When out to dinner with one’s mother-in-law, it’s common knowledge that there are simply topics that should not be breached. But has this fear of impropriety seeped into academic research on Organizational stigma as well? Bryant Ashley Hudson and Gerardo A. Okhuysen discuss this idea and it’s possible consequences in their paper, “Taboo Topics: Structural Barriers to the Study of Organizational Stigma” from the Journal of Management Inquiry.
In this article we make two arguments. The first is that there is great scholarly value in examining topics that management researchers may find distasteful or undesirable; topics that involve organizational stigma. Organizational stigma involves the discrediting of organizational participants, organizational activities, and organizations themselves (Sutton &Callahan, 1987). And the study of organizational stigma often involves the examination of distasteful—and occasionally objectionable, despicable, and disgusting—activities, work, and organizations. We argue that in spite of its potentially repellent nature, organizational stigma is worth discussing as it exposes areas of social life that remain otherwise hidden. However, the nature of stigmatized topics also makes them taboo, and our experience as researchers suggests that our field erects structural barriers that discourage their examination. Our second argument, then, is that these taboos and structural barriers that inhibit the study of these topics are detrimental to knowledge creation and accumulation and deserve to be breached.