcoming this culture clash requires a philosophy that has the capacity to integrate cultural pluralism. Pragmatism as method, theory, and mind-set fulfills this purpose. Pragmatic reading is a method that allows for the bridging of the theory-practice gap between American Studies and Business Studies.

H1: Pragmatism as a method, theory, and mind-set allows one to approach disciplinary cultural conflict from an integrative perspective of dialogue.

H2: Epistemological differences between the disciplines are related to different methodologies. Methods are at the core of disciplinary cultures.←22 | 23→

H3: Methodological differences prevent the disciplines from gaining knowledge about the theories and methods of the respective other. Mutual knowledge can be gained by using existing and developing new interdisciplinary methods. These methods have to build on shared disciplinary values.

H4: Pragmatism and the liberal arts education form a common set of values in the cultural history of American and Business Studies.

H5: Pragmatic reading integrates cultural values from the humanities and the social sciences by defining reading as reflective practice.

H6: The pragmatic reading of management narratives allows scholars and students of a) American Studies to acquire new methods of problem solving, b) Business Studies new theoretical perspectives of critical reading and reflection.

American Studies Today

Radway’s speech is still powerful because it is timeless. She was speaking at the turn of the millennium. The answers she gave have exceeded her time. What marks such a work of influence is its depth and breadth. Radway ←23 | 24→addressed American Studies but really American Studies is just part of the whole. All of us are part of this large body of research and teaching: the higher education system. Currently, this system is undergoing major transformations:

1)Digitalization: The digital revolution and the speed at which Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are spreading in all parts of social life are fundamentally changing the way in which knowledge gets circulated but also how it is produced.

2)Differentiation: Knowledge continues to be much more fragmented and the competition between academic disciplines continues due to specialization.

3)Communication: The information overload leads to an increase of complexity which requires knowledge to be communicated clearly for different audiences.

All three trends need to be considered if American Studies wants to remain a successful part of the university. Yet, all of them have been causing trouble. ‘Digitalization,’ a concept with many different meanings, has recently been added to the humanities and American Studies in the form of Digital Humanities. Still, the larger benefits of the digital turn are not tangible everywhere. Especially the skepticism towards data prevents the humanities from deeply exploring the technological side of new tools. Even more unclear is the location of American Studies in the disciplinary spectrum. Due to its interdisciplinarity, it runs counter to the specialization trend. Thus it also sets itself at a disadvantage when it comes to the third aspect of communication. American Studies, like the humanities in general, has not been successful at communicating its value to the larger public.

The intention of critically posing these questions here – in contrast to the general preference of the humanities to value crisis as a way of life – is not to mourn the state of the field. Rather, the purpose of this study is to move towards pragmatic solutions to these challenges. This does not mean that clear answers can stand at the end but a clear set of steps will be sketched with respect to how American Studies can shape its own future instead of letting others decide over it. American Studies offers a unique disciplinary culture and a broad theoretical scope. Both are assets when it comes to innovation. The problem is: The field lacks the means of implementation. With implementation I mean the ability to transfer thought into action for ←24 | 25→solving problems. As the presentation of current challenges above reveals, there are problems that require action on two different levels: the academic (research and teaching) and the organizational one (administration). The underlying argument of my reading of management is that American Studies can benefit from management methods that enable the field to strategically expand its strengths in the competition for research innovation and academic talents. The stress is on methods, not on mind-set. The message of “narrative change management” is that understanding and practicing management is not the same as adopting a business-oriented value system. If we want to be able to delineate the two, we need to learn about and with Business Studies.

Business Studies


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
American Studies Business Studies Management Literature Business Schools Disciplinary Culture
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 468 pp., 32 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Silke Schmidt (Author)

Silke Schmidt is a researcher and entrepreneur from Germany. She studied American Studies, Political Science, and Communication in Mainz and Philadelphia. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies at Marburg University in 2013. In 2018, she was awarded the venia legendi in American Studies for her habilitation on management literature and culture. She promotes application-oriented humanities, university-business collaboration, and public science communication.


Title: Narrative Change Management in American Studies
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
470 pages