CMS as critique rather than Critical Theory

1. Situating CMS today

In this section, we will examine some exemplars from the broad stream of litera- ture that has collected under the banner of CMS but which does not grow out of the tradition of Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School. This eclectic mix of per- spectives shares almost nothing beyond some sense of an underlying conflict:

Goodies and baddies; imperialists and freedom fighters; evil lords and young heroes; forces for ‘good’ rising up against their oppressive rulers! Such imagery has not only been central in myths, science fiction and fairy tales but has implicitly underpinned critical social research. Critical research across the social sciences has been strewn with presuppositions of essential conflicts between women and men, between capital and labour, between colonized and colonizer, between managers and subordinates, between blacks and whites, and so on. (Grice and Humphreys 1997: 412)

The underlying conflict perspective means that many of the works gathered under this banner deal explicitly with issues of power in and around organizations and therefore are of interest to us here. However, at the same time, this is an area of research that is deeply divided. Work in this tradition includes contributions from diverse theoretical orientations that are often in deep conflict in terms of their underlying philosophical assumptions. In fact, it is arguable that this area is not an area at all but simply a trendy label or brand (Thompson 2005).

At the same time, some writers have provided arguments to the contrary and have argued that a discernible field is forming. In a very interesting article on the topic, Fournier and Grey begin with the observation that the ‘1990s have seen the emergence of a new conjunction of the terms “critical” and “management”, and even the birth of a new sub-discipline dubbed “critical management studies”’ (2000: 8). They then go on to argue for three defining characteristics of CMS: an anti-performative stance; a commitment to some form of denaturalization; and a reflexive approach to methodology.

By ‘anti-performative’ Fournier and Grey mean an approach to knowledge that does not privilege efficiency as the measure of value or usefulness. It seeks to estab- lish a foothold for management scholars such that the worth of their contributions does not have to be firmly grounded in their contribution to national productivity, in the way in which, in the UK, the new performativity sweeping through univer- sity research cultures demands. Fournier and Gray (2000: 8) base their discussion on Lyotard’s (1984) notion of a performative intent – ‘the intent to develop and cel- ebrate knowledge that contributes to the production of the maximum output for the minimum input’ (2000: 17) – but reverse it to describe CMS. Obviously, most of organization and management studies are based on a performative intent, making this characteristic a clear boundary.

The idea of denaturalization refers to work that intentionally challenges the taken-for-grantedness of current versions of capitalism and organizations. While much of organization and management research assumes the naturalness of cur- rent arrangements and works to understand their nature, work in this vein seeks to unveil the systems of power that hold the current arrangements in place and to show that other arrangements are possible and even, maybe, preferable. One criti- cism of mainstream management research is that it legitimates and reifies current arrangements; CMS works towards the opposite ends.

Fournier and Grey (2000) argue that CMS differs from its more traditional counterparts due to it being more reflexive (see Alvesson and Kärreman (2000) for a more complete discussion of reflexivity). They suggest that in mainstream management research ‘some (often rather weak) version of positivism is simply assumed, there is no explicit reflection on epistemology and ontology, and discus- sion of methodology becomes limited to issues of method and statistical technique’ (2000: 19). Critical management research, on the other hand, is much more reflex- ive and consciously examines its philosophical foundations, its theoretical assump- tions, and its methods.

Combined, these three characteristics give us a rough frame for recognizing this more eclectic version of CMS. The degree to which the work that falls within this boundary is a nascent field or simply a collection of oppositional points of view remains to be seen. Nonetheless, CMS provides a range of work that is of direct interest to us here. We will now consider two very different examples of work from this growing literature, which serve to develop the foundations for an alternative view of power. First, we will consider queer theory, which is a set of ideas based around the premise that identities – and particularly the aspects of identity related to gender and sexuality – do not fall into clear and distinct categories. Challenging such deeply held aspects of the social world becomes a point for contesting all cat- egories and even theorizing as an activity. Second, we will discuss postcolonial theory, a perspective that focuses on the dynamics of colonialism and how the experience of a colonial relationship shapes the subsequent nation.

2. CMS and queer theory

In this section, we will focus on the potential of queer theory (e.g. Butler 1990; Sedgwick 1994) as a foundation for work in CMS. Fundamental to queer theory is a broad challenge to categories, boundaries and limits. While its history lies in rethinking categories of gender and sexuality, and in the broad literature on femi- nist theory, poststructuralism and postmodernism, its theoretical interest is now much broader:

So queer, then, in the very broad terms in which I have reviewed it here, is an approach which seems to be centrally concerned to politicize the terms upon which knowing is almost always conceptualized. Its key move is to question the existence of the boundary, not simply to demonize that which lies on one side and to celebrate that which lies on the other. Queer eschews simple finger pointing, it avoids resting on the simplicities that separate the innocent from the guilty, the victim from the oppressor, or real experience from mere abstraction. (Parker 2002: 156)

Queer theory, then, involves thinking through the contingency and social con- structedness of the categories that we commonly take for granted. While this sounds much like strains of postmodernism and poststructuralism, the distinctive contribution of queer theory is to focus attention on what this means for basic cat- egories of identity and what happens when you take this view to its logical conclu- sion. Queer theory suggests that we can negotiate the boundaries that characterize historically and culturally situated social life. We can ‘think about the how of these boundaries – not merely the fact that they exist, but also how they are created, regulated, contested’ (Namaste 1996: 199, emphasis in original).

Parker’s (2002) work applies queer theory to management. He begins by identi-fying three problems he sees with management theory, problems he believes queer theory can help illuminate. First, he finds the notion of ‘management’ in the sense of a category of work to be problematic. From a ‘disparate collection of occupa- tional nouns – owner, supervisor, administrator, overman, foreman, clerk – a term has emerged that appears to represent anyone engaged in the co-ordination of people and things’ (2002: 146). Second, he finds the idea of ‘management’ in terms of a practice equally unsatisfactory, particularly as it has become widely used to refer to the management of everything from supply chains to relationships, and to be used in a way where managing something is good while not managing it is bad. Finally, the idea of management as a field of research separated from the practices of management is also a problem from Parker’s perspective. He wants to prob- lematize the taken-for-granted relationship of theory to practice.

Butler’s (1990) notion of doing drag has been used by Parker to see managers doing management as ‘performing’. They are accomplishing a particular identity in a complex social space:

Doing ‘manager’ is playing a role. Management means wearing the costume. It calls upon the bodily comportment, the props and scripts and gestures that signify ‘manager’. The problem, or one of ‘my’ problems, is that the role has become hardened into a series of predictable scripts, an unreflective rehearsal of what the type ‘manager’ does. But treating management as ‘drag’ – not just dramaturgy – suggests both its provisionality and a possible playful form of resistance. (Parker 2002: 160)

Parker argues that management as a practice, and the taken-for-granted categories through which we understand it, need to be ‘queered’. By this he means that we need to challenge the categories and limits that are bound up in the notion of management as it is applied in all realms of life. We need to draw on the ideas and practices devel- oped in queer theory to work through the settled and stable meanings that have grown up around management and reclaim the provisionalness and playfulness that underlie it. As he suggests, ‘[a]gainst managing, in the sense of control, this is a con- tinual, permanent, neverending movement of asking “who are ‘we’?”’(2002: 161).

Finally, in terms of management as a field of study, Parker argues that queer theory also helps us to rethink the relationship of management theory and man- agement practice. But what does it mean to queer the academy? It means, first, to recognize the highly heterosexist and male-dominated nature of management as a field. Its sexual politics and its power relations are highly concordant. But beyond that, it means something much more profound about the nature of knowledge. Queer, argues Parker, ‘insists on a reflexivity about knowledge, about the places and spaces whereby certain forms of knowing are legitimated, about the subjects and objects of enquiry and the manners that pertain to its production and distribution’ (2002: 162). In other words, the entire basis of management as an academic enter- prise, the idea of an academy separated from practice, allowing it to be disinter- ested and value-free, and the practices of academic knowledge production, all need to be queered, a prospect which the Academy of Management, somewhat surpris- ingly, seems not yet to have embraced wholeheartedly.

3. CMS and postcolonial theory

Another area of increasing interest in CMS draws on the literature on postcolonial theory (Bhabha 1994; Said 1979; Appiah 1991; Barker et al. 1994; Williams and Chrisman 1993; Young 2001) to examine various issues in management and orga- nization theory. While this literature remains small, there have been notable recent contributions (Banerjee and Linstead 2001; Jaya 2001; Prasad 2003; Vaara et al. 2005). It is to this literature that we will turn our attention in this section.

The roots of postcolonialism lie in colonialism. Colonialism, which saw the routinization of the plunder, enslavement and extraction of precious metals and minerals characteristic of the earlier period of imperialism, was the experience of imposed foreign political and administrative rule, through which most of the world’s people were inducted into the global economy. Europe dominated much of the world in the 1800s and early 1900s (Loomba 1998), with Central America, the Philippines and parts of Oceania effectively US colonies. Postcolonialism is, by extension, a theoretical standpoint which is critical of colonialism and in particu- lar of its subsequent effects on the colonized nation and its people. The related term ‘neocolonialism’ implies continued economic and cultural dependency by postcolonial nations and highlights the ongoing influence of former colonizers and other Western nations upon former colonies (Nafziger 1988). There is, therefore, an important nuance in the usage of the terms ‘postcolonial’ and ‘neocolonial’, as countries may be postcolonial in that they are politically independent, while at the same time neocolonial due to prevailing cultural and/or economic dependency upon existing imperial powers (Loomba 1998; Young 2001). The postcolonial era can be positioned within global processes of hegemonic influence, whereby histor- ical transformations give rise to evolving states of more subtle subjugation and reconfigurations of power.6

The inherent temporality of the postcolonial condition is also problematic as the colonization of nations and their subsequent political independence are both histor- ically and geographically situated. Indeed, although postcolonialism is often applied to nations in Africa and Asia, the same sort of approach may also be applied to Western nations such as the United States, Australia and Canada as former British colonies, yet which also have exerted their own ‘colonization’ of indigenous peoples (e.g. see Banerjee 2000; 2003; Banerjee and Linstead 2001; Neu 2003). There is, how- ever, as Whitlock observes, ‘active hostility to the inclusion of Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealand colonial settlements in the framework of the post- colonial’ (2000: 41). This causes theoretical thinking about European settlers to remain underdeveloped and unfashionable in postcolonial criticism. Such texts are seen as politically contested, whereby representing or giving a voice to them invokes the uncomfortable reminder of giving credence to ancestral forces of colonial oppression and dispossession. At the same time, we see no reason that postcolonial analyses should be restricted to only the less economically advanced former colonies. While macro-level theories of phenomena usefully delineate those global structural forces at play, there is a need to investigate ‘postcoloniality as a variegated historical situation that is embedded in specific locations’ (Prasad 2003: 28).

In addition to a theoretical interest in the effects of colonialism, postcolonialism also contains an oppositional or interventionist movement against oppressive eco- nomic, political and social forces. Said effectively articulates the tension between theoretical discussion and political engagement when he reflects that:

We belong to the period both of colonialism and of resistance to it; yet we also belong to a period of surpassing theoretical elaboration, of the universalising techniques of deconstruction, structuralism, and Lukacsian and Althusserian Marxism. My home- made resolution of the antithesis between involvement and theory has been a broad perspective from which one could view both culture and imperialism and from which the large historical dialectic between one and the other might be observed. (1993: 234)

The work of Edward Said is especially important in postcolonialism because it is one of the first major statements of what the Enlightenment looked like from out- side of its project, from the perspective of those others that it constituted as beyond reason, as wild and barbarous rather than calm and enlightened. It represents a re-return of the noble savage, bearing learning rather than arms, but using this learning to disarm the certainties, orthodoxies and knowledges of the West. Said was a humanist critic of the great tradition of the Western Enlightenment, speak- ing from the vantage point of being other and in some ways outside that which it constituted, while, paradoxically, doing so through the mastery of all of its tools. He argued that in understanding the Enlightenment we have to see how the bringers of liberty, equality and fraternity in the West were avid purveyors of subjugation, domination and enslavement elsewhere in the world.

Central to postcolonial theory is an interest in the impact of postcolonialism on local cultures and identities. But it is not solely focused on the local. Bhabha (1994), for example, discussed the politics and spaces of dislocation that affect both the col- onizer and the colonized. Within this critique, both identities are based upon a type of psychoanalytical ambivalence or ‘hybridity’. The postmodernistic mixing of ‘self ’ and ‘other’ is located at the heart of postcolonial culture. This perspective is of rele- vance here as there is a complex and dynamic overlap between externally generated, constraining structural forces and local indigenous experiences.

One area in which a significant amount of work has been done is in connecting postcolonial ideas to discussions of globalization (e.g. Banerjee and Linstead 2001; Gopal et al. 2003). The central thrust of this work is that one must not critique processes such as globalization merely in terms of their purported advantages and disadvantages. Rather, it is necessary to understand the historical elements that have shaped and molded these processes. Therefore globalization, as an inherently Western discourse of capitalism and industrial progress, involves tensions between the global and the local. The embracing of this notion and the associated processes that have infiltrated managerialist discourse and practice, such as multiculturalism, merely extends and facilitates the promotion and adoption of the dominant occi- dental ideology (Banerjee and Linstead 2001). Thus the arguments for what would appear to be altruistic and well-intentioned systems of inclusion merely camou- flage neocolonial processes of organizational and managerialist assimilation. This may be particularly witnessed in the multinational corporation that adopts meth- ods of human resource best practice in an attempt to ‘manage diversity’.

One of the most interesting applications of these ideas is in rethinking the role of multinational corporations in postcolonialism. Parallels can be drawn between the power of the multinational corporation and the hegemonic power of Western nations manifested in their ability to assert control over other nations. It can be argued that a subtle component of hegemonic power is when acquiescence is achieved through the socialization of local leaders and elites. Therefore, ‘hege- monic control emerges when local elites buy into the hegemon’s vision of interna- tional order and accept it as their own – that is, when they internalise the norms and value orientations espoused by the hegemon and accept its normative claims’ (Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990: 285). This process occurs due to the desire for modernity and improved economic development. The Western model of moder- nity is thereby embraced, despite obvious differing historical legacies and opera- tional variations in resources and indigenous culture.

For instance, Vaara et al. (2005) examine the way in which postcolonial rela-tionships are recreated through language, whereby enforcing the specific language policies of the colonizer in multinational corporations tends to create organiza- tional hierarchies along the colonizer–colonized axis. Local distinctiveness is legit- imate where this is not in conflict or inconsistent with the homogenizing principles of (rational) business decision making. This is where the role of the indigenous manager is particularly beneficial for the corporate entity as they legitimize globalizing forces through glocalization strategy as a representation of, and intermediary for, local management methods and interests. In closing, it is worth noting that postcolonialism poses a conundrum when thinking about CMS as a field. Given the attention paid to other alternative sociological perspectives such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, postcolonial theory has received little attention (Prasad 2003: 28–9), perhaps because CMS is itself largely a pro- ject of white academics in UK and other First World universities, with little inter- est in or knowledge of non-Western societies. The ideas potentially open up exploration of a range of issues of central concern for organization and manage- ment theory. We therefore believe that postcolonialism is an area of particular opportunity for further work in CMS.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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