This the opening page of MIT Professor John Van Maanen's delightful and insightful article It is about the meaning and power of the word "asshole" among the police officers he studied during his now classic ethnography of police officers, which he did for his dissertation research in the 1970s. John didn't just talk to cops, he went through the police academy, rode along with them on patrols (and got involved in all sorts of crazy things like chases), and was otherwise embedded with them for a year or so. He has since gone on to become among the most renowned organizational researchers. John had a huge impact on my generation of organizational researchers because, when we first started graduate school, qualitative methods were generally treated as unscientific, obsolete, and so biased as to be enticing but not anything that should ever be published in a top academic journal. Due in large part to John's example and leadership, by the time many of us had graduated with our PhD's, there were many corners where qualitative studies had become acceptable and encouraged. And even once exclusively quantitative researchers were starting to do qualitative studies. There is still controversy about them in my field, but also a fairly widespread acceptance now that such methods are useful for describing organizational life in rich detail and for generating theories and hypotheses that can be tested with quantitative methods. This is an oversimplification as academics get very emotional and anal about little differences, but I think it is as close to the truth as I can get without delving into a very dull and very long rant.
To return to John's article, the thing that strikes me is how compelling the opening and the language are -- it is impossible for me to read this, although I have many times before, without getting excited about reading the rest. That opening sentence still cracks me up, "The asshole -- creep, bigmouth, bastard, animal, mope, rough, jerkoff, clown, scumbag, wiseguy, phony, idiot, shithead, bum ,fool, or any a number of anatomical, oral, or incestuous terms -- is part of every policeman's world." He then goes onto to turn the corner (with the help of that great opening quote) and show the reader that this language reflects sense-making and guides action in a police officers world. I discuss this article in The No Asshole Rule, and, no doubt, it was one factor that encouraged me to write the book and have the courage to use the title.
John's other work is equally fascinating (and even sometimes uses cleaner language). He has had a big positive effect on my field, and I appreciate it. I also love the opening line of his bio at MIT "John Van Maanen studies groups of people the old-fashioned way: by living with them."