‘Strategy’ is a concept drawn from the ancient Greek and meaning ‘the art of leading an army.’ Since antiquity, its applications have been expanded from military planning and method to include systems and techniques used in football matches and other sporting contests, marketing or political campaigns, geopolitical contests between trading blocks, resistance struggles, prison escapes, terrorist plots and other situations in which people attempt to give themselves a competitive advantage, achieving desirable ends with available means. The module considers strategy in the expanded field, exploring its workings (primarily) through the changing relations between markets, states and firms over a period of some 200+ years.
This focus on historical contingency - the thought that strategy ‘plays out’ differently in different circumstances - highlights the importance of context for framing critical and analytical investigations into strategy. To give a concrete example of this, we will see that the shift, over the past 7 years from what was fundamentally a crisis of the private sector (i.e. the economic crash of 2007-08) to a ‘public’ or ‘sovereign debt’ crisis can be best explored by the dynamic relations between states and markets, and the battle over the control of resources by particular groups - and, we will see strategy as a central way by which that battle for resources is fought.
The course explores this and other notable case studies while considering some of the most significant ideas taken up within strategy, including theories and practices such as the ‘rational planning model,’ the ‘resource-based’ view of the firm, the ‘positioning school’ and the ‘strategy-as-practice’ models. It places a substantial emphasis on two key texts: Deborah Cowen’s The Deadly Life of Logistics (2014) and Peter Nolan’s Is China Buying the World? (2012), giving students the chance to develop their skills of academic review-writing in response to one of these two books.
MODULE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The module aims to:
- Provide historical, politico-economic and sociological contexts for understanding
- Elucidate the conceptual and theoretical terrain on which strategy is built
- Investigate the main issues influencing the formulation and implementation of strategy
INDICATIVE LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of the module, you should have acquired:
- A conceptual vocabulary that allows you to reflect critically on the political, economic and historical contexts in which strategies are produced
- Familiarity with a range of issues affecting strategic thought and action
- Practice conceiving, developing and articulating an independent argument
- Experience of presenting your research findings and ideas in oral and written forms
- Mastery of different written forms (i.e. an academic book review and an essay)
GRADUATE ATTRIBUTES AND TRANSFERABLE SKILLS
- Proven ability to conduct independent research project, including effective time management, and the gathering and interpretation of data
- Ability to apply research in practical, critical and theoretical contexts
- Detailed knowledge about two key texts in the field
- Enhanced knowledge about writing techniques and bibliographic practice
- Improved skills of oral and visual presentation
- Enriched capacity for identifying and solving problems
MODULE RATIONALE AND TEACHING STRATEGIES
This module proceeds on the basis that any successful strategic decision will need to understand the dynamics of business and its contexts. Consequently, the module does two things: it explores strategic thought and action through a variety of set readings, seminar tasks and discussions and it explores the dynamics of capitalist business practices and their contexts through the weekly lectures and the set readings that attach to them. Thus, the relationship between lectures and seminars on this module is one of complementarity; the lectures provide the ‘big picture’ or framework for thinking about strategy while many of the seminars focus on specific contexts or conditions within which strategy takes place.
If you have a laptop or tablet, please bring it to seminars as you may be asked to use it during the seminar.
A reader pack containing many of the essential seminar readings and many of the sources used in the lectures is provided at the beginning of the semester. All these readings and more can also be found listed in the Themed Bibliography (at the end of the Module Outline) and on QM+. PLEASE CHECK BOTH OF THESE FOR SET READINGS BEFORE CONTACTING THE MODULE CONVENOR!
Bear in mind that most lecture sources are contained in the Themed Bibliography (at the end of the Module Pack). While it is not required that you read these ahead of the lecture, these will be important sources to which you will want to refer in your module assignments.
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