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CFP: Ethics and the Improvising Business

Call for Papers: Ethics and the Improvising Business

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation invites submissions for a special issue with the theme “Ethics and the Improvising Business,” guest-edited by ICASP Project Director Ajay Heble, Co-Investigator Tina Piper, and Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Laver. We seek contributions from artist/practitioners and from scholars working across the disciplines (music, literature, performance studies, anthropology, organization studies, economics, sociology, gender studies, philosophy, psychology, education, management studies, among others). Potential topics include:

· What does musical improvisation have to offer as a management model for corporations and not-for-profit organizations?
· What is the relationship between improvisation and creativity in the global marketplace?
· How might an improvised ethical framework translate in a for-profit corporate environment?
· How can improvised praxis and ethics impact Corporate Social Responsibility projects?
· In what ways are improvisatory ethics manifest in the emergent discourses and practices associated with social innovation?
· Is it possible for a large corporation to honestly acknowledge and respond to improvising musicians’ socioeconomic critiques while
continuing to operate within an expansionist, capitalist economic framework?
· What is at stake when large corporations adopt (or co-opt) musical practices—particularly those associated with subaltern communities?

Musical improvisation represents a profoundly collaborative creative process. The improvised framework demands that musicians collectively, spontaneously negotiate a set of external challenges—possibly including a harmonic progression, a texture, a tempo, a groove, or the expectations of an audience—as well as internal challenges, such as divergent tendencies, tastes, or knowledge bases within the group. A successful negotiation hinges on a dialectic of individual knowledge and collective innovation: musicians depend on the individual years of practice through which they developed their unique technical, listening, and expressive skills, while at the same time responding quickly and spontaneously to the rest of the group (and to other variables in the performance milieu) in a manner that evinces innovation, creativity, and surprise. Therefore, while improvisation depends heavily on a musician’s cultivation of individual skills, both the improvised process and the (hopefully successful) outcome of that process are equally shared among members of the group.

In light of the collaborative essence of musical creativity, a growing number of management theorists are looking to group musical improvisation as a model for corporate design. In the post-fordist, global marketplace, sudden change has become a quotidian part of the business experience. Just as a group of improvisers must negotiate sudden musical changes, unanticipated changes in the marketplace demand a similar kind of collaborative response. Faced with the unexpected, many businesses respond with collective flexibility. They establish a profoundly dialogical management structure, encouraging employees of all levels to engage in problem-solving. Akin to the musical knowledge-innovation dialectic, businesses walk the line between what Roger Martin calls reliability and validity, trusting in the knowledge and study that underlies their extant systems and models, while at the same time embracing the promise held by innovation, creativity, and surprise. Above all, they work to engage every individual in the group, giving every employee a sense of collective ownership over the challenges and the solutions.

While this burgeoning area in management studies has focused on the ways in which improvised musical practice might serve as a model for fomenting collective creativity in a corporate environment, very little extant scholarship has addressed the sociopolitical ethics that are so often an intrinsic element of improvised musicking. Because of the putatively intense dialogism and egalitarianism demanded of improvising musicians, scholars of music and culture, and musicians as well, many of them associated with the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (ICASP) project, have identified the improvised performance paradigm as a potentially profoundly ethical framework for music making. Indeed, in light of recent global political and economic developments—including the fallout from the ethically vexed speculative investing that led to the dotcom crash of 2000, the 2008 mortgage crisis, and the rise of the Occupy movements in 2011 (and with an eye to growing ethical activism in the consumer base)—ethical concerns have become increasingly urgent for corporations of virtually all stripes. These and countless other events have forced corporations to consider the sociocultural, political, and environmental impact of their actions, and to begin to reconceptualize business policy in terms of social policy. Indeed, a growing number of political power-brokers such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Davos World Economic Forum founder and executive Chair Klaus Schwab have called on businesses to recognize the emergent ethical obligations that their pervasive influence entails. With this in mind, the communitarian ethics and contra-capitalist critiques that attend to improvised musics around the world are every bit as relevant to management studies as the collaborative modes of creativity that undergird improvisatory praxis.

At the same time, however, it is crucial to consider that improvised musics frequently emerge from marginalized communities around the world. Even where comparatively affluent communities practice the music, it is commonly inextricable from contra-capitalist politics. Improvisation therefore often represents a means of sounding resistance—a kind of “musicking from below” that challenges the logics of the free market economy by purposefully severing aesthetic value from exchange value: from the scope of production and the degree of consumption. With this in mind, a corporate use of improvisation as a model for creative problem-solving that ignores the music’s indelible sociopolitical ethic stands as a clear example of hegemonic appropriation and dilution of a provocative, subaltern cultural practice. By the same token, a corporate use of the music that pays lip service to the improvisational ethic in order to obfuscate unethical behaviour in other areas—“greenwashing,” for instance, or dedicating a meager proportion of net profit to CSR initiatives in order to achieve marketing goals—constitutes dissimulation at best; at worst, hypocrisy.

Critical academic essays are encouraged but the editors also welcome for consideration artist statements, commentaries, reviews, interviews and experimental textual forms. CSI/ÉCI encourages the submission of audio and visual content to accompany texts. It is the responsibility of the author to ascertain copyright and gain permissions.

Submissions should be 4000-6000 words (shorter essays may also be considered at the discretion of the editors). Please submit completed essays by April 13, 2012. Information on the submission process and examples of previously published work can be found at Inquires can also be directly made to

Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation is an open-access, peer-reviewed, electronic, academic journal on improvisation, community, and social practice housed at the University of Guelph. The editorial and advisory boards are made up of leading international scholars spanning diverse disciplines. CSI/ÉCI publishes twice a year, in May and December. The journal publishes scholarly essays by artists, activists, and intellectuals, as well as reviews of books, performances, and films.

There is a curious yet enormously fruitful duality in the way that improvisation plays on our expectations and perspectives.

– Tracey Nicholls