Reframing Relevance as ‘Social Usefulness’: A Comment on Hodgkinson and Starkey's ‘Not Simply Returning to the Same Answer Over and Over Again’


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This is a commentary on Hodgkinson and Starkey's (British Journal of Management, 22 (2011), pp. 355–369) proposal to reframe the relevance of business and management research by combining design science with critical realism. Their proposal is welcomed for its advocacy of a ‘social usefulness’ agenda and for commending the insights of the social sciences, rather than emulating a professional (e.g. medical school) model. However, the advocacy of critical realism is not consistent with the commended conception of design science; and it also risks devaluing the contribution of other progressive, emancipation-oriented approaches to research. Despite substituting ‘social usefulness’ for ‘relevance’, Hodgkinson and Starkey's proposal does not challenge the established, comparatively narrow, research agenda. The counterproposal prioritizes a conception of relevance/social usefulness that broadens what is studied by business school researchers as well as changing how established topics are researched.