Chapter Four: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall; The Story of an Academic Identity Project
In Chapters Two and Three I presented narratives representing the life histories of a number of managers, including my own, as a manager turned researcher. The following two chapters discuss different approaches to theorising management identity beginning with an evaluation of humanist and post-structuralist positions in Chapter Five. In Chapter Six I move on to argue that a narrative conception of identity, based on existentialist theory, offers a greatly enhanced understanding of managerial identity than is apparent from the current framing of it within Critical Management Studies (CMS). This chapter begins this theoretical analysis and acts as something of a bridge between the two preceding empirical chapters and the two subsequent theoretical chapters. It expands some of the issues raised in Chapter One regarding the endeavours of Critical Management Studies academics and poses some questions that I return to in my conclusions (Chapter Eight).
The main subject of this chapter is the relationship between members of the CMS ‘community’, and the identity projects of managers, who come into contact with CMS ideas through their pursuit of management qualifications. The autobiography in Chapter Two and the biographies in Chapter Three are here taken to be representative, albeit in a limited way, of CMS academics and managers who become students. It is managers such as these who are often the objects of CMS research and the targets of its transformatory projects. The chapter raises a number of issues about the contradictory nature of the relationship between CMS academics and managers, both for the theoretical understanding of managerial identity, and for the prospects of the ‘political’ projects of some CMS academics.
The core theme of the thesis, that of story-telling, cannot be disentangled from this discussion for, as Chapter Seven illustrates, the construction of managerial and critical management academic identities can be seen as different responses to the same historical context. Both have offered solutions, albeit imperfect, to the difficulties and opportunities of living a life at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st Century. Far from being mutually oppositional, the stories of critical management academics and managers are merely strands in the weave of this larger history.
The chapter is, therefore, an attempt to analyse the phenomenon of CMS primarily in terms of the interdependent identity projects of career managers seeking qualifications from university management departments and of dissenting management academics within those departments. I argue that such a reading is necessary because CMS is often not as critical about itself as it is about the world of management (Anthony 1986; Alvesson and Willmott 1992; Grint and Case 1998). Managers are thus positioned according to a consolatory adherence to certain ways of seeing the world. What CMS academics might need to be consoled for, is discussed below.
One of these ways is reflected in a preference for certain theoretical frameworks and some reluctance to engage empathetically and in depth with managers’ own descriptions of their experiences. This thesis is an attempt to move beyond both constraints, including this reluctance, by the adoption of a narrative conception of identity and the presentation and analysis of managers’ own stories. This chapter can also be seen as an attempt at a greater measure of reflexivity regarding the sometimes hidden effects of academic identity projects. The intersubjective ethics that I present in Chapter Six suggest that the instrumental identity interests of CMS academics are problematic if they remain hidden in a way analogous to those biographers who remain hidden behind various implied narrators (Ricoeur 1985; Stanley 1992).
In order to develop these initial assertions I need to tell the story of CMS, positioning my own story within it, in a more systematic fashion. I begin with one reading of what CMS is and suggest what I see as the main strands of its intellectual and practical project. From this account, and the CMS literature it is based upon, I extrapolate a view of who CMS academics are seeking to be and who they think managers are as a result. I go on to outline the problems that arise from an unreflexive positioning of managers in this way. I conclude the chapter with some discussion of how these problems are further analysed in the subsequent chapters of the thesis.