Fournier and Grey (2000) attempt to provide an answer to the question posed at the end of the last paragraph. Dating the origin of CMS to the 1990s, they make a case for CMS arising as a response to the neo-liberal resurgence of the 1980s and the ensuing rampant global managerial capitalism. A similar rhetorical move to locate CMS as part of a wider political struggle is made by Parker (2002a) as he sceptically considers CMS as a potential challenger to global capitalism alongside other intellectual and political movements. Both accounts position a CMS project that is fundamentally oppositional to capitalism as it is manifested in managerialism.
Fournier and Grey go on to argue that CMS writing is broadly distinguished by three characteristics: those of non-performativity, denaturalization and reflexivity, which they set up as opposing forces to the performative and technicist ‘common sense’ of mainstream management theory. One can, of course, take issue with whether seeking to oppose a dominant way of thinking is not also performative.
Fournier and Grey, however, seek to go beyond a merely theoretical project, with a call for new forms of engagement with management practice. Such engagement should include seeking to influence public policy and participating in a wider political project through alliances with the new anti-capitalist social movements. This concern for ‘engagement’ is widespread within CMS in my experience but examples of any systematic participation of this sort are rather thin on the ground. Finally, echoing similar calls from within CMP, Fournier and Grey note that teaching is “the most immediate arena within which CMS might hope to influence managerial practice” (2000: 23).
Putting Fournier and Grey’s helpful analysis together with what can be deduced from the work of CMS can one extract an overall CMS project? The answer is probably ‘no’ but one can suggest a number of projects, not all of which are mutually exclusive, that are broadly implied by CMS work. I would argue that they all have in common the idea that CMS should have a transformatory effect on the object of its study, management, to which it is opposed in its current form. What that effect should be varies considerably and can take either managers themselves or the broader theoretical justifications for management as its primary focus. The following are inevitably crude categories but seek to illustrate what I see as the main strands of such projects.