International PhD course: Critical perspectives on leadership

Last updated, 3 Feb 2015
Lund University, Sweden
13/04/2015 to 17/04/2015

Critical perspectives on leadership

Supervised by: Dan Kärreman and Sverre Spoelstra

Course assistant: Anna Sophie Biering-Sørensen

13-17 April, 2015

30 hours of lectures, teaching and seminars

Cost: The course fee is 5000 Swedish Krona. VAT (25%) will also be charged to students from outside Sweden and Swedish students paying for the course personally.


We live in a culture that is increasingly preoccupied with leadership: managers are forced to follow leadership courses, more and more jobs require ‘leadership skills’, and we are frequently presented with alternative forms of leadership and better ways to achieve leadership success. Leadership is often presented as a solution to all sorts of social problems, and some even argue that leadership is on the brink of substituting management in contemporary organizations. In sum, we are experiencing a leadership moment in contemporary culture, which arguably leads to a need to question and problematize the leadership phenomenon.

In contrast to mainstream courses on leadership, the central question in this course is not ‘how to lead’, but how leadership ideas play out in our cultural context, at the organizational and societal level. The course lecturers and participants ask and discuss what is interesting and problematic about these ideas, for example by discussing the ideological and religious aspects of contemporary infatuations with leadership.

The premise of the course is that an adequate understanding of what we might call today’s ‘culture of business leadership’ requires the combination of three different studies: a study of organizational practice of leadership phenomena, a study of the construction of leadership concepts in both scholarly work and popular literature, and a study of the cultural and historical contexts in which leadership is variously understood. The purpose of this course is to bring these empirical, conceptual and cultural perspectives on leadership together. Much space will be given for participants to present and get feedback on their ideas and projects.



- Leadership and ideology

- Followership

- The leadership industry

- Critical leadership studies

- Metaphors of leadership

- Leadership and religion

- Leadership and identity

- Leaderless forms of ‘leadership’

- Leadership as process

- Studying leadership: methodological issues



A final course paper critically discussing and applying relevant parts of the course literature (max 4000 words). Due 31 August 2015.



Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2011). Metaphors we lead by: Understanding leadership in the real world. London: Routledge.

Grint, K. (1997) Leadership: Classical, contemporary and critical approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A selection of articles.



Dan Kärreman (Copenhagen Business School/Lund University) and Sverre Spoelstra (Lund University) will supervise the course. Other teachers will include Mats Alvesson (Lund University), Helen Delaney (University of Auckland/Lund University), Eric Guthey (Copenhagen Business School), Stefan Sveningsson (Lund University) and Dennis Tourish (Royal Holloway). More teachers will be announced.


Applications for Critical Perspectives on Leadership

Applicants should submit a short bio on their motivation for joining the course as well as a short description of their own research project. Please send your application as one word document, on no more than 2 pages. Your name, contact information, and university/department should be clearly marked on the first page of your application. Send your application to Sverre Spoelstra ( and Anna Sophie Biering-Sørensen ( March 2nd, 2015, for provisional acceptance. (We can give earlier notification of provisional acceptance if needed). Students who are provisionally accepted will be forwarded details of a Critical Leadership bank account number held by the host department. The course fee will need to be paid into this account by April 1, 2015 to ensure a spot in the course. In certain cases, such as when students come from partner universities, course fees may be waived.