Critical Management Studies at Work
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Critical Management Studies at Work

Negotiating Tensions between Theory and Practice

Edited by Julie Wolfram Cox, Tony G. LeTrent-Jones, Maxim Voronov and David Weir

This book is the first of its kind to reflect on what it means to actually perform critical management studies (CMS): how consultants, researchers, teachers and managers negotiate the tensions they experience in their everyday practice.
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Chapter 14: ‘I Didn’t Have the Balls for It’: How a ‘Feminine’ Discourse of Consulting Opens a Critical Space

Sheila Marsh


Sheila Marsh INTRODUCTION This chapter explores the everyday work of organizational consulting from the perspective of discourses of consulting and sketches the possibility of a ‘feminine’1 discourse to help conceptualize ‘critical consulting’: practice that aims for progressive goals of social change, through both its (potential for) influence on public policy and the way the consultant works with organizations and individuals. It draws in notions of ethics, of questioning prevailing managerial norms and of enacting democratic principles. It aims for reflexivity without narcissism. In my research on consulting interactions (Marsh 2006) the issue of gender came up consistently. My auto-ethnographic study of small-scale consulting work in the public and not-for-profit sector explored interaction using critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 1992, 2003), alongside a genealogical review of advice giving in the pre-modern (Marsh 2007). Both elements of the study highlighted gendered issues: concern for closeness and distance, of being Other, of the primacy of relationships, or the desire to make a difference for others recurred. I link these to Fletcher’s (2001) ‘relational practice’. Her ethnographic study takes a poststructuralist feminist approach to the gendered behaviour of women at work, subsequently ‘disappeared’ by prevailing (‘masculine’) organizational discourse. The gender reverberations at the core of my research (and of my practice) were succinctly expressed in a colleague’s story – from which I take my title. I begin by discussing the ‘feminine’, linking this to literature on consulting, and then briefly describe my research. I draw on my material to illustrate elements of a ‘feminine’ discourse of...

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