Grand challenges and business education: Dealing with barriers to learning and uncomfortable knowledge

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In this article, we explore some of the barriers that prevent learning about grand challenges. By grand challenges, we refer to transformational social and environmental issues and the critical barriers toward addressing them. Despite recent research contributions, initiatives, and calls for action to focus on such concerns, relatively little is known about the different barriers that hinder learning about grand challenges. To explore these issues, we draw from Rayner’s (2012) concept of uncomfortable knowledge, defined as knowledge that is disagreeable to organizations because it may challenge their value base, self-perception, organizing principles, or sources of legitimacy. Focusing on the example of recent programmatic attempts to advance “responsible education” in business schools, we identify three barriers to learning about grand challenges: Cognitive overload, emotional detachment, and organizational obliviousness. We conclude by outlining several implications on how to overcome these barriers, adding to recent academic and policy debates on how to make business school education more attuned to the transformational and social challenges of our time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-237
Number of pages17
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Early online date14 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2022


  • grand challenges
  • learning
  • barriers
  • uncomfortable knowledge
  • business education
  • responsible education


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