Who do We think They Are?

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Who do We think They Are?

I hope that it is becoming clear that in order to support their oppositional identity CMS academics need managers to be certain sorts of people. We need managers to confirm our beliefs in the essential stupidity of management and its oppressive effects. Teaching students CMS might be seen as evidence of a desire to seduce managers (Lave 2000) away from their false faith and, through their repentance, have our own views validated. We want to see our aspirations triumph by overturning the hegemony of management but we also want to carry on having jobs, therefore, we need managers to continue to represent the Other but at the same time we desire them to be transformed. It hardly needs pointing out that this is a project riven with contradictions. Perhaps we also need the fig leaf of our oppositional project to cover our shame at being salaried employees of McUniversities (Parker 2002b).

What effect do such needs have on the framing of managerial identities? Various stereotypical narrative resources are available to us for the task of reducing managers to representatives of managerialism. At its crudest, managers can be seen as elite co-conspirators in the reproduction of capitalism, iconic functionaries of the Right or the ‘class enemy’ of traditional Marxism. Such a view precludes empathy, one cannot empathise with one’s enemy in case they cease to be one. For this reason fraternization is always punished severely in wartime. Less paranoid conceptions may see managers as performing this role but unconsciously, as dupes of managerialism, albeit dupes who benefit from their false consciousness, pampered pets of capitalism. More sympathetic representations also see managers as dupes but oppressed. Lured by the false promises of management identities into internalising limiting norms (Grey 1994), conned by the allure of managerial status into working longer hours than their subordinates and swallowing the secular fundamentalism of the business school gurus. This is a more sympathetic approach to managers as individuals but it still positions them as essentially stupid, helplessly passive or lacking in the moral fibre required to take a stand. This ‘manager as victim’ characterisation stands as an implicit contrast to the intellectual superiority of CMS academics who are capable of seeing this oppression for what it is.
There has been a tendency to move from the ‘class enemy’ position to these more sympathetic views, particularly within LPT as Braverman (1974) and Beynon (1975) give way to Knights and Willmott’s (1986) inclusion of managers as themselves subject to the labour process and only very partially in control of it. This still leaves managers as passive consumers of discourse, a viewpoint strengthened by a common reading of post-structuralism that allows only a very limited role for agency, as discussed in the next chapter.
It might be argued that who or what individual managers are is a matter of relative indifference in critiquing managerialism as a systemic social practice. If one believes that managers are consequential products of discourse and disciplinary norms and that resistance is futile (Smith and Thompson 1998), then one will focus on deconstructing these discourses and in describing the genealogy of accompanying social practices. Managers lack the volition to be worth further attention as individuals. For those who do wish managers to be otherwise, who would like to see them as agents of change, though, what are the resultant features of the ‘good’ manager?
In my wilder moments of political optimism I might still dream of managers throwing away their calculators, burning ‘In Search of Excellence’ (Peters and Waterman 1982) and helping the shop floor set up the barricades. With this accomplished we could look forward to the withering away of the manager, the need for them gone, along with hierarchical organisations. In this anarchist non-managerial utopia, management would give way to consensual organisation (Grey 1999b; Reedy 2002). In this utopia, the ideal manager is one who does not exist and those who continue to define themselves enthusiastically as managers, despite being preached the truths of CMS, are something of an embarrassment, a barrier to progress. For others, however, the aim is not to make managers disappear but to produce a transformed manager, one who can be an agent of change and the most common manifestation of this ideal is the critically reflective practitioner.
A common formulation of the reflective manager is illustrated by the CMS Workshop Mission Statement of the American Academy of Management which states that “Business schools and the other professional schools in which many of us teach…should be creating thoughtful practitioners capable of engaging with these issues” [those of social justice] “both inside the corporation as managers and outside it as citizens” (CMSW 2001: 2). Such practitioners are to be produced via the Habermasian ‘ideal speech community’ resulting in a Giddensian ‘dialogic democracy’ and much work within CMP considers how such a community can be constructed (Reynolds 2000). The emancipatory impulse that is a central part of both CMP and CMS is nowhere more in evidence than in this sort of work. In language that recalls a religious conversion, managers are to be freed from the shackles of a limiting managerialism. The scales of false consciousness will fall from their eyes as a result of exposure to the various critical frameworks of CMS on the one hand and direct engagement in utopian learning communities on the other. It seems to me that the reflective manager might more properly be termed the reflected academic, for is this not an idealised way of seeing ourselves projected onto managers?

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