When I read the title — Intellectual Shamans: Management Academics Making A Difference by Sandra Waddock — I really, really wanted to like this book, and to be able to apply it to my dissertation. I strongly believe our educational system — economics and management in particular — need deep, powerful overhauls on their ethical teachings. I feel strongly about this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that studies have shown that economics — one of the foundation courses of management training — is either teaching or self-selecting for students to lose altruism, empathy, and compassion; to behave more selfishly and avoid cooperation; and to expect the worst of others. These are emphatically not the ethics I want to have predominating in corporate America!

Initially it seems this book too is suggesting a sea change in management ethics — through the teachings of what the author refers to as intellectual shamans. I love that phrase! It brings a spiritual element to academia which I feel is sorely lacking. I'm not suggesting that universities, say, require classes in pre-approved versions of christianity before anyone can graduate with any degree, or that there be, for example, a mandatory prayer hour each day. But I do feel the emphasis on only quantitative statistical financial data which is currently in vogue for business classes is causing the students to miss some really important — dare I say spiritual? — intangibles… concepts such as cooperation, fairness, compassion and empathy, and consideration for others. Heck, even some psychology or anthropology might help business students, so that they could learn that humans thrived evolutionarily due to unselfish behavior and concern for others in the group.

But returning to the book: Maddock defines intellectual shamans as "scholars who become fully who they must be, and find and live their purpose, to serve the world through three capacities: healing, connecting, and sense-making, and in the process seek or come to wisdom" (1), and "formally" defines intellectual shamanism as "intellectual work (theory, research, writing, and teaching) that integrates healing, connecting (intermediation or the mediating of boundaries), and sensemaking to serve the greater good" (3). She is quite frank that this is qualitative rather than quantitative teaching and research: "it is the light that shines from them [intellectual shamans] that helps us identify them, even though this is hardly a scientific concept" (5). She also heavily emphasizes the "becoming who one must be" element of her definition of shamanism, adding that in taking this route:

many (perhaps not all) intellectual shamans become wise elders — sages. Wisdom, as I define it, also has a tripartite definition: wisdom is the integration of systems understanding, moral imagination, and aesthetic sensibility in the service of the greater good, which in the case of intellectual shamans is reflected in their healing orientation. (4)

She goes on to explain her choice of phrasing — first why she considers them shamanic and then why intellectual. According to her interpretation of her research on these individuals, they are shamanic because they have:

undertaken the task (some would call it the spiritual task) of finding and living out their core purpose in the world — and in doing that they are trying to help make the world a better place. Their implicit and sometimes explicit message to all of us is to do the same…. in shaping their purposes, they serve the world in some important way. (3)

She further clarifies her beliefs regarding these individuals, and on what she means by their service capacities, by noting that:

[a]s intellectual shamans within a broadly defined management academy, they do this [serve the world] through the tasks of healing something intellectual or idea-based, be it theory, research, or practice; of connecting, which means mediating across boundaries or boundary-spanning; and of sensemaking. But they might be operating in any number of other realms of academia — or simply other realms. (3)

Perhaps most intriguingly, Waddock explicitly notes that this research has helped her — and, she hopes, others as well — understand that:

we all have the capacity to become intellectual — or other types of — shamans, depending on our own gifts, power, and callings. We 'simply' need to have the courage to answer the call to become who we really are, to work in service to something beyond ourselves that tries to make the world or something in it better, and follow that call in our life's work by doing work that matters, makes a difference. (7)

I find this a hopeful beginning and an encouraging message — a sort of shamanic version of Gandhi's "be the change you wish to see in the world," so to speak. I've often felt that education should step up to the plate more as far as working deliberately towards making a better world.

That being said, I found myself feeling oddly, increasingly uncomfortable as I continued reading. Part of this I knew was due to the 28 individuals which the author chose to interview. She emphasized repeatedly how inadequate "standard" markers of a quality reputation — such as, for example, number of citations of one's works, or how many books published and articles written for so-called 'A'-level journals — are for intellectual shamans… yet when introducing each individual she dedicated two or three pages each to effectively reciting their CVs — isn't that the classic marker of quality? — and other notable accomplishments.

More disconcerting was the lack of diversity in her selection of intellectual shamans: out of 28 individuals there are only four women, one of whom is of Indian descent. Googling the others, I think there's also a South African, some Europeans, and several Canadians — two of which were apparently born in India. Past those two, however… they all look very white!


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