Management and modernity

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an organization not in possession of good fortune must be in want of a good manager.1 What managers do has tradi- tionally been defined in terms of relations of handling, supervision and control.2 The precise unfolding of these relations, in part, is a charting of the forms that power in organizations has assumed. There are different degrees of sophistication related historically to different strategies of management and managing. Generally, management as a practice of power involving the imposition of will is directed at framing the conduct not only of others but also of oneself. It is a form of government linking ‘how to mandate’ with ‘how to obey’. Managing implies power because it involves governing the conduct of oneself and others.

Managing in any epoch will be a particular skill that involves execution and doing. It will be active, a practice. Moreover, it will be not merely a practice of the self – one doesn’t just learn how to be a manager – but also a practice of the many others who are to be managed. Others must learn to be managed just as those who will manage them must learn that which constitutes managing in any given place and time. While managers originally were constituted as the delegated ‘servants’ of ‘masters’, and indeed various Masters and Servants Acts still frame employment relations, modernity saw servants become employees.3 What is distinctive about being an employee is that one is presumed, as someone in receipt of a wage, to be an obedient subject, who in return for an income is expected to be responsible to the control of another higher in a chain of command, one of the key concepts of early management theory. But there was management before there was management theory.

1. Forced labor and pre-modern management

Cooke (2003) suggests that many of the ideas developed in the plantation economy of the US southern states as a means of disciplining the bodies and coordinating the large numbers of people at work there entered into modern factory management. In particular, given that slaves were assumed to be untrustworthy and unreliable, they were expected to work strictly according to rules, under close surveillance through extensive supervision designed for routine enforcement of these rules. (When rules were breached there was exemplary and spectacular punishment of those who trans- gressed, through public floggings.) 4

The use of close supervision of people was very much an engrained habit of pre-modern society, if only because practices of rule were invariably tightly coupled spatially, as the vast majority of people were, literally, placed in a specific locality in a here-and-now that they rarely transgressed or moved away from. For the majority of people life was lived in and around the limits of a walk that might take a day or so to undertake. Being settled they were subject to frequent informal as well as occasional formal scrutiny. Interruptions to settled life would most likely be because of being pressed into military service of some kind, often literally, as the press-gangs roamed the streets of ports seeking to press available young men into the service of the navy, or recruiting sergeants sought out young village laborers for a life of adventure. Once pressed into service they would meet much more formal management than in the fields or village. They entered an institutional space.

On board ship what they entered was more or less a total institution (Goffman 1961) where they could not escape a particular fusion of power and knowledge, oversight and insight, embodied in the person of the bo’sun. The bo’sun was a boatswain, or petty officer, who controlled the work of other seamen. He knew what was to be done and how it should be done and would ensure that whatever was to be done would be done his way, often using harsh punishment, if necessary, to discipline the recruits. The recruits could not escape. That is what it means to say that they were in a total institution: it was an organizational space that wholly contained them. Their time was enveloped by a single space, that of the ship. Whilst on board they were contained within a disciplinary framework of shifts, work, punishments, and provisions that were totally outside their control. The insights of those who managed and handled sailors enabled them to learn skills that they needed for survival in a harsh and dangerous environment. There would be gaps: for instance, when the ship docked, those seamen allowed shore leave would gain a temporary degree of freedom. (Of course some were forbidden leave; others might go ashore only under supervision.)

Those who were pressed into military service on land were barely more fortu-nate. Admittedly, the environment was slightly less total, in the way that a garrison affords more freedom than a ship. Yet, they were more regimented. Being regi- mented not only meant assuming a regimental identity and the uniform that went with it; it also meant learning a uniform mode of behavior, taught through drill (on which see Foucault 1977). There are some scholars who suggest that the main basis for early management ideas came from the lessons learned in such garrisons, especially as it pertained to the assembly and disassembly of muskets and the drilling of soldiers in the use of these and other weapons on the parade ground (Dandeker 1990). These methods were first applied to muskets by French gunsmiths, and brought from France to the United States at the time of the American Revolution, where they led, in a way mediated by Charles Davies’ position at the West Point Military Academy, to the ‘disciplining’ of America through the new science of engineering.5

2. Managing formally free labor

Slaves and indentured laborers were not formally free. Nor were serfs or other forms of feudal laborer. Free men and women were those who were owned by no one, to whom no one had any obligations, whose number swelled in Europe after the Black Death of 1348, which tipped the balance of power in favor of the dimin- ished supply of labor and against the feudal serf-owners (Anderson 1974). Serfs could more easily defy their masters and flee to the towns and become free men and women. But not all could find economic opportunity there, and as common land was privatized increasingly from the sixteenth century onwards, their life chances narrowed. If they were not in employed labor, they formed the dangerous, unruly pauper class, the vagabonds and ruffians who roamed the countryside, unattached to land or masters, widely regarded by most of polite society and the respectable poor as being without skills other than those of thievery and trickery. Their crimes and misdemeanors saw them become felons in Britain’s overcrowded jails and prison hulks or dispatched to the penal colonies of New South Wales and other antipodean destinations (Hughes 1987).

The indigent poor became an object of moral scrutiny for the simple reason that their propensity to form a dangerous mob was the major source of domestic moral panic in Britain, and had been since at least the sixteenth century and the develop- ment of land enclosures. Such enclosures made the poor wandering and dispos- sessed rather than able to scrape a subsistence living from ‘the commons’, that is, communally accessible land. As the supply of commons disappeared, vagabondage became the British social problem from the seventeenth century onwards, and the Poor Laws – subject to frequent reform and attempts at improvement – were the instruments designed to handle and manage the problem.

Much politics surrounded the administration of the Poor Laws, their repeal and reform (Court 1962), which hinged on who should pay, in which borough relief should be dispensed, who was eligible to receive it and where, what the tests of eligibility should be, and how those who were subject to these Poor Laws might be reformed so that they no longer fell under their sway. In fact, minimizing the number of the latter was the disciplinary intent of these laws. Poovey notes that the New Poor Law of 1834 succeeded where its predecessors had failed ‘because it incited in the poor the fear that all freedoms would be abrogated if one acknowl- edged the need for relief ’ (1995: 111). The workhouse became the chief instrument of policy. To receive poor relief the vagabond had to renounce wandering ways and accept the discipline of the workhouse where, in return for work, they might receive public assistance.

Spurring the reform of the Poor Laws were robust debates between different philosophies (discussed in Ryan 2004). The principal architect of utilitarian philo- sophy, which won the day, was Jeremy Bentham (1843). Utilitarian philosophers argued that the overall utility or benefit produced by an action ought to be the standard by which we judge the worth or goodness of moral and legal action and that the principle of usefulness must be elevated above all else in order to minimize human misery and maximize human happiness.6 They reasoned that assistance to the indigent few was justified by the needs of the many for an orderly life. Such order was to be founded on principles of economic competition.

Bentham was absolutely sure that it was necessary to ‘sequester certain classes of subject within an enclosed space which is cut out of the wider society, a controlled space where they could be subjected to techniques of training and character- formation’ (Ryan 2004: 134). What Bentham proposed was a program for distilling a certain mode of rationality into widespread consciousness and use. He wanted to produce individuals who would think as liberal subjects, as people capable of calculating their best interests and acting on them, and he devised and categorized a specific means to achieve this end. In this way, he sought to abolish the mentality of the pauper through reforming character and creating individual effort in work. Honest laborers should see the poverty relief as an abomination. It not only rewarded indigence but also taught vice (2004: 133–4).

What was required, thought Bentham, was a system that would produce adminis-trative certainty and perfection for society as a whole by categorizing and reforming the classes of vagrancy and vagabondage. The classes needed to be differentiated and categorized because pauperism had many different causes and each cause should be subject to a different program. The underlying genus that was being classified was the disinclination of indigent paupers to be managed and, thus, to be a hand. The problem was one of management. Why did poverty not act as a spur to productivity amongst certain classes of the poor (Dean 1991; 1992)? The reason, Bentham suggested, was that work was not the most attractive option. Certain classes of indigent people would prefer to live at the expense of others, from the fruits of others’ labors, rather than live off the fruit of their own labor. They were poor and feckless. In this era, to be designated as a pauper was to be judged as lack- ing in moral fiber; thus it was warranted that the state could and should make intervention, correction and rehabilitation.

Bentham thought that there was no singular cause of indigence, and so there could not be a simple or singular answer to the question of how to combat it. To demonstrate the many causes of pauperism, Bentham (1843) devised a Pauper Population Table (reported in Ryan 2004), which classified certain categories of unproductive hands by a complex of causes, their duration, and the degree of uncertainty attached to them.7 Bentham’s aim was to create a universal labor theory of value which, through considering the efficient causes of indigence, the nature, degree, and duration of the inability to work, and the mode of relief, would place the whole economy on a sound workmanlike basis. These systematic classifications expressed a centralized power that fixed the social, cultural and moral grounds for economic management of those on the margins of society.

All types of indigent hands could be confined in the poorhouse and, once there, be subject to employment in a widespread division of labor. Exposing vagabonds to institutionalized moral and productive correction was intended to induce work- manlike ideals.

O’Neill notes that as the supply of surplus labor grew, and grew more disaffected, ‘houses of correction became even more punitive’ and work in them was ‘limited to intimidating and useless tasks so that no one would ever enter them voluntarily’ (1986: 51). Once put to work, the poor would stay in the workhouse until they earned sufficient funds to cover the costs of their relief in the institution. It was a self-liberation principle, showing that the individual subject was capable, respon- sible and worthy. They would not receive relief unless they had met the daily requirement of their labor, showing that they could fulfill the essential duties of a liberal subject to work and earn productively. Bentham’s philosophy elevated the principle of usefulness above all else, and used it to provide a new meaning for effi- ciency, as an ‘efficient cause’, a predicate for causes that will shape a desired effect.8

3. The Panopticon as an ‘efficient cause’ of compliance

The Poor Laws said little about how work should be done – only that it should be. Bentham turned his attention to how one might design a rational enterprise so that the utility of oversight could be maximized, and came up with a design for some- thing that he called a Panopticon. The Panopticon was designed as an efficient cause.9 It was a complex architectural design for a workplace, adapted from his brother’s factory in Russia. It consisted of a central observation tower from which any supervisor, without themselves being seen, could see the bodies arranged in the various cells of the building. In each cell, the occupants were backlit by natural light, isolated from one another by walls and subject to scrutiny by the observer in the tower. Control was to be maintained by the constant sense that unseen eyes might be watching those under surveillance. You had nowhere to hide, nowhere to be private, and no way of knowing if you were being watched at any particular time.

The principles embodied in the Panopticon had widespread influence. The key principle was inspection by an all-seeing but unseen being – rather like a secular version of God. And it did not matter if the inmates were actually being watched at any specific time: they would never know, but they did know that they were always at risk of being watched. The principle of inspection or surveillance instilled itself in the moral conscience of those who were being overseen. The aim of the Panopticon was to produce a self-disciplining person subject to an asymmetrical experience of knowing you were possibly being watched, but not when or if you were. It was designed to produce employees socialized into submitting their will to the task at hand; the alternative to imposed self-adjustment was the fear of being corrected and disciplined.

The ingenuity of the Panopticon resided in the economy of effort required to administer it, once it was designed and built. Literally, it was a means for making work as visible as it could be, by virtue of the supervisor seeing as much as possible. It was the particular relation between the overseer and the seen that was significant in the Panopticon. Those who were being seen were scrutinized in ways that did not enable them to see that they were under surveillance (see Hannah 1997 for a good account; also see Ignatieff 1978). The situation was structured such that obedience in and through productive activity seemed the worker’s only rational option, not knowing whether or not they were being watched but obliged to assume that they were.

Bentham designed the Panopticon as a progressive phenomenon. Moreover, as a pioneering ‘best practice’, the Panopticon could equally be applied to schools, hospitals, and factories, as well as poorhouses. It was a project to be applied to everything. Not only was it panoptical but it also had wide applications (explored in McKinley and Starkey 1997).10 The Panopticon was not just a system of surveil- lance but also a system of records and rules, comprising disciplinary power. The authorities would have a complete file on the behavior of each inmate. There would be rules governing timetables, the nature of work, and the authority to exercise surveillance. Disciplinary power was embedded in the small things of everyday working life, the routines, the tiny details, especially as these were regulated through training and practices of examination that sought to constrain human action into useful aptitudes, framed through what Foucault (1977) termed ‘normalizing judg- ments’ established through the establishment of limits of accepted behavior and the standards to be achieved.11 The pre-modern world of civil organization was largely characterized by discretion concerning freedoms and exploitation; Bentham’s Panopticon program began to think about the organization of work as something more systematic.

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

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