What is it about?

Power dynamics are a fundamental aspect of business education, preparing individuals for influential roles. However, our teaching methods often have a utilitarian focus, neglecting the more visceral aspects of power. This leads us to explore two critical, yet often overlooked, questions in business schools: “What is the experiential nature of power?” and “How should power be effectively taught?” To address these, we draw upon experiential and aesthetic insights from the social sciences, challenging the predominant rational-utilitarian perspective on power in business education. We reference the works of Dewey and the French philosopher Levinas, emphasizing power as a lived experience. Our critique extends to the current approaches in teaching power within business curricula. This is informed by our research with Executive MBA students who learned about power through the unconventional method of choral conducting. This approach revealed that students could gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of power beyond rational and utilitarian concepts. They learned about the emotional depth, relational aspects, and responsibilities inherent in wielding power. From these insights, we advocate for more experiential and reflective teaching methods in addressing the phenomenon of power. Additionally, we turn a reflexive eye towards our own roles as educators. We explore how we, as professors, can modify our teaching practices to better equip our students for the complexities and responsibilities of the power they will hold. This study not only contributes to a richer understanding of power in business contexts but also suggests transformative ways for business schools to approach the teaching of power.

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Why is it important?

This is important because it prepares students for the visceral experiences of organisational politics, especially as they take up positions of authority and privilege. It also alerts teaching faculty to aspects of their own power and privilege that may be taken for granted, even if highly silent for students (and junior staff in their institutions). Our discussion also explores the pleasures that some people find in power, why it is often so alluring, and suggests ways in which this constellation of power, pleasure and politics can be wisely handled. The paper also proposes a line of theoretical argument that challenges more utilitarian theories of power, and thereby makes a conceptual contribution alongside the pedagogic one.


This paper won the 'Best Paper' award in the AMLE division of the Academy of Management in 2015. I think it makes a convincing case for experiential education and also for integrating the arts, which bring such enrichment and delight into learning contexts. So it represents much of what I have been expreingn throughout my professional career. I also like it because it is a fruit of a long working relationship with co-author Ian Sutherland (and his student Jasna Jelinek) - one which has brought much pleasure.

Prof Jonathan R Gosling
Exeter University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Aesthetics of Power: Why Teaching About Power Is Easier Than Learning for Power, and What Business Schools Could Do About It, Academy of Management Learning and Education, December 2015, The Academy of Management,
DOI: 10.5465/amle.2014.0179.
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