PhD updated presentation to ANZAM 2010

November 10, 2011


Thesis title:
Behind Red Serge: Phenomenology at the Sharp Edge ( Trauma, resilience and culture in the Canadian Mounties)

This presentation uses “critical incident” (Angelides 2001) and “hermeneutic phenomenological” (Gadamer 1989, Laverty, 2003) research methodologies to explore the relevance of a critical fatal incident in the development of resilience and self efficacy in professional practitioners. The incident occurred in the early 1980’s involving Royal Canadian Mounted Police members (RCMP) . The particularly horrific incident raised a ‘what’s in them’ question in my mind which I thought about for over 20 years.

Henry Mintzberg makes the argument that MBA education socialises managers into a skill set that is disengaged and disembodied from the everyday practice of management. (Mintzberg, 2005) It does not enable managers to cope effectively with adversity.

He also argues that managers learn best when they are able to combine reflection and experience. (Mintzberg 2005) By examining how RCMP members responded to a “critical incident” in the 1980’s this presentation explores those dimensions of experience which are crucial to building up the skills of professional practice, individual and organizational resilience. It aims to illuminate resilience emerging from adversity in the context of policing. Furthermore, in the spirit of Mintzberg’s theoretical framework, this kind of resilience cannot be learned from a textbook but emerges from the way committed practitioners respond to traumatic experiences. In the detachment at the heart of the collision there was both strong and experienced management combined with high levels of support.

Important research findings from interviews with retired members who were directly involved illuminate the critical role of highly experienced supervisors/managers and support within the detachment for the RCMP members most directly involved. Where combined with high levels of support in response to the traumatic experience resilience in the long term is likely to be increased. Resilience is often described as ‘bouncing back from adversity’ but is reinforced by bouncing back and experiencing personal growth.

The interviews conducted with the RCMP surprised me that they revealed information beyond the 1980’s critical incident itself and concerned the culture or way of being, to put it in existential hermeneutic language, of the RCMP today. Each and every retired member I interviewed were concerned about their RCMP culture and its unique iconic symbolism in the hearts of fellow Canadians. They unanimously communicated that they wanted my thesis to “make a difference” for those still serving.

The thesis will be narrative in form and will draw from the ethnographic work of Ian Lennie, the embodied inquiry philosophies of Les Todres and the methodological input from Douglas Ezzy, Robert Yin, Denzin and Lincoln and others.

John Walker
Doctoral Scholar
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
October 2010