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As promised, another post from my ongoing work with Kevin Orr, professor of public sector management at Hull University Business SchoolThe opening passage (that Dave Mckenna has characterised as “academic noir”) depicts an all too true moment in our research together that serves as a dark metaphor for our wider argument. We suggest a way of thinking about academic-practitioner research which emphasizes that, rather than forming a communion accomplished in a space beyond politics, co-production exists within and depends upon human, social relations.  Furthermore, we argue, these relations and the identity of the participants are themselves partly constituted by the research which is being co-produced.

Our contribution is to offer a counterpoint to accounts of co-production which present collaborative research as a process of utopian fusion; instead we portray it as involving relations between protagonists which are mutually constituting and uplifting but also at times disturbing and debilitating.

The article is dedicated to Michael Agar who encouraged us to think that co-production was a worthwhile mode of research, and who we first got talking to in a bar in Albuquerque.

The full article is published by Management Learning and will appear in print as part of a special issue in September 2012. It is available for download HERE (Down and out at the British Library and other dens of co-production, Orr & Bennett, Management Learning, Volume 43, Issue 4, September 2012)

Management Learning, published by Sage

Introduction

4 July 2011, Central London, 2 a.m. Co-production hits the skids.

Kevin sat in the hotel bar. The room was spinning. He had already lost his phone and jacket, though wouldn’t make this discovery until nursing himself through the hangover next morning. Mike sat across from him, now asleep, miles from home, dead to the world except for a rattling snore. In a month’s time Mike is to quit his job for love and relocate to France. Their project was coming to a close. They had met that day to have a tilt at making revisions to the Management Learning paper. The meeting came on the back of weeks of telephone conversations in which they had struggled to imagine a way forward. The deadline was bearing down on them yet they had long felt themselves running out of steam. Across the evening their intended dialogues of copro had become drinking to forget. They started out on burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff. Like a badly-scrawled parabola, the conversation might have briefly got off the ground (they could never quite recall the details) but then seized up, crashed and burned. Copro had attacked their brains and was now hell-bent on other organs, their livers bearing the brunt of this fresh assault. It had long since dispatched their spirits and self-esteem. Mike was jolted from his restless slumber as security unleashed the white glare of the house lights. Smarting, he lurched for his bearings. From the edge of the room, the night porters – the bar staff long gone – made their move, closing in on the sad tableau of academic-practitioner disorientation. Kevin felt his stomach heave. This was not going to be pretty. How had it come to this? More worryingly, how would it end?

The full article is published by Management Learning and will appear in print as part of special issue in September 2012. It is available for download HERE (Down and out at the British Library and other dens of co-production, Orr & Bennett, Management Learning, Volume 43, Issue 4, September 2012).

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