Seminar series on Business Ethics, Social Responsibility and Sustainability


Seminar 3: Rethinking the role of theory in critical case writing and teaching on business and society

Date and venue: 10 May, 16:00, B5 AMBS East

 Speaker: Dr Todd Bridgman, Senior Lecturer, School of Management; Victoria University Wellington

Dr Bridgman’s research interests lie at the intersection of management education and history. Todd has a particular interest in the history of the case method, and in critical case writing pedagogy, having recently co-authored an article (with Stephen Cummings and Colm McLaughlin) in Academy of Management Learning & Education. He is a keen case writer and teacher, having authored six cases in the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) Case Programme and is a twice winner of the Dark Side Case Competition at the Academy of Management. He is currently Co-Editor-in-Chief of Management Learning.

Speaker: Dr Colm McLaughlin, Associate Professor at University College Dublin

Dr McLaughlin’s research is in comparative and institutional employment relations, with a particular focus on the effectiveness of different systems of regulation in protecting employment standards. His research has examined gender equality outcomes, training systems and low paid work. He also has an interest in case studies for teaching and has written numerous cases based around employment relations issues. One of his cases on Apple and Foxconn was the winner of the Dark Side Case Competition at the Academy of Management (with Todd Bridgman) and he has recently co-authored an article on the Harvard Case Method (with Todd Bridgman and Stephen Cummings) in Academy of Management Learning & Education.


The case method of teaching has occupied a prominent position in management education since its inception at Harvard Business School a century ago. In the ‘best-practice’ HBS model, cases position students as managers in real-life companies. Their task: to diagnose problems, consider solutions and develop recommendations for management action. Theory either has no role or is introduced as a framework or ‘tool’ for solving existing management problems.

Researching the origins and development of the case method at Harvard has led us to reflect further on this ambivalence toward theory. There is a shared view amongst advocates and critics that the Harvard case method was never interested in theory, that there was always a duality of theory and practice (or pure and applied, to put it another way) in the thinking of its developers who were pro-practice and anti-theory. An historical survey, however, shows that one of the principal aims of the case method’s founders was to generate a universal theory of business administration. This was connected to concerns at HBS about the narrowness of the case method and a desire to develop a more critical, philosophical approach given the turbulent economic and social period of the 1920s and 1930s in the US. Sadly, the impetus faded and this past has been forgotten by history.

Drawing on ‘business and society’ type cases that we have written and taught with, our seminar explores how looking at cases in a ‘theory free’ way can be ontologically limiting. It encourages the writer and reader of the case to accept what is and act out or extend scenarios that have already happened. Case analysis with alternative theories in mind, however, can generate critical thinking, help us challenge assumptions, recognize perspectives other than those of the main actor (the manager) – all of which can encourage a wider societal perspective that may lead to changes in practice and theory for the future.

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Alliance Manchester Business School has a global reputation for innovative and influential teaching and research, which impacts business on a local, national and international level. We call this Original Thinking Applied.

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