Elgar Research Agendas
Edited by Barbara Czarniawska
Chapter 1: History of management – what is the future for research on the past?
To manage is, etymologically, to act or operate (agere) with one’s hand (manus). In that sense, ‘management’ could be seen as a ‘genetic feature of humanity’ (Le Texier, 2013: 191; Urwick and Brech, 1949; Wren and Bedeian, 1972). The broad usage of the term, though, is in reality quite recent. A rapid search through GoogleNGram shows that use of the term ‘management’ (in the English language) started to increase around the turn of the twentieth century and exploded from the 1950s.Ever since, the term appears to have become ubiquitous. Starting in the 1950s, ‘management’ has progressively imposed itself as a new form of global ‘religion’, with its many churches (business schools), its missionaries (consultants of different kinds), its priests (academics and all forms of gurus), its rituals (many forms of managerial practices, fads and fashions) and its followers (managers, decision makers but also all of us) who regularly turn, for advice and inspiration, to the ‘texts’ and the ‘encyclicals’ (managerial literature and press). Furthermore, not only has ‘management’ as an activity been institutionalized and quasi-professionalized. It has also expanded and entered into areas of social and human life that until recently had been structured and ruled by very different kinds of logics. The consequence has been a managerialization of ‘nearly everything’ – private firms are being managed naturally, but so are public administrations, hospitals, schools, prisons, soccer teams, museums and even time, conflicts or relationships. Hence, management has reached a status of taken-for-grantedness, a kind of naturalness that makes it essentially transparent and invisible to us, even though it is highly structuring of what we do and even of who we are. This is where a history of management not only can but in fact should help. Management is an institution and as such it is not a natural biotope. All institutions are culturally, socially and politically constructed systems. The nature and process of construction significantly shapes the resulting institutions and the ideological frames, practices and instruments associated with them – with strong performative consequences. The fact that we manage – rather than for example nurture – our organizations or our relationships is certainly not neutral. Our very capacity to think about alternatives, however, implies as a first step a capacity to de-naturalize the existing dominant template – management. And a potent tool for de-naturalizing, and hence fragilizing, institutions is the historical deconstruction of the social, economic, political and cultural dynamics that have made them what they are today. The task, furthermore, is an urgent one: It is the constant danger of lack of historical training such as unfortunately has become more common and is becoming almost respectable in some circles today – that a given situation may come to be regarded as God-given (or natural) and our prejudices to be erected into moral criteria, with any alternative inconceivable and thought of only with a shudder. (Badian, 1972: 12) With this in mind, what are the more specific tasks we need to undertake, in the coming years, as historians of management? I propose that we need, first, to debunk present and future management fads and fashions by underscoring the cyclical rather than linear nature of management time. Second, we should focus on the articulation of a history of management with a history of contemporary capitalism and its institutions. Third, we should explore the transnational institutionalization of the dynamics of performativity, within private firms but also well beyond. Finally, we have to unearth power dynamics behind the institutionalization of management as an institution – beyond claims of neutrality and de-politicized practice.