Research in focus: MBAs: five discourses in search of a new narrative
MBA coursework tends to include experiments that combine theory and practice, an understanding
of diverse cultural contexts and the development of a critical view of management activities
Objective: To show that the MBA is a controversial model whose characteristics are changing.
• Bibliographic search of scientific periodicals relating to MBA programs
• Content analysis of advertisements and articles about MBAs published by business media sources
• Interviews with 21 current and former students from three programs
• Systematization of the following five discourses about MBAs produced by different agents: the instrumental criticism
discourse, the instrumental defense discourse, the critical discourse of emancipation, the redemption discourse from
the business media, and the discourse of the students
• The instrumental criticism discourse, which is produced by renowned researchers, stresses the distance between what
is taught and the needs of organizations. This discourse casts doubt on the capacity of MBA programs to generate
value for students and companies.
• The instrumental defense discourse is based on extensive quantitative research conducted by the media and used by
associations; this research reveals the positive impacts of MBA programs on both the careers of students and company
• The critical discourse of emancipation, which is produced by peripheral currents of researchers who have a critical
perspective, laments the commodification of these programs, the conformist view they transmit to students, and the
insufficient emphasis placed on social dimensions.
• The redemption discourse of the business media portrays these programs as magical solutions that are capable of
profoundly affecting both the employability of students and their salaries.
• The discourse of the students values the interaction and exchange of experiences, the development of critical and
analytical capabilities and the acquisition of a credential. This discourse emphasizes the impact of programs on a
student’s capacity to “play the business game”.
• The MBA can be considered an open arena in which different agents use different discursive strategies based on their
• There is little interaction or direct confrontation among the discourses; therefore, there is no dialogue.
• There are elements for renewing the traditional MBA narrative of the individual who acquires both hard and soft
skills through the course, constructs a good network of relationships, examines case studies and, at the same time,
receives a general education with the objective of achieving a senior leadership position in the future. The new
narrative focuses on a socially conscientious and responsible individual who is endowed with ambitions for personal
and professional change and who aspires to a senior leadership position or to become an entrepreneur. During the
program, this individual undergoes experiences that bring together theory and practice, that comprise various cultural
contexts and that include the development of a critical vision of both organizations and the activities of managers.