“The lover of Virgil who wishes to bring a libel action against me would be well advised to begin his attack by separating the part of the Aeneid in which Virgil was directly interested (one might almost say, the folk-lore element) from the parts he wrote chiefly because he was trying to write an epic poem.” (Ezra Pound)
In an attempt to put my method where my mouth is, I’m going to write a paper about the Mann Gulch disaster. Actually, I will be re-writing a paper that I published back in 2010 in (wait for it) “The Leading Journal in the Field”, a collection of practical critiques of management research from a 2009 conference at the University of Leicester. I’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with, not the conclusions of the paper, nor even its argument, but its somewhat ponderous style. I was overthinking it. I was trying too hard to write a scholarly essay rather than simply expose a piece influential but dubious research as directly as possible.
Most glaringly, anyone who has heard me insist (over and over) that a paragraph consists of at most 200 words that say exactly ONE well-defined thing will smile (or perhaps even frown) at my somewhat intermittent discipline in this regard. So I’m going to have a go at this paper over the summer as time permits. Here are the key sentences for the three paragraphs of my introduction. I hope the message is entirely clear.
- On August 5, 1949, thirteen smokejumpers died in Mann Gulch.
- The received view in organization scholarship is that the Mann Gulch disaster was the result of a collapse of sensemaking.
- In this paper, I show that sensemaking played no decisive role in the deaths of the smokejumpers in Mann Gulch.
This also suggests a shift of focus. I will not be emphasizing the errors of scholarship that has led us to think of Mann Gulch as a sensemaking episode. Rather, I will simply correct our misunderstanding of the disaster as such. This will, of course, require me to document the received view on the matter, but I can present the corrective as a re-analysis of the events. Indeed, the paper will present a re-analysis of the original “data”, namely, Norman Maclean’s 1992 book Young Men and Fire.