Closing session The future of HRD research - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and actions

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Jamie Callahan, Texas A&M University, USA

Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Critical HRD as a Future of Research in the Field

I begin my brief comments by acknowledging that I approached this topic from my U.S. perspective.

As scholars, we tend to test out new ideas at conferences, so as I prepared for my 5-minute panel presentation, I looked at themes that stood out for me at the AHRD and UFHRD conferences. In both, there is a lot of work on topics such as:

  • Formalizing learning, shaping students to corporate interests, or creating ‘competencies’ to enhance the effectiveness of individuals
In general, it is organizational interests that dominate HRD.

BUT, particularly here in the UFHRD dialogue, there is a growing voice that challenges us to question the interests served by HRD interventions. Essentially, a critical approach is gaining a foothold in HRD scholarship.

There are many ways to interpret the concept of ‘critical’. Fournier and Grey (2000) suggest that critical approaches can range from disengagement, in which the critical scholar avoids being sullied by interactions with the world of organizations, to transformation, in which the critical scholar engages in praxis and confronts the world of organizations through dialogue. 

I submit that the future of HRD lies near the latter perspective. I do believe HRD professionals face a reality of serving two masters, both the dominant social structures (in other words, organizations) and the individuals within those structures.

We must be creative, and smart, with the way we apply critical theory. This application requires more of a constructive approach to critical theory. I think the future of HRD, a future toward which I believe we should, and indeed are beginning to, move is one that allows for contextual interpretation of the application of critical theory without being co-opted into the dominant discourse of critical thinking and one that celebrates innovative practice that honors and models concepts such as democracy, justice, equity, freedom, and empowerment. 

In short, I believe the future of HRD lies in what I am calling constructivist critical HRD.


Fournier, V. & Grey, C. (2000). At the critical moment: Conditions and prospects for critical management studies. Human Relations, 53(1), 7-32.

Source HRD Conference Tilburg 2006: Closing session. Manuscript provided by the author.
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