9) Rosa Luxemburg Award – CMS 2017

David Knights CMS International Award Acceptance Speech

I am glad to be here but at my age and in my condition I am glad to be anywhere.

In this centenary of the Russian Revolution, it is wonderful to accept this first CMS International Conference Rosa Luxemburg award although I don’t feel worthy of being associated with such a giant of socialist purpose. She stood up to, and suffered the consequences of not only fighting the state, but also many of her comrade revolutionaries who she thought were too revisionist. I thank the scientific committee and Alessia Contu from the bottom of my heart. I am still able to say this tonight but next week I will have the bottom bits taken out in open heart surgery – while I suppose most of us have suffered a broken heart at some time in our lives, knowing that my heart is actually, rather than metaphorically, broken is an entirely new and traumatic experience. Not to bore or disturb you too much with the gory details, they will zap my heart with an electrical current to get the rhythm back (I thought I could just go to a rock or heavy metal concert instead, but no such luck). Then they will remove 2 valves (that’s 50% – it reminds me of an old Tony Hancock blood bank comedy sketch when he was shocked at how much they wanted – ‘A pint’! that’s nearly an armful). They will then replace them with valves from cows and although I have always been a bit of a Foucauldian, I will now be able to fulfill the Deleuzian dream of becoming animal and woman all in one go.  People have been saying for some time that I should be put out to grass so here is the opportunity.

Turning to more pleasant matters – I suppose I have conducted my academic career a bit in the proverbial manner of Frank Sinatra and done it my way.   I know some of you will be saying Frank who? But in my youth he was almost as much of a superstar as Stewart Clegg is today – sorry did I mean the other Stewart – Rod Stewart? (or Beyonce /Ed Sheeran?).  As we enjoy our drinks, though, I am reminded of one of Sinatra’s quips when off to the bar in closing a set: ‘I feel sorry for folks who don’t drink because when they get up in the morning that’s the best they are going to feel all day’.

I did it my way in the sense of challenging rather than promoting management or managerialism in the way that nearly everyone else did in a business school.  I established the Labour Process Conference in 1983, the Gender, Work and Organization journal and conferences in 1994 and especially wrote about masculinity. But I even worked with industry especially the finance sector in running an industry-academic collaboration from 1994- 2006 to fund research. This Forum consisted of around 30 large corporations such as the insurers Prudential, Legal & General, Norwich Union and Virgin financial services, and the banks Barclays, Co-op, Lloyds, NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland.  We met 3 times a year and produced research that frequently showed how these companies did not know what they were doing but little did we know how true this was until the financial crisis of 2008.  I think I have approached kind of freedom that Rosa Luxemburg said ‘is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently’.

This award is not for me though, I am accepting it on behalf of the PhD students I was lucky to supervise: Jo Brewis, David Collinson, Chris Grey, Deborah Kerfoot, Anita Mangan, Pam Odih, John Roberts, Andrew Sturdy, Emma Surman, Theo Vurdubakis, and last but not least Hugh Willmott who was my first doctoral student and close colleague and who founded the CMS conference 20 years ago. It should also be in the name of over 25 research colleagues with whom I have collaborated including: Pasi Ahonen, Ola Bergström, Brian Bloomfield, Peter Case, Joanna Ciulla, Caroline Clarke, Rod Coombs, Andrew Crane, Graeme Currie, Emma Jeanes, Yvonnne Latham, Andrew Leyshon, Chris Mabey, Pat Yancey-Martin, Darren McCabe, Glenn Morgan, Fergus Murray, Cinzia Priola, Alison Pullen, Harry Scarbrough, Doris Schedlitzki, Ken Starkey, Torkild Thanem, Leah Tomkins, Maria Tullberg and many others.

I know that it was not quite a revolution, but in the UK the revival of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn validates Rosa Luxemburg’s view that ‘before it happens it is perceived as impossible; after it happens, it is seen as having been inevitable’.

Finally I need to thank Caroline Clarke, Jo Brewis, Darren McCabe and Hugh Willmott who organized a celebration for me on the 31st March at Lancaster University that preceded this award and also my wife for putting up with my endless sitting at a computer. Thanks again CMS for this award and may the conference always continue (to paraphrase Luxemburg) to ‘move us’, in ways that enable us to ‘notice our chains’.

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