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Critical management education at the Corvinus University of Budapest: the examples of

Organizational Theories and Alternative Human Resources Management

Corvinus University of Budapest
Budapest Business School

Corvinus University of Budapest

Budapest Business School


Critical management education at the Corvinus University of Budapest: the examples of

Organizational Theories and Alternative Human Resources Management

After the start of the economic crisis in 2008, a heated debate commenced in economic and
business journals about the responsibility of business schools and the role of business
education. 2008 was the year when these concerns became widely published, but concern
about mainstream (positivist) business education had started much earlier in the business
ethics community (Piper, Gentile & Parks 1993, Csillag, 2012) and was also evident in the
appearance of Critical Management Studies (CMS) in the 1990s which picked up the thread
of the discourse started by the proponents of critical pedagogy (e.g. Freire 1982). A new field
of science called Critical Management Education (CME) (Contu 2009) emerged, which raised
issues about how mainstream management education conceals the ideological nature of
“value-free” managerial techniques and how the lack of reflexivity and sensitivity inculcated
in students results in an instrumental way of thinking, leading to a managerial mindset that
arguably caused the current economic and social crises (Ghoshal 2005).
This criticism does not apply only to the content of educational programs, but also to
approaches to teaching. CME wishes to challenge the dominance of positivist business
education by making students aware of the social embeddedness of management, by reducing

the power asymmetries of the teacher-student relationship and by striving for the
emancipation and transformation of students.
In two courses (among others) on the Master’s Programme in Management and
Leadership (being held in the Corvinus University of Budapest) teachers are striving to define
an educational space in which these goals can be fulfilled; namely on the Organisation Theory
and Alternative Approaches to Human Resource Management courses. By choosing to
describe these two courses we aim to illustrate the possibilities for critical pedagogy, and not
just as abstract, theoretical perspectives, but also in more practice-oriented education.1
In this paper we present: (1) a theoretical introduction to the narrow and broader
meaning of ‘the responsibility of business education’ and to CME – in which we emphasize
the distinctive features and educational goals from mainstream business education; (2) a short
overview of the general Hungarian context and the characteristics of participants of the
programs; (3) we provide two examples of the practical implications of the principle of
critical pedagogy: Organization Theory and Alternative Approaches to Human Resource
Management. Finally; and finally (4), we show the feedback from the students and discuss a
few of the dilemmas we encountered in our teaching practice concerning the (non-)
ideological way of teaching.

The (Ir)responsibility of business education and (un)critical management education

In this section, we provide a short introduction to the field of the responsibility of business
education and critical management education. Firstly, we search for patterns of responsibility
in the field of business ethics education and argue that a broad concept of responsibility can
be achieved by taking into consideration the results of critical management education (CME).
Secondly, we briefly discuss the theoretical roots of CME in order to see it in its complexity
(namely, critical theory and critical pedagogy) and an overview is presented of the main
critical concerns in management education, including its implementation in curricula and into
the teaching methods themselves.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the ethical dilemmas concerned with
sustaining business activity in general have received increasing academic and social attention
over the past 20 years (Crane, Matten 2007, Carroll 2007). Connected to this surge in interest,
moral question marks have cropped up in relation to functional activities within organizations
(i.e. marketing, accounting, finance, production, HRM) and there have also been heated
debates concerning the nature and level of responsibility of top management. Those
discussions of responsibility, fuelled by the moral scandals of (previously applauded)
multinational companies such as Enron and Tyco, together with the global economic crisis
which started in 2008 has resulted in greater questioning of why business education has been
responsible for producing (ir)responsible decision makers, functional experts (e.g.

1 To both courses belong a certain community of teachers whose members contributed to the development of the
courses, but have not explicitly taken part in writing this article: here we would like sa y thank you. We are glad
to have had the fortune to work with Katalin Bácsi, András Gelei, László Lázár, Henriett Primecz, Éva Révész
and Roland Szilas. The general ethos of the Organisational Theory course was essentially shaped by the late
Professor Sándor Kovács and two of our (former) colleagues, Attila Bokor and László Radácsi.

accountants, marketing professionals) and corporate frameworks. But what does ‘being
responsible’ actually mean to business education and how can business education become
more responsible?
Discussion of theoretical and practical questions concerning responsible economic
education have a long-standing tradition in the field of business ethics: various and prominent
thinkers have thought over and interpreted the role (and performance) of business education
from an ethical perspective and have emphasized the importance of integrating business ethics
concepts and practical issues (usually case studies) into the curricula of business schools
(Piper, Gentile & Parks 1993, Buchholz 1979, Callahan, Bok 1980, Collins, Wartick 1995,
Cowton, Cummins 2003). Piper and his co-authors in their collection of essays spoke about
their well-established efforts to understand ‘how one business school is trying to place
leadership, ethics and corporate responsibility at the centre of its ethos and mission’
(1993:10). Theoretical, practical and methodological studies of teaching (e.g. at which stage
of the student’s education, the balance of theory and practice, methodology, nature of case
studies used) and survey results concerning the ethical development of students are legitimate
and frequently addressed themes in conferences and workshops, indicating the existence of
committed teachers and teaching communities. Further proof is found in the fact that the
teaching of Business Ethics (or CSR, Business and Society) is often present in some form in
business schools, usually as a compulsory course.
Not entirely independently from this, another stream of research can also be identified,
mainly based on psychology and pedagogy. Empirical studies (e.g. Bebeau 1991, Bebeau
1994, Crane, Matten 2005, Rest 1986) – mainly based on cognitive moral development theory
(Kohlberg 1964) – have demonstrated the possibility of influencing moral behaviour in young
adulthood, and have also showed the crucial importance of education and the school
environment in forming an individual’s moral reasoning, moral judgement and behaviour.
Based on these facts, we argue that business education – in a narrow sense – is aware
of its responsibility, and deals with questions of responsibility, sustainability and ethics in the
curricula. But one may well ask – is this enough? First, is it a real and widely-shared
understanding and awareness of responsibly, or just a superficial rhetorical gesture which
fundamentally masks presumptions which are unchanged and still being reinforced during
business education? Second, is the awareness only theoretical, which means that a student
takes one or two courses during their 3-5 years of study, or something more? Should
responsibility be defined as a broad concept which results in the taking of real and ‘effective’
action towards positive social change? We argue that there are some problems inherent in
using a narrow concept of responsibility, but claim that critical pedagogy can be used to
contribute to the broader concept.
First of all, some problems with the narrow concept of responsibility are connected to
the way it (and/or the topic of sustainability) is taught. Indeed, business ethics (or CSR,
Sustainable Economies, Business and Society) classes usually comprise just one course
among others. As isolated courses they are not usually able to challenge the dominant
paradigms of the majority of other subjects where students are ‘liberated’ from their own
moral consciences (Ghoshal 2005) towards moral-free business operations and roles. Such

subjects are taught using a kind of moral myopia (Orlitzky, Swanson 2006) which Windsor
calls “the brainwashing of shareholder value ideology” (Windsor 2008:509). Hosmer
complains that conventional business education has an “intellectual bias against business
ethics” (Hosmer 1999:91). Students in business ethics classes practice moral decision making
and discuss hypothetical cases, treating ethical concepts as public and social concepts,
whereas in other courses students receive an education devoid of moral argumentation; being
left to think about ethics in an interpersonal, private way, if at all. In order to meet the
teacher’s expectations and to receive credit they articulate their views on moral dilemmas
(although they are not always prepared to do so) and complete the Business Ethics course
requirements. However, after finishing the course they often have the impression that
theoretical business ethics concepts are interesting and touching topics, but impossible to use
in practice because real life situations are different, more complex. ‘Real life’ issues are
taught in other classes.
We believe that one solution could be as Piper et al. (1993) advise – to integrate
business ethics and responsibility into every single course, ensuring discussion of theoretical
and practical issues together with their ethical implications, thereby facilitating a kind of
critical and ethical awareness. “These students are at a critical stage in the development of
their perceptions about capitalist business practice, leadership and the appropriate resolution
of ethical dilemmas in business. This is a period of inquiry and reflection; extended time is
necessary to develop sufficient strength and sophistication to acknowledge the presence of
ethical dilemmas, to imagine what it could be, to recognize explicitly avoidable and
unavoidable harm“ (Piper, Gentile & Parks 1993:5). This is only possible if there is ongoing
professional discussion (and some level of consensus about business ethics education in
professional bodies) and also discussions between the representatives of different scientific
fields taking part in business education.
And this leads to another problem: business education students face paradoxical facts
not only in curricula, but also in other fields connected to their studies: their professors and
institutions of business education often simply fail to recognize that they serve as personal
and institutional examples. Does the personal research of the instructor incorporate aspects of
sustainability and responsibility; is it aimed at generating positive social value (in addition to
economic value)? Do teachers incorporate their research in their teaching and generate
discussions about it? Student-teacher relations are often highly formal and hierarchical, based
on transactional logic: teachers are the formal source of knowledge; they provide the
information while students are passive receivers who replicate and reflect back the knowledge
they have received in exams, without question. Usually, the classroom atmosphere is not
designed to encourage real questioning about empirical and practical evidence, or suitable for
facilitating open-ended dialogue.
The crucial importance of domination-free dialogue in education is at the heart of
another theoretical and intentionally practical tradition: critical theory and critical pedagogy,
which has already pollinated across the field of management education under the name of
critical management education (CME). We argue that – besides the integrative direction of
business ethics – the use of principles and practical suggestions derived from critical
pedagogy can be fruitful in establishing responsibility in management education in a broader

sense. CME is embedded in a fundamental critique of contemporary society and pays
particular attention to facilitating democratic, undistorted communication and critical
awareness. In the next section we provide an introduction into the critical field of
management studies and management education by explaining what is meant by ‘critical’ in
this context.
The theoretical roots of CME go back to the tradition of critical theory of the Frankfurt
School (Wiggershaus 1986/2007). Critical theory criticizes the totalitarian tendencies of
modern capitalism and draws attention to the fact that, despite Kant’s formulation that the
Enlightenment aimed at liberating man from fear, authority and myths, nowadays, modernism
itself has become a myth (Alvesson, Deetz 1998). In the name of Enlightenment new forms of
domination evolved, deploying science and technology in order to govern nature and society.
While the modernist program has failed, proponents of critical theory believe that it is
possible to fulfil the positive values of Enlightenment through the enlargement of the meaning
of rationality and the apperception of social-historical-political constructivism (Alvesson,
Deetz 1998). The aim of critical theory is to establish a more humanistic, rational, equal and
free (from domination) society, which includes workplaces (Scherer 2009) where participants
are able to control their own destinies (Alvesson, Bridgman & Willmott 2009). To achieve
this ambitious goal social change is needed: social norms and institutions have to be changed
in such a way that people are liberated from dependency, suppression and subjection (Scherer
2009). The intellectual as the depositary of critical reason should have an active role in that
social change (Alvesson, Deetz 1998).
Accordingly, critical theorists are engaged in the emancipation of managers (Fournier,
Grey 2000) who exercise control and power in organizations: the voice of the critical school
in management studies has risen in the past 20 years (Alvesson, Bridgman & Willmott 2009),
increasingly questioning and challenging the basic principles of the ruling neo-classic
paradigm of business education. It serves to highlight serious ethical tensions which
characterize modern corporations –such as the commodification of labour (Werhane, Radin &
Bowie 2004); treating employees as ‘human capital’ (Martin, Woldring 2001), organizational
exploitation and distorted methods of power sharing (Knights, Willmott 1999).
Critical management education is identified as being one of the most influential
activities by proponents of the critical school for developing a more responsible, equal and
fair management/society (Contu 2009). A transformation of managerial thinking and practices
is one possible method for promoting social change. Emancipation is thought to be achieved
by the integration of the principles of critical pedagogy into management education and
human resource development by raising the critical consciousness of participants. Hereafter,
we discuss the principles of critical pedagogy in the context of management education.
Critical pedagogy promotes the reform of the traditional forms of education. In the
traditional form of education the teacher is the depositary of knowledge and he/she is the only
one who takes an active role in the process of knowledge production, in contrast to students
who are passive receivers. Traditional hierarchical forms of knowledge transfer silence the
opinions of the students –which leads to dominancy and suppression. Schools and universities

mediate value-laden knowledge in a hidden or a declared way which reinforces the privileges
of certain social groups at the expense of those at the margins.
In order to break the ideologically frozen content and form of management education,
CME puts into focus the development of critical consciousness and critical self-reflection
which enables students to interpret and handle their own problems in a broader socio-
economic context. Reynolds (1999) summarizes the principles of critical reflection as being
the following:
 “a commitment to questioning assumptions and the taken-for-granted embodied in both
theory and professional practice (…);
 an insistence on foregrounding process of power and ideology that are subsumed within the
social fabric of institutional structures, procedures and practices, and the ways that
inequalities in power intersect with such factors as race, age, or gender;
 a perspective that is social rather than individual (…);
 the underlying aim of realizing a more just society based on fairness and democracy(…).”
(Reynolds 1999:538-539)
The goal of an enlightened teaching methodology is to enable students rather than govern
them in knowledge production (Dehler, Welsh & Lewis 2001). This requires the
reconsideration of both the content and the process of knowledge transfer at schools.
According to Giroux (in Reynolds 1999), critical pedagogy requires a radical attitude both
towards the process of knowledge production and towards the curricula. Giroux (in Reynolds
1999) distinguishes between two main theoretical and practical directions in critical
pedagogy: (1) content-focused radicals that use radical texts in their curriculums; and, (2)
strategy-focused radicals who are committed to student-centred teaching methods. Reynolds
(1999) argues that these two approaches should be integrated and sees the teaching of critical
content through traditional educational methods as problematic.
Radical content in management education is designed to encourage alternative
(philosophical) approaches to management theory and practices including critical theorist,
postmodernist, critical realist, feminist, environmentalist, poststructuralist, etc. approaches
which are usually missing from the mainstream curricula. It is not the goal of this paper to
give an introduction to each critical and non-mainstream approach (sometimes even called
paradigms; see Burrell, Morgan 1979) in management theory, but a short summary is
available in the Organisational Theory (OT) section later in this paper. Alternative approaches
are based on critiquing mainstream management education (a functional division of
management) which ignores the fact that management operates in a complex socio-economic
and cultural-ethical space and is often a twofold, ambivalent and controversial activity
(Dehler, Welsh & Lewis 2001). Management is not determined – as is argued by critical
pedagogues – by technical-instrumental action but is a socially constructed phenomenon
(Dehler, Welsh & Lewis 2001) constantly open to negation. The goal of CME is to analyse
management problems by taking into consideration their complexity and include discussion of
their moral aspects as well as identify how they are embedded into repressive social, political
and economical conditions (Shor, Freire 1987). The purpose of this is to evoke critical

consciousness and promote thought into alternative ways of organizing and managing in order
to develop a more equal and democratic society.
Critical pedagogy shares a constructionist view of knowledge and emphasizes the role
of power and political interests in the educational system and knowledge production. This is
why a curriculum, a reader or a textbook selected by the teacher(s) is not appropriate to be the
exclusive source of knowledge. It is more important to involve the students in interactions
between management texts and their own values and experiences and to enable them to
critically reflect upon the body of knowledge incorporated in those texts. Textbooks and
readers should be complemented with pieces of fine literature, films or fine art, because those
creations show the social world from a different perspective (Reynolds 1999). Another
suggestion is to use detailed ethnographic research in teaching and to analyse transcripts
critically with students (Samra-Fredericks 2003) which would make knowledge production
more equal. This also helps to bring students closer to the abstract notions and esoteric
terminology of critical theory by providing examples of everyday problems with capitalist
society (Samra-Fredericks 2003). A further step could be to involve students in a cooperative
inquiry project where they themselves become co-researchers (Hidegh & Csillag 2013) or to
encourage them to conduct their own research about their own social environment.
Radical methodology in management education is aimed at supporting the
achievement of the above-mentioned goals: to democratize the classroom and to involve
students in the process of knowledge production as equal partners. Thus radical content per se
does not advance emancipation; rather, it might lead to turning critical theory into an ideology
which appears as the ultimate, unquestionable truth. This is the worst thing that can happen
from a critical pedagogical point of view, even if it is difficult to avoid this happening in a
traditional educational institution.
The main methodological instrument critical pedagogy uses is the fostering of
dialogue in the classroom (Shor, Freire 1987) in order to enable students to reveal hidden
values and presumptions which dominate organizations and management and to reflect upon
the way these beliefs influence their own lives (Monaghan, Cervero 2006). The goal of
dialogue is rather mutual understanding (Habermas 1981/2011) than the technical transfer of
knowledge from the teacher to student.
Dialogue can be fostered through the decentralization of the classroom. This can be
done by restructuring the space in the classroom (arranging students in a circle) in order to
permit evolution of a mutual form of communication, but it can also mean restructuring power
relations. As Habermas puts it: “in a process of enlightenment there can only be participants"
(Habermas 1974: 40 in Kemmis 2001). A fruitful method to pursue is using the principles of
domination-free discourse developed by Habermas (2001) where every participant has the
same right and responsibility (sic!) to contribute to the interpretation of organizational
phenomena and the managerial world. The student’s interpretation of organizational
phenomena is as legitimate as the teacher’s academic interpretation. Moreover, from a critical
point of view, it is ‘better’ to discuss less academic texts – interview transcripts, case studies,
field notes, art works such as films, novels, and short stories – which are open to

interpretation from several points of view, including through using different scientific
Another methodological issue – which also provides a suggestion for radical content
issues – is to build upon the experiential learning model developed by Kolb (Reynolds 1999).
The original concept of Kolb belongs rather to the humanistic camp and less to the critical
camp, but it is also a great example of how humanistic approaches can contribute to achieving
radical goals. The experiential learning model, as the name suggests, builds upon the personal
experiences of the learner and identifies four phases of learning: (1) acquiring experience; (2)
reflecting upon experiences; (3) making generalizations; and (4) doing experiments based on
the generalizations (Kolb 1976, Kolb 1984). Experiential learning can be supported by using
the above-mentioned ‘under-interpreted’ sources of knowledge, or by asking students to do
mini-research projects or doing research with students (Hidegh & Csillag 2013). As another
example, Welsh and Murray (2003) give an account of an action-oriented MBA course where
participants solved a specific product development problem during the course and teachers
asked students to reflect upon the task using different approaches (anticipatory,
contemporaneous and retrospective).
Although Pablo Freire, one of the most emblematic and influential personalities in
critical pedagogy developed his pedagogy and practice in Brazil, his ideas are widely utilised
at different levels of education and in different national cultures. Here, we describe the
possibilities for critical pedagogy in a Hungarian context, not just in the case of abstract,
theoretical courses, but also for more practice-oriented education.

Hungarian context
In this section we provide a short overview about Hungarian business education, with specific
reference to the Corvinus University of Budapest. In Hungary, before the change of the
regime, a socialist-communist ideology was directly forced on people in general, and through
higher education specifically. Having changed the regime, the compulsory ideology was
replaced with a freedom of ideology, which in practice meant that the ideological foundations
of a market economy and a liberal democracy could be overlooked. Instead of fostering
increasing sensitivity and the adoption of a critical attitude, past experiences made people
insensitive to and mistrustful of ideologies. In higher education, ideological courses (such as
Political Economy and Marxism-Leninism) were replaced by mainstream economics and
management courses. The ideological foundations of the new courses, however, are usually
not discussed in detail (following the controversial Weberian value-free concept of science;
that is, that scientific work has nothing to do with ideology). For this reason, developing a
value-consciousness, sensitivity and a critical attitude are extremely important for this region.
The Corvinus University of Budapest (CUB) has gone along this path. The
predecessor of CUB– known as the Karl Marx University of Economic Sciences– changed its
curriculum in the early 1990s (for that reason at that time the university was ironically
referred to in the West as Karl Marx Business School). Since that time the university has been
the leading higher education institution in the field of social sciences, management and

economic sciences in Hungary. In these fields the university has had the highest national
quality ranking and it also appears in some international ranking systems (e.g. in 2010 the
Financial Times ranked the university at 62nd place for management education2). CUB offers
many management master’s programmes, including finance, accounting, marketing and
logistics. One of the prominent master’s programmes in management is the two-year MA in
Management and Leadership (MAML). Its curriculum includes core (compulsory) courses on
topics such as strategic management, organizational behaviour, management control systems,
information resources management, marketing management, strategic human resource
management, advanced corporate finances, change management and decision theory.
Organisation Theory (OT) is one of the core courses which takes place in the 2nd semester. OT
establishes the theoretical ground for Alternative Approaches to Human Resource
Management (AHRM), i.e. seeing organizations from different paradigms, uncovering the
basic assumptions of the mainstream ideology, After the second semester students are
required to specialize in one of the following majors: 1) HR and HRD; 2) Organisational
Design and Process Reengineering; or, 3) Management Accounting and Performance
Management. For those choosing the HR and HRD specialization, AHRM is a compulsory
course in the 3rd or 4th year.
Each year around 100-120 full time students and 10-20 part-time students are enrolled
on this programme. The majority of full time students come from the management or social
science bachelor programmes of CUB. According to the graduate survey of 20103, around
75% of full time students work and study simultaneously. After graduation, students are
usually employed as consultants, HR managers or management accountants.

Organisation Theory and Alternative Approaches in Human Resource Management

In the next section we introduce the two courses. We will provide a short overview of the
purpose of the courses, the details of the curriculum, the attitudes of the teachers, and the
pedagogical approach used.

Purpose and curriculum of the courses

The purpose of these two courses is to introduce not (only) mainstream, but rather alternative
approaches and topics, just as to emphasize the deeper organisational-social embedding of
management and the situation of an individual in terms of values. Both courses highlight the
importance of self-knowledge.
Organization Theory’s (henceforth OT) primary aim is to show the limits of the
positivist, functionalist framework and to provide alternative approaches for studying
organizations. This enables students to reflect upon topics such as trends in management, a
deep understanding of an organization, the organizational and leading role in the society, the
reform of organizational routine, and postmodern and feminist approaches of an organization

2 See http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/masters-in-management-2010 (downloaded 22 Dec 2011)

The survey can be found here (in Hungarian): http://portal.uni-corvinus.hu/index.php?id=34985&no_cache=1
(downloaded 22 Dec 2011)

or incommensurability debates. By using the different approaches of an organization, OT
develops critical consciousness, sensitivity to socio-economic conditions and power relations
and understanding hidden organizational phenomena. So the main aim of the course is to
encourage students to make responsible decisions, to generate alternative models of
organizing, and to contribute to developing ‘better’ organizations and society. Our goals are
succinctly summarized in the leading quotation used in the course: “One keeps forgetting to
go down to the foundations. One doesn't put the question marks deep enough down”
(Wittgenstein 1998:71).
Alternative Approaches to Human Resource Management (AHRM) is an MSc course
for future HR managers. It is dedicated to widening and completing the agenda of the
mainstream approach to HRM and to encouraging alternative and more reflexive ways of
thinking about organizing and human resource related issues. The pragmatic, pedagogical
goal is to create a domination-free learning space for future employees and HR professionals
where critical consciousness is facilitated, and in which they are able to understand and make
sense of problems occurring in the workplace in a broader socio-economic context. We intend
to inculcate an enlightened generation of HR professionals with a strong ethical and
professional background who will be able to construct fairer, more equal and happier
workplaces and thereby impact society as well. During the course we introduce topics which
are usually not part of the Hungarian mainstream HRM agenda: together with the students we
discuss emerging, new topics (e.g. the nature of workplace spirituality or aspects of emotional
labour) or questions which are discussed in the international HRM literature, but rarely
emphasized in Hungary (e.g. the ethical aspects of HR, workplace stress, commitment or
internal communication systems). We invite guest lecturers to introduce the related
international literature, but also encourage students to read the basic (usually English) texts
and to understand not only the theoretical background but also the related practice (to write
their own interpretations and to gain more experience in reading these articles).
As a different topic we reconsider issues and models which are part of the mainstream
HR agenda but usually framed by unitarist and managerial points of view. Here we challenge
the homogenous picture of an organization, showing the diversity of existing HR literature
(including critical, ethical, postmodern, religious, etc. points of view) and encourage the
contemplation and reframing of this existing knowledge and experience. The ‘strategic
partner’ model of Ulrich can be a characteristic example of this reframing. We show students
alternative constructions: other models (e.g. Bratton, Gold 2007, Storey 1987, Storey 1992,
Ulrich, Beatty 2001) which emphasize other factors as well. But we also critically re-evaluate,
analyse and compare the presumptions of Ulrich from different perspectives (again, for
example, using critical, ethical and cultural points of view).

Pedagogical methods
Emancipation is not just a matter of talking but also a matter of acting in a different way.
Thus, teaching AHRM requires alternative methods of education. Using less-hierarchical
techniques in knowledge transfer requires first of all a change in the attitudes of professors
towards more reflexive ways of teaching.

An alternative attitude toward teaching means acknowledging that we as teachers are
not in possession of the ultimate truth and that the students know as much as us about the
world around us. They probably cannot interpret this world in the language of science, but this
probably enables them to think more freely and more critically.
Thus it is important to find a good balance in highlighting new aspects of the socio-economic
reality of HRM using the discourse of science and in encouraging alternative readings of the
reality existing beyond the territory of scientific knowledge. That’s why students often need
an explanation from the teachers. The dilemma is more complicated, because while we are
striving to encourage students to give voice to their own opinions, we are also committed to
some approaches or topics. Meanwhile, we should not underestimate the institutional power
invested in us as teachers which can undermine our striving for democratization (this point
will be discussed later in the Dilemmas subsection).
In the AHRM course we try to break down the traditional, omniscient, power-laden role of the
teacher. That’s why, when presenting our recent research projects, we also share our
dilemmas, problems, and talk honestly about pitfalls and mistakes in our research projects.
We also make explicit our disagreements and different points of view about theoretical and
practical HRM issues.
The most important methods of emancipation are: supporting dialogues between all
the participants on the course; and breaking down traditional teacher-student communication,
where only teachers are in focus. We ask always about opinions, personal experiences and
beliefs of students and we try to avoid forcing a consensus, thus we also promote debate
among proponents of different opinions. Students are asked to work in groups many times
during the course, because working in small groups creates a safer social situation where
communication can flow more freely. Only one of these group work elements spans a long
period, while most of them are permanent groups for discussing a specific course topic.
Changing the group constitution can support the emergence of diverse opinions.
We have three goals through using alternative pedagogical methods: (1) democratize
the classroom; (2) involve different sources of knowledge; and (3) facilitate experiential
learning. In fact, one specific pedagogical tool can serve more than one of the above-
mentioned goals. Henceforth, we discuss the educational techniques that are employed in turn,
but not according to purpose.
During the semester students and instructors watch a film together. We watch for
example on the course ARHM ‘The method’4, which is about the dark side of the Assessment
Centre5, showing how moral and human aspects are systematically subordinated to the
ultimate goal of being the winner of the game. Right after watching the films we initiate a
dialogue about them in which we try to play the role of moderator rather than that of teacher.
We also use a transcript of a short scene from the film for discourse analysis. This serves two
goals: reflecting critically upon the systematically distorted communication which is
portrayed in the film, and also learning by doing– undertaking qualitative analysis –as
suggested by Samra-Fredericks (2003).
The method – El methodo (2005, directed by Marcelo Piñeyro)
Assessment Centre: A complex method used by companies in selecting processes

In OT seminars we provoke debate by using scenes from films. ‘The matrix’6 is used
in a discussion of what our ‘own matrix’ is; what the nature of reality is, and how ignorance
can be a source of strength. ‘Monty Python and the holy grail’ is very inspiring for provoking
discussion about how we can be prisoners of our own paradigms. ‘The Corporation’ 7 and
some scenes from ‘South Park’ can shed light on some basic ideas about Critical
(Management) Theory, and the ways to resist and change dominant paradigms. The “Kitchen
stories”8 is perfect for discussions about value- and interference-free research approaches.
Sometimes we watch ‘Dead Poets’ Society’9 as well, as it is able to generate interesting
discussions about group-norms and the dangers of emancipation. We also use advertisements
and video clips to fuel debate about the responsibility of corporations in promoting
In OT seminars we develop critical reflection by making the course and each
paradigm/theory a personal experience. For example, when the topic is about how meaning is
constructed and how it can be deconstructed10, we chose texts for analysis which are very
familiar to them. Another time we chose texts which reflect critically upon the actual situation
of students (for example topics about how expectations of graduating students relate to their
first work experiences, or how top managers see their top management positions). A few
years ago we asked students to analyse their own institutional environment in teams: the
University and the MSc in Management and Leadership from the perspectives of different
paradigms. Students had to answer the research questions such as ‘What does it mean to be a
student in the MAML (MSc in Management Leadership)?’ or ‘How does MAML contribute
to social inequalities and oppression, and how should it be changed?’ In the last two years we
asked students to write about how they see themselves in 20 years’ time. Later we analysed on
the basis of the answers, what they regarded as “success”, how these expectations were
constructed and if they were good at all. Sometimes we reconstruct the curriculum, the
progress of the seminar or the teacher-student roles, and we discuss in academic practice how
we can reinforce these roles. We reflect upon the students’ role in reproduction of these
conditions and upon the consequences of student’s revaluation.
The reason behind using examples so close to the student is not just in order to make
OT easier to understand, but to create ontological insecurity in students and to unsettle them.
Questioning their everyday world (including the role of teachers and students) necessarily
leads to questions such as ‘how should I relate to the world’ or ‘to criticism’? ‘What does this
mean to me’? ‘What is my own responsibility in the current situation’? ‘If social reality is not
objective but contingent, then what kind of reality do I desire’? etc.
Three times a semester, an Oxford debate is organized on the AHRM course. Two
opposing statements are defined by the course teachers (e.g. positive age discrimination of

The Matrix (1999, directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski)
The Corporation (2003, directed by Mark Ackbar and Jennifer Abbott)
Kitchen stories (2003, directed by Bent Hamer)
Dead poets’ society (1989, directed by Peter Weir)
Deconstruction is a postmodern method developed by Derrida. We use the following questions to deconstruct a
text: What is the general message of each text and how is this meaning constructed? What is taken for granted in
the text? Is there an alternative to what is taken for granted? Whose voice is in the text? Whose voice is omitted
from or underplayed in the text? How would the text look if it were written by someone in a different position?

employees or introduction of compulsory woman quota in top management) and students
prepare to debate their merits in two small groups. Each group has 2-3 weeks to prepare
(collect evidence and arguments to support the statements taken from literature, research
reports and the media). During the debate they are given a specified time for arguing, asking
questions and answering them. At the end of the debate, the audience – the rest of the class –
has the opportunity to put questions to the group and vote for the best standpoint (standoff is
also an opportunity). We put more emphasis on discussion than on voting, because
discussions about various views and problems are more important. Teachers are in the role of
facilitators at those events.
In relation to diversity issues at the workplace the class visits ‘The Ability Park’,
which is an institution for learning about disabilities and disabled people. Visitors come to
know about some aspects of the everyday lives of people with different types of disabilities by
taking part in short games. The park guides are disabled persons and there is the opportunity
to converse with them. This is an exercise which permits experiential learning or action
learning (when there was no opportunity to visit ‘The Ability Park’, we went together to the
Invisible exhibition).
Teachers ask students to write reflective essays on their experiences about the films,
the Oxford debates and the Ability Park as well on both seminars. If it is relevant, it is also Commented [N1]: its not too clear what this refers to

expected that the essay will refer and relate to scientific literature. The aim is completion of
the Kolb cycle, although the experimental phase cannot be part of the course. Students can
write reflective and other kind of essays related to compulsory readings and films on the OT
seminar. These essays have to be written only on the basis of readings and beforehand they
would be discussed on the courses. So we are striving to encourage students not only to read
more, but to formulate independent interpretations as well, which are not influenced by
teachers’ opinions. It comes to reflective essays only after we have discussed the given topics
during the seminar, where there is an opportunity to think about practical issues or views of a
paradigm or theory.
We are trying to share the first results of current research projects with students on AHRM –
which means that findings have already been interpreted by the researcher/teacher, sometimes
supported with quotations from interviews. We expect that the process of analysing raw
research material will support the democratization of the learning process by reducing the
proportion of power-laden teacher to student knowledge transfer. In additional to the
compulsory course readings, teachers always recommend further reading material, including
theoretical and empirical scientific work from different disciplines (management, economics,
sociology, philosophy and anthropology), novels and short stories, or even films.
As the course is conducted in a traditional educational institution, grades for students
are required. In order to reduce the power asymmetry embedded in this practice we ask
students on AHRM to conduct self-evaluations as well. It amounts to 10% of the final grade.
On OT seminar we try to provide a big variety of opportunities for gaining points. As a
consequence, although students are evaluated on a scale of 100 points, they can actually gain
many more points. We also take activity on seminars and students’ self-evaluations into
account. Finally students can choose between oral or written exams. Even so teaching radical

content and utilising radical teaching methods in a traditional university involves some
contradictions and potential areas of conflict on these two courses. In the next section, we
describe the dilemmas we have faced in our teaching praxis.

Students’ feedback and our dilemmas

In this section, we show the feedback of the students and discuss two dilemmas: first of all the
short and long term effects of the courses and then the application of the pedagogical
Students have the opportunity to write comments about the courses and teachers at the
end of the study or exam period (we call this system “HalVel”). They give points to the
courses (on a traditional scale of 1-5, with 1 being the minimum and 5 the maximum), and
they can write remarks about teachers as well. Table 1 shows the points referring to the
courses and henceforward we share a few of the comments written about them.


Average of Average
Semester the of the
No of Average of No of Average of department faculty
respondents/no Ratio evaluation respondents/no Ratio evaluation
of students of students
3,65 4,5 3,98 4,03
spring 58/73 79,45% 18/37 48,65% Commented [N2]: in this table, the commas should be
2014/2015 changed to decimal points, and font size could/ should be
3,48 -- 3,44 4,08
autumn 55/80 68,75% -- bigger
3,41 4,03 3,71 3,81
spring 99/102 97,06% 36/43 83,72%
3,00 -- 3,41 3,85
autumn 70/75 93,33% --
96,91% 2,99 4,12 3,56 3,79
spring 94/97 26/30 86,67%
3,07 -- 3,43 3,84
autumn 65/65 100,00% --
3,31 3,67 3,32 3,76
spring 62/68 91,18% 15/22 68,18%
3,23 4,5 3,91 3,84
autumn 78/84 92,86% 20/21 95,24%
3,24 -- 3,3 3,68
t spring 80/84 95,24% --
75/79 3,36 4,33 3,74 3,83
autumn 94,94% 20/20 100,00%
3,44 -- 3,36 3,65
spring 36/41 85,37% --

Table 1: Average of students’ evaluations

Source: CUB student evaluation

Opinions about the AHRM course are positive: students appreciate the relevant, touching
topics and democratic climate. They are moved by our radical questions, and start to ask
questions themselves. They are open to new, flexible pedagogical methods and they willingly
take part in research.

“I consider AHRM to be one of the most valuable courses during my studies, because it
doesn’t just share meaningless words, but a serious approach, which can reform our values.
So it motivates us, future HR managers, to be (pro)active.” (HalVel, spring 2012/2013)
“It’s a great course for replacing our deficiencies, it shows new perspectives of HR, which
others do not dare, want or can’t speak about.” (HalVel, autumn 2011/2012)
They appreciate the aims of the course in the short term and perceive its reforming efforts, but
radical methods already divide opinions:
“The topics discussed in seminars were useful. But in my opinion it was not so good that
students were too free.” (HalVel, spring 2011/2012)
“I like the free-spirited approach of the course, but if we want the seminar to work, its frames
had to be determined more strongly. I didn’t completely feel the logical structure behind the
course, but I liked that it was varied.” (HalVel spring 2011/2012)
There are two reasons why students think there is no structure in this course: either the
methodology did not manage to represent the critical pedagogical methods clearly and
transparently; or these disciplines did not seem authentic in the institutional and social
As for the OT course, we received a lot of positive feedback in reference to the subject
of the seminar and the applied methods.
“It is a very interesting course, I think we need it at the university. It shows something
unconventional and motivates us to stop a little, think, observe and “rebuild” ourselves. It
asks questions about everything during the semester and makes us realize what we actually
believe in, and how we think about our world.” (HalVel, spring 2013/2014)
“In this seminar, we had the opportunity to take part in a course which we may never
experience again. To plan together or to let students, to plan the seminar alone, to create a Commented [N3]: to let students plan the seminar alone?

domination free environment, which is already almost a discourse and encourage every
student to participate in the conversation: It was extraordinary! I especially liked the
structure of the course called ‘Corvinus, as a repressive institution, teachers, as manipulative
ideologists’! I liked that we paid attention to each other, did not oppress anybody and could
express our opinions. I think it remains one of the most memorable courses of the semester!”
(HalVel, autumn 2012/2013)
The comments emphasize the reforming character of the seminar, reflecting the
pedagogical efforts – the course has an impact on every student. But there are critics as well,
which reflects the divisive character of the seminar, especially in terms of the numerical
evaluation. Some of the critical students recognise the aims and efforts of the courses, but at
the same time they think, it is not what they need (for example in the labour force or in the
reality of work). Mostly they need it to be useful.
“OT is like a moon-landing: It is fantastic and interesting, but on the other hand it needs a lot
of unnecessary energy for a minimal benefit. Students, who do not have considerable practice,
can’t digest the theory-oriented material of the course. A practice-oriented course in this
topic would be much more useful for 21-22 year old students.” (HalVel, autumn 2010/2011)

“It was told in the first course, that it was a foundation seminar. There isn’t anything to found
in the second semester of an MSc. My specialization is controlling, I already failed in many
job interviews because of my lack of Excel knowledge. It would be good if teachers taught
something we really need in life, and not something they just have to because some of them
wrote a thesis about it.” (HalVel autumn 2014/2015)
In our opinion the dispensable character in the case of OT could be explained with the
fact that it is really difficult for full-time students to relate the subject to the everyday life of
organizations, because they do not always have the practice, the questions and dilemmas that
the course reflects upon. So it is not easy to feel the usefulness of it and to relate it to
something. On the other hand it is also possible that the seminar will help in learning new
viewpoints, with which later (also) the world of organizations will seem completely different.
Of course it is also possible that the dispensable character caused by the radical content
prevents students from being stimulated by the course and students do not let the course
affect them.
Students often wrote about their needs for usefulness in evaluations and that’s why it
is so interesting that years after university, students (alumni) look back and write how they
see the usefulness of both seminars and if they can identify effects related to the courses.
Although the research is on no account representative (it is assumed that mostly students who
were emotionally attached to the courses replied to the e-mails), it still can reflect the value of
the seminars.
We sent a short questionnaire to students, who graduated after 2008 in the
Management and Leadership program (about 700 people) in October 2015. The questionnaire
includes 10 open questions referring to AHRM and 8 referring to OT. It is complicated to
estimate how many alumni we actually reached, because we distributed these questionnaires
in available channels and sent to e-mail addresses, which may no longer be in use. We
received 42 replies by the deadline (6% of the questionnaires distributed). We categorized the
replies based on their relations to the courses. After that we analysed the content of the
answers in each group and tried to highlight the main positive and negative points.
27 of the received answers reflected a positive experience about TO and 14 of them had
negative or mixed feelings about it. Some of them found the course really useful at work, and
they could clearly identify situations where they acted in a different way due to the seminar:
“It prepared me perfectly for my current job at the organization department.”
“If there is a system error, I start to look not for the mistake, but for its (organizational)
reasons and the chance of (the error) recurring.”
Others emphasized its impact on their mentality:
“I became much more critical.”
“It is hard for me to see the practical usefulness of this course. I recognize it mostly in my
mentality as I am able to change my attitudes and opinions.”
“I fundamentally ask questions about rules set in stone.”
The change of attitude was highlighted for the course in AHRM as well:

“I often stand for the ethical solutions at the company.”
“(…) to avoid being hypocritical slaves of big companies”
One of the aims of OT courses is to create an environment where students can think
freely. But the above mentioned comments raise questions about our responsibility as
teachers: What is better for our students? Is it better, if we do not raise questions about their
mentality just give them knowledge that they can use well at work? Or should we ask
questions about it and encourage them to find new alternatives, even if it can have serious
effects on their thinking or lives?
Another dilemma is the limited character of radical pedagogical methods. We have
almost unlimited possibilities, when it is about creating a curriculum with radical content, but
there are already hindrances in terms of applying them. Our main dilemma is the application
of obligations, which has two sources: expectations of the institutional system and limited
possibilities of communicating our messages.
The best example for these dilemmas is the evaluation. Although teachers make serious
efforts to be democratic, also in terms of evaluation, they are the ones who have to give the
notes at the end of the semester - they „evaluate”, which is obviously a power asymmetry. On
the one hand it is a possibility to communicate the course’s messages, if we make it
compulsory and use an evaluation system. But how much do these obligations really help to
reach aims such as “it made me to think about things, I would never think about” (HalVel,
autumn 2013/2014)? How far can we go without losing any credibility, when it is about
evaluation and making certain things compulsory to motivate students to think?
The pressure caused by the evaluation system is inconsistent with the message of the course.
That’s why there is a risk that teachers become only alternative ideologists. We expect from
the students new solutions both in the topics and in the classes: we motivate them to take part
in debates or reflections, we make them think and read literature, which is sometimes difficult
to understand, we emancipate them, etc., but do they have a real chance to refuse
participation, to criticize the methodology, even if they are not comfortable with the radical
methods and the flexibility? Although the atmosphere is democratic, students’ participation in
them is not voluntary, because the courses are obligatory. So maybe for some of them it is just
another special educational fad to which they have to adapt in order to get a good grade.
Moreover, sometimes even the modernity and strangeness of these methods prevent the
reception of content. The undermentioned comment about OT shows well the dilemmas
caused by evaluation and the sometimes unusual pedagogy:
“This course should be facultative and only those students should take part in it, who are
interested in it. I find it sad that the department transformed this course to a ‘delirious state’.
Instead of talking about them and their consequences, it became a general expression of
opinions where there is no need for teachers.” (HalVel autumn 2014/2015)
“Although there were promises at the beginning of the course that it remarkably stood out
from the other seminars and would help our thinking, finally it could give only tight shapes Commented [N4]: I’m not sure what this means – maybe
narrow visions?
and unhelpful ‘models’. I missed individual thinking, we had to study only other’s thoughts
from articles or during classes.” (HalVel autumn 2012/2011)

Could participants really step out from the teacher-student role when applying radical
methods? Do we manage to create a democratic island in the cultural and temporal space
where we can forget the past and yet still in the future, participants have to regain their old
roles again as in the example of the state examination? Can we really talk about a real change,
or is it just a correspondence to expectations in a hierarchical power relationship?

Summary: About dilemma of institutional effect

In our study we pictured the effect of the institution with the dilemmas, approaches and
impacts of the two courses taught in Management and Leadership at the Corvinus University
of Budapest. But how much is it an institutional effect? Although the two courses are
obligatory parts of the study, their self-interpretation and ability to think comes from
questioning the methods and subjects dominant in the department. So OT and AHRM aims to
act against the “dominating power” of the institute. We hope that they contribute with it to a
more complex institution, which emphasizes the freedom of choice and the decision-making
responsibility of students.


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