How to be remembered by those who knew you and by those who loved you? What would you think if after your death you see people invoking you and conjuring your presence with respect, wonder, and perhaps total ignorance? I could not stop thinking about those questions last week, when sharing and honouring Heather Hopfl’s memory. The memorial, an exquisitely organised event by Melissa Taylor at University of Essex, was a great opportunity to get to know more about one of the most exceptional female academic in organisational studies: Professor Heather Hopfl. Her premature death has been a huge blow for many of her friends, colleagues, pupils, protegees and for those, like me, who only recently had been touched by her magic and charisma. In this post, however, I do not aim at summarizing her impressive academic legacy, many others are already doing this, and a simple google search will land an impressive avalanche of articles, reviews, notes and other contributions of her genial and original writing. Neither I hope to make sense of what she did or how she touched other people’s lives, as my contact with her was only in the final year of her existence. Instead, I would like to convey my impressions of sharing with those who admired her, loved her, write with her, followed her, and learned from her, as presented in the two memorials organised at U. Essex.
The common memory of the group of presenters and academics in the first memorial was Heather’s capacity to make you “believe in yourself”. I was one of the beneficiaries of her trust and hope as she urged me to go on the artistic path. Many shared how she literally “changed their lives”… encouraging intelligent women to do PhDs and by guiding young scholars in the “jungle” of academic politics and gender. This time, the presentations were more on the academic side of her legacy. Yet, it is not possible to separate the academic from the personal, as Heather lived what she prayed and wrote. The first presentation by Mary Philips (her work in gender, ethics, and eco-feminism is ground breaking) brought back one of Heather’s writings about “Heroines and Role Models” and how the “heroines” of her childhood memories provided clear guidelines in terms of moral leadership, perseverance and care. The key here is to think on how we are modelling ourselves, who helps us to take certain actions in thorny moments… the modern cult to celebrity does not offer any real answer… unless you feel like “twerking”, but what Heather pointed out is the need of listening to that inner person, the wild woman perhaps, and allow her to write and to be, even though, that creates disturbances in patriarchal organisational settings. I thought that Mary’s focus on “virtues” rather than “values” really elevated the conversation from “tips to a successful career” toward “ways of living in the world”.
While listening to Mary, I thought it would be nice to be able to “illustrate” her presentation, and I would like your opinion about whether or not the drawings really illustrate what I described, or even better, they illustrate something else. Please let me know what you think! It is really important…
So this is the first drawing:
Original drawing by Beatriz Acevedo
The second presentation could not be more daring and loyal to Heather’s pledge: “Find your voice, whatever daring, whatever “crazy”, bring out your voice…” and Ann Rippin, who I have several times quoted in this blog, brought a three threads text-tale based on her almost 30 years work with quilting. The three threads are firstly, the first voice is people’s interviewed by Ann through the quilting process (is this quilt-elicitation?)… the second voice, is a groundbreaking book about cloth as historical archive (I will find the exact reference); and the third voice, is Ann’s own reflection, response and reaction to those voices. I must confess I was completely confused at the beginning, I was expecting the normal charismatic performance – the DivAcademic or the EduTainer – so when she started “reading” I was not really prepared… soon I decided to relax and just enjoying the textures of voices, the chorus produced by the threads, and it was so interesting, moving, profound and well based on whatever theoretical/conceptual framework you want! And as she is an academic quilter, my drawings reflect that…
Ann Rippin, remembering Heather Hopfl
Original drawing by Beatriz Acevedo
The third presentation of the day was a double act between Ruth Simpson and Patricia Lewis, two respected academics who reminded us about that anecdote of Heather when she was invited to be part of a PhD panel made of three examiners: two males and Heather. The two males started measuring each other, ignoring completely Heather’s presence… FirstExaminer: “So, how many PhD have you examined?”… the other reply: “How many YOU have examined?”… First examiner: “Well I have examined 5, but if you count internal examinations I have examined 7″… “well”-the other replied “I have examined 9″… the order was established… the males measured their respective “sizes”… nobody paid attention to Heather, who observed the “cocks pecking each other” and when the viva actually started she simply said: “well, based on my experience of almost 50 PhDs examinations I can say that…. ” I may not telling the anecdote as it was, but you get the gist. This complete dismissal of the “feminine” actual, real, symbolic and physical is one of Heather’s recurrent topics. She started this exploration by analysing the myth of Demeter, as an archetypal mother and how Demeter can relate both with mother, but also with metric, the ying and yang of organisational life: on one side, a potential caring, humane, creative place; on the other, a constant push for goals and indicators, which hardly reflect processes or moreover, do not really drive innovation, originality or creativity. How many times we have sat on meetings where the issue is about indicators, goals, percentages, feeling completely uninspired! But who is speaking there….are these “goals” the measure of the biggest cocks in the rooster? That so called competitiveness that may look as a “leadership trait” but it is definitively not inspiring, it does not move people, it does not bring the best of me… it is a box ticking exercise without a soul. How many articles have been written about this? and yet, organisations across any spectrum repeat this mistake. So what is the alternative? Shall we abandon goals? I do not think so, there most be a balance between the creative and the planning; between the emotional and the structured, it is time, as Ruth and Patricia said, time to recover that lost feminine, giving it her right place and create a truly responsible organisation. (Sorry, I think I digressed as I was today teaching my first class on Responsible Business for second year students, and I think that beyond the “strategic” aspects of social responsibility or the “shared value”, it is a matter of recovering the balance: the creative and the caring and the metrics and goals). So, I hope to have caught what they say and this is my drawing about it:
On the fourth presentation, our rock’n’roll professor Steve Linstead (sorry Steve, this is my own vision of you!), a pioneer on the field of organisational and aesthetics, and an academic/artist in his own right, brought a comprehensive reflection of threads and ideas, anecdotes and contemporary writing, weaving Heather’s work with philosophical discussions. I cannot really summarise what he said, but, something came up on what he called “the narcotic organisation”: he refers to those goals and indicators acting as “drugs” that seem to be the panacea of every organisational function: but it is only chimeras… indeed, that also applies to our own careers looking for the “next” level, the next promotion, the next great job… are these not other type of “drugs”. Of course, it would be naive to think about the end of goals, but sometimes, it seems to me (and it has happened to me) that the goals do not let me see the big picture. Many times, when I am offered a new project or an idea, I have to get back and wonder: how this contribute to my “being happy, healthy, harmonious, caring, creative”… so if that situation, relationship, project or work, contributes to that, OK, but if not… well, I may kindly decline it. But, all these proposals shine like gold… a fool’s gold, because the motivation is temporal, circumstantial and normally not even our own… anyway, I think again I am digressing! So, here it is the drawing…
Steven Linstead, remembering Heather Hopfl
Original drawing by Beatriz Acevedo