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MARTIN PARKER: The only way in whichyou can start introducing critical management studies isreally as a counterpoint to orthodox management.Because if you kick in with ideas, some of the conceptsthat critical management studies plays with,without a counterpoint, really, then theydon't make a great deal of sense.So whenever I'm teaching this kind of stuff
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: to undergraduates, I always have to start offwith the orthodoxy, much of whichsounds like a particular kind of common sense, a certain wayof talking about management and people,organizations, and markets, all that kind of stuff.but you need to set that up first in order thento expose some of the problems with the orthodoxy.And this isn't saying anything particularly profound.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: It's no more than if you want to criticize common sense,you need to know what common sense is, first of all.You can't do it otherwise.So when I've got that common sense established,then I can go on and start to talk about conceptslike social justice, or emancipation, or inequality,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: or whatever is of importance to my argumentat that present time.But I need to contrast it with common sensein order to make it work.So an orthodox view within management, we might say,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: would be that there was a kind of equationbetween profitability and reward and justice.In other words, those people who move up within organizationsare those people who deserve to move up,because they have particular kinds of virtues or capacitiesor skills, or whatever else, something along those lines.And that would be a fairly common sensical way
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: of thinking about the distribution of rewardand salary and status and so on within organizations.Now, that sounds like a very sensible thing to say,doesn't it, and a fairly-- almost like a management 101thing to say.Because then you could explain to studentshow they become that kind of person whocan move up within the organization,and get a lovely corner office, and put a Porsche on the drive
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: by the time they're 25, or whateverit is that you're going to do.But in order to understand somethingabout what the implication of that sort of statementor assumption is, you then need to say somethingabout inequalities and the way in which inequalitiesget maintained.So for example, that might open up
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: to a discussion about, perhaps, class or gender.Let's say gender, for example.So if it's the case that those people whoare in charge of the major corporations that run the worldare those people who deserve to be there becauseof their particular capacities and all the rest of it,does that mean that women don't have those kind of capacities,then?
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: Because of course, most of the womenin any audience I was talking would thenfind that quite offensive.So that immediately then opens you upinto a discussion about systematic inequalities,about the reproduction of certain kinds of disprivilege,if you like.Now, there's nothing intrinsically critical
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: management studies about that kind of operation,because we can imagine other forms of thoughtwithin which it might happen.But I think it allows us to see the way in whichcritical management studies necessarilyoperates by bouncing off a particular kind of orthodoxyand then pointing out, through whatever theoretical or
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: empirical operations, that the orthodoxy isn't necessarilya particularly good explanation for thinking about whythe world is like it is.So the kind of historical conceptual originsof critical management studies are
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: much debated, as you would expectwithin critical management studies,because the kind of people who do this sort of workare usually people who are fairlyimpatient with certain kinds of explanations.So an easy origin story isn't going to work terribly well.And this is multiplied in a sense by the factthat it depends what we define as critical measurement
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: studies, but it also depends where in the worldyou're talking about.So I come from a particular kind of English traditionin sociology, and sociology work, and employmentorganizations, and so on.And my origin story is that as the business school growsin the UK, and more generally in northwestern Europe, what
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: we get is the demand for a particular kind of worker,someone to teach on the people and organizationsmodules within the business school.I graduated with my PhD in the mid 1990s.By that time, sociology departments--because my PhD was in sociology--had started to decline, and management schoolswere growing very rapidly.So I think I come from a particular generation
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: of migrants, really, that moved from other social sciencedisciplines-- sociology, politics, psychology,and so on-- and into the business school.But it's not an uncomplicated migration,because it meant that lots of us brought our theoretical baggagewith us.So for me, British sociology, the stuffI was educated in the '80s and '90s,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: involved understanding Marxism.It involved understanding Weber, understanding certain varietiesof functionalism, and just as importantly,thinking about some of the newer theoretical currentsthat we might describe as critical theoryor post-structuralism.So I knew about all this stuff, and then Idragged it along with me into the business school,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: and then started applying it to the various materialsthat I find there.And I think my sense is that thisis a common way of thinking about critical managementstudies.It's almost like a bunch of migrantswho have brought stuff with them who kind of feel like strangersin a strange land, and aren't of the business school,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: in some sense, and are bringing theoretical toolsfrom other places.Now, when critical management studiesgets named as a thing in, say, early 1990s,the predominant way in which its theoretical underpinningswere understood is through Frankfurt School
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: critical theory, most particularlythe work of Jurgen Habermas, who'sthe most significant figure in second generation FrankfurtSchool work.And the authors in an edited text published in 1993are really using Habermas as their main reference point.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: And what's important about Habermasis the way in which he's holding out--so he's a Marxist who is very influenced by FrankfurtSchool of critical theory, Adorno, Horkheimer, and so on--but is holding out for the possibilityof a way of communicating, a way of being which is somehowfree of power relations.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: And this, for quite a lot of those writers, I think,is quite an inspirational moment--the idea that there could be, what Habermas callsan ideal speech situation-- a way in which forms of languagecould be constructed, ways of understandingcould be constructed, that were not weighed downby orthodox power relations.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So it opens up the possibility of a form of analysis,but also a form of politics, that gesturestowards the future.It says that the future doesn't haveto be like past, if you like.But that doesn't exhaust critical management studies.Because since then, over the last-- whatever it is now,25 years or so-- people have broughtto bear pretty much every theoretical current.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So we've got work from queer theory, postcolonial theory,various forms of functionalism, Marxism, conflict theory,interpretive stuff, and so on.So lots and lots of things have been applied since then.But I guess it's fair to say the original impetus is verymuch Habermasian in that sense.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So in order to understand somethingabout the theoretical underpinningsof critical management studies, weneed to understand something about the relationshipbetween Marxism and various forms of post-structuralism.Because of course, it's the case that for lotsof people in the English-speaking world,they were writing about Marxist theories of work organizationa long time before critical management studies comeson the scene.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: If we think, for example, of the work of somebodylike Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital in 1975,what Braverman tries to do is to put forwarda Marxist account of the contemporary workorganization-- to, if you like, takemany of the central Marxist categoriesand then apply them to the changing world of work,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: and particularly interested in questions about, say,descaling in technology and different forms of-- well,different ways of understanding social class, and so on.So all of this stuff predates critical management studies.And when critical management studiesemerges as a named thing in the early 1990s,there's a huge amount of quite acrimonious debate
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: between Marxists who are convincedthat a Marxist tradition was essentiallythe best way to carry on doing critical work on management,work, organizations and so on, and these ratherarriviste theorists who were trying to push thinkerslike Foucault, or Derrida, or Deleuze, or whoever.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: And many of these debates, particularly in the 1990s,got quite difficult. Because for the established Marxisttradition, Foucault, Derrida, and so on were adding nothing.They were just theoretical decorationwhich was getting in the way of understanding capitalismthrough Marxist categories.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: For those who were interested in introducingmore post-structuralist forms of thought,the Marxists kind of sounded a bit like theoretical dinosaurs,in a sense.Say if we take a thinker like Foucault-- Foucaultwas already, by that point, being appliedin a wide variety of humanities and social science disciplines.And those Marxists who were hostile to Foucault
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: begin to sound like conservative, retrenchingtheorists who refused to take on anything new, somethinglike that.So it got quite difficult in lots of ways.Now I would say-- and I can almosthear people groaning when I say this--but now I think there's been somethingof a coming together of these various critical traditions.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So critical management studies is,I think, increasingly now describedas a broad church which includes forms of Marxism,but also includes forms of post-structuralismand feminism and queer theory and post-colonialismand all the rest of it.So it's a big tent, if you like.Now, that doesn't mean that thereis anything like unity about what should be in the tent.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: But it presents a family resemblancebetween a whole set of approachesthat are broadly impatient with the present thatdon't see the kind of theoretical approacheswhich are represented in orthodox managerialismas being the one best way, a vision of the world which they
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: are satisfied with, if you like.So I think what draws together all of these peopleis a sense that questions of social justicejustice, of equity, of representation and so onare not solved by orthodox managerialism.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So if I'm to start answering questions about the politicsof critical management studies, then Ithink I have to stop talking about critical measurementstudies in general and talk about my versionof critical management studies.Because the kind of statements I'mgoing to make in a minute are ones that not everybody agrees
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: with by any means.So my sense is that critical management studiesshould be a project which is aimedat providing ideas and models for creatinga different kind of world.And that's a kind of glib thing to say,but I don't see there's any point in it
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: if it's not doing that.I've been very impatient over the last 20,25 years that the project of critical management studieshas often been bogged down in theoretical disputes.Should it be Marx or should it be Foucault?You say tomato, you say tomato, whatever.It's the kind of debates that academics are very often
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: good at having and filling their journals with,but nobody else cares about.So what I've been trying to do for the last 10 years or sois to push a particular version of critical management studieswhich is concerned with alternatives.And by alternatives, I mean in the broader sense,alternative ways of thinking about organization,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: alternative ways of thinking about economy,alternative ways of thinking about ecologyin our relationships and environments and so on.In part, that's a response to the quite justifiedaccusations, both from within and without critical managementstudies, that it's all just a pointless-- a bunch of people
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: winging.And there's a lot of truth in that.It's very easy for academics to start their sentences with itall depends what you mean by, and then riff offon some kind of theoretical stratosphere about Foucaultand Deleuze and Derrida, Michele Sayre, whatever else.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: And that's kind of nice.It's a nice parlor game for us to engage inand a way of demonstrating how clever we are.But I'm not sure it has much purchaseon the rest of the world.So for me, the only politics that really mattersis a politics that then presents different waysof thinking about how we do organizing, for example.So a book that I was involved in recently,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: which was one of these big companion things, whichwas about alternatives and contained chapterson cooperatives and communes and different formsof complimentary currency, different ways of thinkingabout technology, and so on, and was deliberately intendedto be a provocation to common sense--the common sense that assumes that organizations need
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: to be structured in certain ways,need to be financed in certain ways,need to have certain kinds of relations to the environment,need to justify inequalities in certain sorts of ways,et cetera etc.So I guess you could broadly summarize the sort of workI'm interested in as post-capitalist in the sensethat I'm interested in thinking about what
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: forms of organization in an economywould help us get to and maintaina post-capitalist society.And those are theoretical questions,but they're theoretical questions which are definitelyaimed at some kind of practice, at doing somethingin the world.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So to think about the place of critical management studiesin business education is to really pushus to consider what universities and businessschools are supposed to be for in the first place.So I have a sense of disgust at the contemporary businessschool and the way in which it is oftenarticulated as a kind of machine for gratifying
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: certain sorts of-- usually desires for status and money.So if you look at the marketing of most of the major businessschools in the world, they sell themselveson how much cash you'll be earning after graduationand all the rest of it.It's a fairly straightforward, utilitarian appeal.Now, I just think that-- well, I think it does two things.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: One is I think it sells out the notion of the university.I think the universities should bea place where forms of reflectionare positively encouraged, and not simplya place in which the common sense assumptions about market
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: managerialism are then translated into salary figures.But the second thing comes from a more profound question,I think, about political philosophy.So if we go back to Plato, in the Republic,Plato asks us what kind of educationour rulers should have in order that they turn out
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: to be good people.So this is Plato speculating, in a sense,about what the utopian city might look likeand how it might be produced.And he concludes that the education of the rulersis a really important question.So almost as if we might ask ourselves, what kind of peopledo want to govern us?Who do we want to be in charge of the world?
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: Now, if we ask that question of business schools,the answers are simply appalling.They are effectively to abdicate mostsenses of social responsibility and care, and justice,and all the rest of it, the kinds of thingsthat human beings claim to care about,but business schools almost always entirely neglect.So my sense is that business schools, in some sense,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: should be transformed from placesin which certain versions of managerial common senseare simply reproduced, and instead, should become placesin which reflections on the nature of what it meansto govern, to organize, are encouragedin the widest possible fashion.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So just to give an illustration here,within virtually all business schools across the globe,the default assumption is that the only organization thatmatters is the corporation.There is mention of the states, but not an enormous amount.And there's mention of SMEs, but again, they're
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: regarded to be a bit frothy.The big thing is the Corporation.Now, that's kind of bizarre in the sense that about 1/6of the world's population are relianton the co-operative form for their sustenanceand their employment.The co-op is a really interestingorganizational form.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: Basically, to put it very simply,this is an organization that's ownedby its employees, not its shareholders,like the corporation.And yet the business school has a vast blind spotabout this very large and historically very long-lastingalternative form of organization.There is a huge amount of evidencefrom sociology, anthropology, and a variety of other places
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: that co-ops are more robust in times of austerity,that people who work in co-ops are justas dedicated to whatever their particular process job is,and so on, indeed, some evidence that people who work in co-opsare happier than people who aren't, and all the rest of it.So the reason for the neglect of the co-operative form, I think,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: can then only be ideological.It's not because it's not important or relevant.It's clearly important and relevant.It's just not looked at because the business school isso focused on the idea of reproducinga particular corporate form.And a metaphor I sometimes use in orderto explore this with students is to think about, well,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: what if you had a medical school that only looked at legsand heads, or a history department that was reallyinterested in the 13th century and the 15th century,but ignored everything else?Because that's effectively what the business school does.It looks at one particular organizational form,assumes that that's typical, and then makesa series of political ideological assertions
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: for the way that the world should be on that basis.And to my mind, that's not just bad science or bad ideology,it's also selling out the idea of what universities should be.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: So the future of CMS-- I have both a positiveand a negative version of this.So the negative version is essentiallythat CMS becomes no more than a unique selling propositionfor a small mob of academics who turn upto the Academy of Management Conference every year,in which case it's not particularly
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: interesting in anything other than an anthropologicalfashion-- a bunch of people who wear particular kinds of hatsand badges and talk in certain sorts of ways.That's all right, but it's not goingto make much of a difference in the world.And that, I suppose, is a reflectionof the sorts of processes of institutionalizationthat take place with most forms of academic work
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: as it becomes legitimized and it getsits own journals and its own chairsand particular departments associatedwith it, whatever else.And there's a sense, for me, in whichthat means that CMS-- and I've usedthis metaphor in other contexts-- becomes sclerotic.It starts to harden and fix in a particular kind of way.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: It becomes a thing.Now, that depresses and disappoints me.And what I'd much rather is to imagineCMS as a form of mobile critique which, in a sense,is contentless except in so far as it continually
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: tries to press the business school and the business academygenerally into taking its academic and politicalresponsibilities seriously.Because I think that most of the time, it doesn't.I think that if critical management studies becomesclerotic in the way I've just described,that's to say no more than all of management education
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: becomes sclerotic.It adopts a particular kind of common sensewhich it then simply reproduces in a relatively unthinking kindof way.Now, the best version of critical measurement studiesfor me would be one, then, that refusedto settle on a particular set of theoretical reference points
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: or gurus or core texts or anything else,but that just kept on moving and respondingto the dominant orthodoxy, to the common sense.Because the antithesis to common sense has to be mobile, in thatsense.As I've suggested before, I thinkthat the purpose of doing this is always to seek alternatives,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: to think about different ways in which things might get done.Let me pick another example.So money, for example-- money is a fantastic pieceof common sense, because it's a kind of a bizarre collectionof institutions and beliefs whichsustains the notion that a bit metal or a bit of paper
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: actually has some kind of value.Now, as the 2008 and post crisis has indicated,this is a house of cards that can very easily collapse.And there's quite a lot of very interestingthinking on alternative ways of thinkingabout money and exchange.And for me, most of this interesting thinking
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: presses us to be considering the question of just how moneyencourages certain forms of economics whichare environmentally dangerous and very oftendamaging to particular kinds of communities.So for example, one of the common ways
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: of thinking about comprehensive currenciesis to think about them as local currencies--so local currencies which encourage peopleto source products and services from particular kinds of areas.This supports ideas about, say, a low carbon economy,an economy that isn't reliant on moving huge quantities of stuffaround in shipping containers, for example.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: And the idea of food regions, the ideathat we shouldn't be commuting 100 miles in order to getto work and all the rest of it.And bizarrely, many of these ideascould be underpinned by thinking about local money.Now, immediately, you present that kind of alternativeto common sense, you start to explore the possibility
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: that money could be understood as something whichwas a tool which could contributeto the general welfare, to some sense of a common lifethat we live, and we need a medium of exchangein order to support.And once you start to inhabit that kind
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: of conceptual or political world,you can almost then begin to see the other forms of money--the global money that we have-- as actually quitedamaging, quite difficult things,because they effectively encouragecommensurate abilities between currencies,between economies that effectively allow us to imagine
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: that it's OK for us to move bananasfrom one part of the world in orderthat I, in the English Midlands, can eat bananasat all times of the year.And that's just not a reasonable assumption going forward,I think.So we can see that the connectionsbetween a particular idea about money-- commonsense about money-- and a way of imagining
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: a different kind of economy which is far more localized.Now, for me, that's the sort of workthat critical management studies should be offering.But it's a kind of work that I hopewould refuse to settle on a theoretical orthodoxy,or a particular way of thinking about what
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: the dominant model might be, or something along those lines.It's more a question of exploring alternatives,different ways of doing organizing that might producea world which is less unequal and less likely to be headingtowards global collapse.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: Many people would assume that CMS research is necessarilyinterpretive, qualitative research.And I think within certain parts of the world, particularlyNorth America, that one of the ways in which you,within the business school, distinguish yourselfas being critical is because you aredoing some variety of qualitative research.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: That's less the case in northwestern Europe, I think,because qualitative research has more credibilitywithin the business school than it does in, say, North America.But I'm not sure that there is any necessary relationbetween critical management studiesand any particular method.Let me use a metaphor to think about that.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: If we imagine research methods as a tool box,we wouldn't assume that hammers were the only toolsthat we could use to make a shed or something.There's a whole variety of different tools,and they do different things for us at different times.So we use hammers and saws and whateverelse to do whatever task you're trying to achieve.So in that sense, there's no particular reason
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: not to use quanitative research if youwant to do critical work.If you want to say something about workplace accidents,for example, then counting the number of accidentsthat take place in different sorts of sectorsor different countries an so on seems to me an entirely logicalthing to be doing.If you want to say something about boredom at work,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: then I would have thought doing some kindof observation-based work is more likely to get yousome interesting answers.So I don't think that critical management studiesis tied to any particular methodology,even though there is a sort of assumptionthat it's rather romantically associatedwith ethnographic, anthropological,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: interview-based type stuff.I think what's more important about it is the way in which itarticulates its politics.And I think that politics can be articulatedthrough quantitative or qualitative work.That doesn't really matter.What are you doing this for?Who are you trying to serve?Who are you providing knowledge for?If there's one key way of defining critical management
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: studies, it probably is somethingabout a form of research that understands that knowledgehas a politics, whatever the method isthat's produced that knowledge.So the key works that I would recommend to students
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: who are interested in critical management studies-- I supposeit would be difficult not to include the 1993collections-- that's Matt Alvesson and Hugh Willmott'sbook, Critical Measurement Studies, which was publishedby SAGE, and then updated as-- well,a completely different book, actually, really,
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: called Studying Management Critically,I think it was called, in 2003.So both of those are overviews of the field, really.There are lots and lots, now, of various sort handbooksand readers, and they're very easy to discover justby doing a bit of googling.But in a way, I think that probably a better
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: way to get a handle on what critical management studies isdoing now would be to have a look at the journalOrganization.Organization is a journal which has been going nowfor about 23, 24 years, and isn't the housejournal of critical management studies,but is probably the place where you'll see
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: most critical management work.So if I wanted to know what's going on now,I'd look through the last couple of years of thatand get an idea of the variety of topics and theoriesthat are being approached.Because any one book only captures part of what'sgoing on.And at its best, I think critical management studies
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: is never settling on any one thing.It's continually moving on in orderto try to deal with the problems of the present,and the theoretical and empirical materialsit uses as a result are necessarily multiple.
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: Many people are hostile.Many academics are hostile to the idea of impact,because almost as if they see thisas a way of degrading the purity of their work.I don't.I think that ideas about impact are actually really important.But then that leads on to the question-- well, impactfor who, and about what?The danger for the orthodox business school model
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: is that the only kind of impact that mattersis impact on the profitability of a corporation.That's the dominant way in which impactis going to be considered.For me, impact would be, let's say,how effectively you manage to growalternative organizational forms.So could we imagine a business school that encouraged worker
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: co-ops, for example, or a business school thattried to assist local economies to become carbonneutral, or a business school thatused electronic technologies in orderto produce different ways of thinking about local money?Those would be forms of impact that, for me, thatwere concerned with local politics and social justice
MARTIN PARKER [continued]: and not simply a form of impact that essentiallyserved the powerful, the large corporations thatrun capitalism.
Critical Management Studies
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Professor Martin Parker discusses critical management studies and how he sees it interacting with the broader field of business education. CMS is an interdisciplinary approach to business education that challenges orthodox notions of value, organization, and practice.
Professor Martin Parker discusses critical management studies and how he sees it interacting with the broader field of business education. CMS is an interdisciplinary approach to business education that challenges orthodox notions of value, organization, and practice.