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date: 09 July 2020


Abstract and Keywords

Critical management studies (CMS) has emerged as a movement that questions the authority and relevance of mainstream thinking and practice. Its focus is ‘management’ not as a group or as a function but as a pervasive institution that is entrenched within capitalist economic formations. This introduction first outlines the development of CMS before reflecting upon its distinctiveness and the significance of its location within business schools. It then considers some of the directions in which CMS might develop. In each section, passing references are made to the different parts of the book. These references are intended to indicate where ideas and debates are expanded in the course of sketching a context in which to read and appreciate their diverse contributions. The introduction also outlines the organization of this book.

Keywords: management, business schools, economic formation, capitalism, management movement, management ideas

Critical management studies (CMS) has emerged as a movement that questions the authority and relevance of mainstream thinking and practice. Its focus is “management” not as a group or as a function but as a pervasive institution that is entrenched within capitalist economic formations. Its concern is with the study of, and sometimes against, management rather than with the development of techniques or legitimations for management. Critical of established social practices and institutional arrangements, CMS challenges prevailing relations of domination—patriarchal, neo-imperialist as well as capitalist—and anticipates the development of alternatives to them (Parker, Fournier, and Reedy 2007).

This book provides an overview and distillation of CMS as an evolving body of knowledge. It is intended for readers who may be disillusioned with mainstream understandings of management2 or who are curious about analyses of management that are less anodyne and self-serving. The chapters have direct relevance for teachers, students, and researchers of management but we hope that their contents will be instructive for anyone who regards management as a key modern institution which merits critical examination.

The Handbook provides an overview of work from a variety of perspectives and across a range of topics, subdisciplines, and themes. For those interested to learn more about the field, the collection offers a comparatively accessible point of entry into a range of areas so that non-specialists can better discern and assess what is (p. 2) distinctive about CMS. For teachers, it provides a series of resources for giving students a taste of non-mainstream approaches and discussions of particular topics. Accordingly, the chapters might be used when delivering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or modules in critical management studies. For more reflective practitioners, in which we include researchers and teachers in their organizational work, the Handbook contains ideas and perspectives that can broaden the repertoire of theoretically informed ways of making sense of experiences, and thereby take thought and practice in new directions.

It is worth stressing that the development of CMS is not confined to the broad field of management and/or organization but extends into management specialisms—notably, accounting (Ezzamel and Robson, Chapter 23), but also marketing (Saren and Svensson, Chapter 18), information systems (Howcroft, Chapter 19), human resource management (HRM) (Keenoy, Chapter 22), and so on. It is also concerned with studies, not study—which suggests that there is room for considerable diversity and fluidity. Nor is CMS restricted to any particular variant of critical analysis. Even if the theoretical center of gravity shifts—for example, from Marxist or Frankfurt conceptions of criticality to more poststructuralist approaches and then shifts again, as can be expected—the signifier cmS is sufficiently capacious to accommodate such changes. The “critical” in CMS may be directed at current manifestations of “management,” or it maybe directed at its “study,” its twin targets that are intimately linked. If critique(s) of the (mainstream) study of management is successful, then a new, critical form of management knowledge develops—one which incorporates critique(s) of management. Indeed, for CMS to be “critical”—that is, for CMS to mean something different to “management studies”—it must necessarily seek to challenge and replace a dominant orthodoxy or, more modestly, to supplement and gradually reorient the diverse currents that comprise the orthodoxy within the already “fragmented adhocracy” (Whitley 1984) of management studies.

The book is organized in four parts. Part I presents leading theoretical approaches: critical theory (Scherer, Chapter 2), critical realism (Reed, Chapter 3), poststructuralism (Jones, Chapter 4) and labor process theory (Thompson; OʼDoherty, Chapter 5). These perspectives are by no means exhaustive of approaches that inform critical studies of management but they are amongst the most widely adopted and influential. Throughout this introductory chapter we draw on these perspectives in constructing a narrative of the origins and dynamics CMS's development. Part II considers key topics and issues that, to date, have been subjected to critical management study. In addition to reviewing areas that have attracted considerable critical attention, contributions to Part II illustrate the application of a range of perspectives; they also illuminate the diverse ways in which the study of key topics has been advanced and offer directions for future enquiry. For example, in Chapter 12, Spicer and Morgan examine critical approaches to organizational change which highlight struggles around identity (see also Thomas, Chapter 8), (p. 3) organizational and societal dynamics and interorganizational fields. While commending the valuable insights generated by critical analyses, questions remain for the authors about how and where CMS should situate itself in relation to organizational change—an issue that invites interpretation in terms of the stratagems of purity and pragmatism explored later in this introduction. In Chapter 14, Rowlinson, Jacques, and Booth argue for a reorientation, or an “historic turn,” toward management and organizational history. Or, to give another example, in Wray-Bliss (Chapter 13) suggests that CMS writing on ethics is held back by a reluctance to explore ethics at the level of individual subjects. Wray-Bliss makes the case that increased engagement with those involved in questionable practices could bring together the “violence of critique” with responsibilities for respecting the humanity of subjects. Some topics, including change, especially in relation to “culture” (Brewis and Jack, Chapter 11), have received comparatively close and sustained attention from critical scholars. In contrast, others remain largely hidden from view. In Chapter 6, Newton notes with surprise the lack of interest within critical and mainstream management studies in the natural environment, relative to the interest shown by media, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Responding to this silence, Newton makes a case for why greater attention is warranted as he sets out a critical research agenda around issues of environmental degradation and global social inequality, the geopolitics of energy, activism, and regulation at governmental and intergovernmental levels. While the topics and issues covered in Part II provide a good indication of the nature of topics and issues addressed to date by CMS, they are far from comprehensive as limitations of space have necessitated selectivity.

Part III addresses the development of critical studies within specialist disciplines, such as marketing and accounting. Its contributions underscore how CMS is not confined to generalist studies of management but, rather, is inclusive of its numerous subdivisions. In their chapter on the discipline of strategy, Phillips and Dar (Chapter 20) review some counterpoints to the linear, rational and profit-driven narrative of mainstream analysis in which the manager assumes a heroic role. They highlight how CMS work illuminates power dynamics around the research, pedagogy and practice of strategy. In his chapter on HRM (Chapter 22), Keenoy analyzes human resource management as a discursive cultural artifact, showing that while the term is deployed unproblematically in mainstream textbooks, it acts as an “empty signifier” that has been constructed and mobilized in a way that assumes the necessity, and serves the neoliberal objectives, of managerialism in a global economy. As with Part II, the chapters which make up Part III necessarily attend to a selection of the major specialisms and make no claim to be comprehensive in their coverage. Finally, in Part IV, we conclude with a range of commentaries on aspects of CMS that have implications for its future prospects. Here some of the contributors point at shortcomings within CMS and encourage a stronger focus on important issues, like finance (Hopwood, Chapter 25) and organizational (p. 4) hierarchies (Child, Chapter 24). Both Hopwood and Frenkel (Chapter 26) draw attention to the shortcomings of restricting CMS to too narrow a set of concerns and a related reluctance to explore and address scholarship and issues relevant to CMS. Contu (Chapter 27) and Burrell (Chapter 28) offer critical reflections upon the problems and prospects of CMS with regard to the nature and impact of critical management education (CME) and its institutional location and orientation.

In questioning the legitimacy and efficacy of established patterns of thinking and action, the chapters offer an alternative to the mainstream in which knowledge of management becomes knowledge for management and alternative voices are absent or marginalized.3 The appearance of a Handbook dedicated to CMS is indicative of its rapid growth, an expansion that has prompted some commentators to suggest that CMS is the “new mainstream.” The increase in the scope and influence of CMS during the past decade or so should not, however, be overestimated. Even if it has a capacity to “punch above its weight” in terms of profile and influence in research and management education (see discussion of Critical Management Education in Chapter 27), CMS remains a marginal element within management theory and practice. When viewed from within the bubble of CMS, its standing and significance can become greatly exaggerated. A quick perusal of books and textbooks published in the field in the past five years, or a scan of articles appearing in the most prominent journals, provides a rapid deflationary correction. Nonetheless, as a movement, CMS has become somewhat institutionalized within the much larger bubble of management knowledge. And this Handbook of course makes a further contribution to its institutionalization. While contributors to the Handbook are engaged in “taking stock” of CMS, they are simultaneously involved in shaping its development and extension.

In the remaining sections of this Introduction, we first outline the development of CMS before reflecting upon its distinctiveness and the significance of its location within business schools. We then consider some of the directions in which CMS might develop. In each section, we make passing reference to the Handbook chapters but our objective is not to summarize their contents. Instead, our references to the chapters are intended to indicate where ideas and debates are expanded in the course of sketching a context in which to read and appreciate their diverse contributions.


Critiques of management in the context of the emergence of capitalist political economy are by no means new. All the founding fathers of sociology—Weber and Durkheim as well as Marx—had critical things to say about the modern, capitalist (p. 5) corporation, pointing to its needless dehumanization, anomie, and exploitation. The rise of CMS as a contemporary phenomenon has been linked by some commentators with the publication of the edited collection of the same name (Alvesson and Willmott 1992).4 However, as Burrell (Chapter 28) notes, the appearance of that book is perhaps more plausibly viewed as a moment in an ongoing process of problematization rather than as a particularly significant event, even if its subsequent acronymic identification has had a significant “marketing” impact.5 The wider problematization of management to which CMS contributes and aspires to accelerate is ongoing; and the identity and purpose of CMS continues to evolve through a process of contestation and institutionalization in which contributions to this Handbook are necessarily implicated.

Contemporary critical management studies draw and build upon earlier contributions in which management is addressed as an historical and cultural phenomenon (e.g., Bendix 1956; Child 1969; Anthony 1977; Clegg and Dunkerly 1980). In general, these works have derived their inspiration from Weber, from moral philosophy, or from Marx's analysis of the labor process, and they make limited reference to Critical Theory. The thinking of members of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory has, however, been of particular importance in the formation of CMS,6 along with elements of labor process theory and some early flirtations with Foucauldian and poststructuralist analyses. Burrell and Morgan's (1979) conceptualization of a radical humanism paradigm, in which the Frankfurt School formed a key position, was important here in framing and marketing a broad intellectual alternative to both mainstream and an interpretivist strand of management and organization studies (Duberley and Johnson, Chapter 17). From these (diverse) beginings, CMS has grown into a pluralistic, multidisciplinary movement incorporating a range of perspectives. A number of the more influential of these are presented in Part I but space has not permitted the inclusion of those associated with feminism, Deleuze and Guattari, autonomist Marxism, Lacanian thinking, Gramscian analysis, postcolonialism, and numerous others. CMS has been challenged and enriched by all of these strands of critical thinking. In different ways—and not without a degree of confusion and accusations of scholasticism—they have inspired new directions and renewed impetus for studies that anticipate the possibility of less oppressive and divisive forms of management practice.

Critical theory (Scherer, Chapter 2) proceeds from an assumption of the possibilities of greater autonomy that, in the tradition of Enlightenment, anticipates the development of social relations in which their participants are masters of their own destiny. These possibilities are understood to be unnecessarily narrowed, distorted, and impeded by the technocratic impulse of received managerial wisdom. By providing an intellectual counterforce to the ego administration of modern, advanced industrial society, critical theory apprehends how personalities, beliefs, tastes, and preferences are developed to fit into the demands of mass production and mass consumption, thereby expressing standardized, yet increasingly customized, forms (p. 6) of individuality where human beings tend to become reduced to components in a well-oiled machine (Steffy and Grimes 1992; Alvesson 2003). Critical theory's wide compass continues to offer a valuable resource for critical reflection on a large number of central issues in management studies: notions of rationality and progress, technocracy and social engineering, autonomy and control, communicative action, power and ideology as well as fundamental issues of epistemology.

The tradition of labor process theory (Thompson, Chapter 5; OʼDoherty, Chapter 5), which stems from Marx's analysis of capitalist work organization in Capital, has provided another central strand of theoretical inspiration for critique, not least because its specific focus is the workplace (Braverman 1974). It has challenged assumptions about the neutrality of management knowledge (e.g., Taylorism) and it has drawn attention to and systematically explored the design and control of work, and the struggles of wage labor, which includes many salaried employees, to improve the terms and conditions of their employment (Knights and Willmott 1986). Labor process theorists have critically investigated and questioned the seemingly progressive quality of organizational change and job redesign, and more generally have addressed the systematically disadvantaged, yet resistant, position of labor in an era of monopoly capital.

During the 1990s, other streams of critical thinking, many of them collected under the umbrella headings of “postmodernism” and “poststructuralism” (Jones, Chapter 4) have emerged and developed within the field of management to complement and challenge earlier traditions of critical analysis. Notably, the thinking of Michel Foucault has been important in providing an alternative, critical voice—in both style and substance—to the visions of critical theory and labor process analysis. His ideas have, for example, questioned the humanist concept of autonomy ascribed to subjects and questioned the assumption that knowledge can be cleansed of power (Foucault 1975, 1980). The centrality of these ideas for organization and management studies is explored by Knights (Chapter 7) in his overview of theories of power. Foucault-inspired attention to the “theory of the subject” has been paralleled in feminist theory which has sought to correct the neglect of gender relations in management and organization studies. Feminist voices been increasingly heard, but are often muted or restricted to issues of access to existing professional/managerial career tracks (Marshall 1984). Broader and deeper issues are increasingly being addressed (see, for example, Calás and Smircich 2006; Alvesson and Billing 2009) but gender has yet to be fully integrated into critical studies of management (Ashcraft, Chapter 15). Likewise, ethnic groups outside white AngloSaxon Protestants merit much closer and sustained consideration in the context of dominant notions and practices of management and leadership ideals which frequently bear subtle imprints of a dominant culture and/or postcolonial tradition (P. Prasad 1997; A. Prasad 2003). In Chapter 9, Banerjee, Carter, and Clegg draw on emerging literatures such as postcolonialism and sustainable development to challenge universalist assumptions which underpin the managerialism of globalization.

(p. 7) Given the diverse critical traditions of analysis that are now being deployed to interrogate management theory and practice, a current challenge is to appreciate commonalities and continuities in different strands of critical thinking, and not to become excessively preoccupied with differences or detained by schisms. Debate over the distinctive strengths and limitations of different critical forms of analysis can be beneficial. It is also consistent with nurturing a critical impulse that places in question apparently self-evident authority. But there is also a danger of goal-displacement when debates dominate or drown out critical analysis of aspects of management practice, whether this is within a single organization or more globally within the operation of transnational corporations, international NGOs, and financial markets. That said, rejection of all rival approaches in favor of a single, avowedly “enlightened” conception of CMS is, in our view, likely to be counterproductive in terms of any aspiration to challenge and change the theory and practice of management. Our inclination, therefore, is to lean in the direction of a view of CMS that is accommodating rather than restrictive whilst, at the same time, being mindful of the danger of being so open-minded and liberal that it includes everything and so ends up being a vacuous category. Mindful of this issue we now reflect upon contributions to an ongoing debate on the question of what is distinctive about CMS.

Constituting CMS

So, what, makes CMS distinctive? CMS proceeds from the assumption that dominant theories and practices of management and organization systematically favor some (elite) groups and/or interests at the expense of those who are disadvantaged by them; and that this systemic inequality or interest-partiality is ultimately damaging for the emancipatory prospects of all groups. Accordingly, CMS is particularly attentive to aspects of organization and management that are widely regarded as negative. It rejects the mainstream view that organizations are adequately represented as (imperfectly) rational instruments for achieving shared goals and/or as media for satisfying people's needs through producing goods and services. In most research papers and especially in textbooks, organizations are presented as a self-evident force for good. Deviation from the norm of fulfilling positive social functions is interpreted as the exceptional “bad apple” rather than the institutionalized rule or a manifestation of systemic malfunction. CMS regards uncritically one-sided, positive representations of management and organization as expressive of the ideology of elites that becomes, through the channels of media and education, widely dispersed. Even if subscription to this ideology is instrumental and grudging (p. 8) it is nonetheless highly consequential for the reproduction and legitimation of the status quo (Žižek 1989).

Against this pervasive ideology, CMS contends that contemporary organizations and forms of organizing have many negative implications for and impacts upon nature as well as society—notably, their destructive effects on natural environments in addition to their divisive and disciplining consequences for communities and employees. At the same time, it is acknowledged that organizations contribute to material survival and affluence, job satisfaction and positive social relations, a sense of meaning and personal development. What CMS addresses is the needless frustration of this potential that occurs when, instead of enabling human flourishing, organizations incubate and normalize stress and bad health, naturalize subordination and exploitation, demand conformism, inhibit free communication, erode morality, create and reinforce ethic and gender inequalities, and so on. Instead of being progressive forces for emancipatory change, mainstream theory, as well as the everyday practice of organization and management, become reactionary means of conserving forms of exploitation and oppression institutionalized in the status quo. There is, in this sense, good reason to introduce, develop, and apply critical perspectives on management and organizations.

That there is a dark side of business and organizations should not come as a surprise to anybody, whether they are bored or stressed employees, “ripped off” consumers or lender-of-last-resort citizens. Despite this, the development of an expanding stream of critical work based in management schools is not something many would have predicted a couple of decades ago. Given the diversity and fluidity of CMS as a movement, vigorous discussion and debate about what it is, and what it is not, is to be welcomed. Today, the field of CMS is difficult to demarcate. What is to be counted as critical is contested in at least two ways. First, the very sense of CMS has been challenged on the grounds that few self-respecting academics (even those whose intellectual credibility might be doubted by their very employment in a business school) would instantly tarnish their work as “uncritical.” Critical scrutiny of knowledge claims is a trademark of Academia. From this perspective, CMS is a meaningless category. Denying its difference by insisting that the mainstream is already “critical” is one simple strategy for protecting the mainstream from CMS critique. The second form of contestation occurs within CMS where different factions claim to occupy the intellectual high ground of critique. Even if this claim is not explicitly made, an allegiance to one or other of the theoretical approaches presented in Part I tacitly indicates a preference for the conception of critique favored by that approach. Included in that preference is a view as to whether one conception of critique should trump the others, or a more inclusive view should prevail.

It is probably fair to say that CMS is currently pluralistic. Our own assessment is that it has, to date, benefited from the absence of any dominant or totalizing (p. 9) approach. Nonetheless the absence of a strong, disciplining center provokes those who would prefer to monopolize the field to struggle against others who are content to take refuge in a movement that can provide some shelter and support for their particular variants of CMS. As within any movement, the danger of the “monopolizing” strategy is that it can sacrifice diversity and dynamism for purity and clarity. Conversely, the hazard of a diversifying strategy is that it may dilute the meaning of CMS to the point that it becomes indistinguishable from the mainstream that it ostensibly rejects. Initiatives such as this Handbook are vulnerable to becoming little more than vehicles for the promotion of a favorite view. Whilst we have reserved some space for this in contributions to Part IV, we have endeavored to restrict it, or at least to make acknowledgement of a distinctive standpoint, in the contributions to Parts IIII, as we do in this Introduction. That is to say, we have sought to avoid sponsorship of fruitless quarreling of what or who is “really” critical in a CMS-correct way, and who and what is to cast aside. More positively, critical self-reflection stimulated by debate over the merits of different approaches within CMS can facilitate clarification of their respective possibilities and contributions. Chapter 5 is of particular relevance in this regard as it is intended to acknowledge and illuminate the schism that has developed in labor process theory (LPT). Instead of inviting one author to present and balance the different standpoints, we asked a prominent figure from each side of the “divide” to present their understanding of what problems LPT is intended to address, how successful it has been, and what relationship it has to (other forms of) CMS.

De-naturalization, Anti-performativity, and Reflexivity

One influential attempt to identify distinguishing characteristics of CMS has pointed to “de-naturalization,” “non-performative” (which others have characterized as “anti-performativity”7) and “reflexivity” as its core elements (Fournier and Grey 2000; see also Grey and Willmott 2005). De-naturalization refers to what is crucial to any oppositional politics. Whatever the existing order may be, it becomes taken for granted or naturalized and often is legitimized by reference to nature and necessity: it is the way of the world: of course men dominate women, whites dominate blacks, capital dominates labor, and so on. Whether based on evolution or social function, the answer is the same: “That's how things are”; “There is no alternative.” In management, naturalization is affirmed in the proposition that someone has to be in charge, that of course they know more, or else they would not be in charge, so of course they deserve more money as their labor is scarce and they have the burden of responsibility to shoulder. As Child (Chapter 24) notes, hierarchy is an example of what is frequently taken to be natural. Markets are also widely seen as self-evidently efficiency-producing givens which only (p. 10) ignorant people would seek to prevent governing economic life, and perhaps life in general. Greed and competitiveness are also widely assumed to be natural and so on. CMS challenges these kinds of assertions, identifying them as manifestations of a particular, capitalist, and possessive individualist ideology, and thereby endeavors to denaturalize them by recalling their context-dependence.

Anti-performativity,” or, “non performative stance,” as Fournier and Grey (2000: 17) characterize CMS, is perhaps a special case of de-naturalization as it denies that social relations should (naturally) be thought of as exclusively instrumental—that is, in terms of maximizing output from a given input. This element of CMS is important because most knowledge of management presupposes the overriding importance of performativity. It is taken to be the acid test of whether knowledge has any value. Knowledge of management is assessed to have value only if it is shown how it can, at least in principle, be applied to enhance the means of achieving existing (naturalized) ends. What, then, of “anti-performativity”? The term emphatically does not imply an antagonistic attitude towards any kind of “performing.” Rather, “performative” is used in a somewhat technical sense to identify social relations in which the dominance of a means—ends calculus acts to exclude critical reflection on the question of ends. The natural and legitimate nature of the dominant social order is taken for granted and problems are seen as minor or moderate imperfections to be resolved or, when not, are seen to be unavoidable. Broader and deeper ethical and political issues and questions—such as the distribution of life chances within corporations or the absence of any meaningful democracy in working life—are either ignored or, at best, marginally accommodated through, for example, programmes of employee “involvement” and “consultation.” Efforts are limited to ameliorating shortcomings and “dysfunctions” within the established system such that prevailing priorities and orders of privilege are preserved. In short, a second core feature of CMS, according to Grey and Fournier (2000), is its challenge to forms of theory and practice that confine ethical and political questions and issues to the reproduction or restabilization of the status quo.

Reflexivity,” the final element of CMS identified by Fournier and Grey (2000) refers to a capacity to recognize all accounts of organization and management as mediated by the particular tradition of their authors. By embracing “reflexivity,” CMS contributes to a methodological and epistemological challenge to the objectivism and scientism which is seen to pervade mainstream research. It radically doubts the possibility of neutrality and universality, arguing that such notions are invoked as part of an ideology of research which disregards its (partisan) theory-dependency and disavows its implicit naturalization of the status quo. Under the guise of the production of “facts,” such research is inattentive to (i.e., unreflexive about) the values which guide not only the scoping and representation of what is researched but also how research is conducted. Where “reflexivity” is weak or absent, little encouragement is given to knowledge users—who include students, (p. 11) managers, and policy-makers—to interrogate the assumptions and routines upon which conventional knowledge production is founded. Nor is there much support for questioning the commonsense thinking (e.g., about what counts as “scientific”) and disciplinary paraphernalia (e.g., tenure, control of journals, etc.) that safeguard their authority. CMS, in contrast, sees such questioning as mandatory; and, in principle, it accepts that critique is appropriately directed at its own claims by acknowledging and appreciating how CMS conjectures about reality are themselves conditioned by tradition and context.8

Reconstituting CMS?

Fournier and Grey's (2000) characterization of the three core elements of CMS has been influential but also controversial. Much contemporary social theory and methodology, as Thompson (2004) points out, is based on ideas of de-naturalization and reflexivity. These elements are by no means unique to CMS. It is probably fair to say, however, that these receive a particular inflection within the context of CMS. In substantial part, that is because, as we observed earlier, CMS has emerged out of engagements with critical theory and other neo-Marxist traditions that open these elements to more radical interpretations. “De-naturalization” in the context of CMS is associated with an impulse that, going beyond recognition of the constructed quality of social worlds, invites and support their radical transformation. Likewise, “reflexivity” incorporates critical self-reflection as integral to processes of emancipatory change. Understood in this way, Thompson's criticism that these elements are shared with varieties of constructionist analysis would seem to assume a rather “literalist,” decontextualized reading of their meaning and import.

That said, Thompson's (2004) critique of Fournier and Grey (2000) provides a useful reminder that exponents of some major strands of CMS—notably, versions of labor process theory, left-Weberianism, and critical realism—would probably not identify de-naturalization and reflexivity as the most significant aspects of what, for them, constitutes good critical (management) research. They might also hesitate to endorse “anti-performativity,” perhaps on the grounds that it denies or forecloses CMS having a practical impact. Such hesitation would, we believe, betray a questionable representation of Fournier and Grey's position. For, as noted above, Fournier and Grey are careful to stress that “performativity” has a very specific, technical meaning: “the principle of performativity serves to subordinate knowledge and truth to the production of efficiency” (2000: 17). What they term CMS's non-performative stance, rather than the “anti-performativity” attributed (p. 12) to them, is not antithetical or hostile to knowledge having a practical impact. What the so-called “anti-performativity” signals is a determination to avoid a narrowing or reduction of practical impact to the production of efficiency as this, Fournier and Grey contend, has calamitous consequences. In particular, such a narrowing of management knowledge makes it more likely that “management … is not interrogated except insofar as this will contribute to its improved effectiveness” (ibid.).

Critical work, Fournier and Grey insist, is not equivalent to, or reducible to, analysis that is performative in that narrow sense. This is probably not very controversial. However, the characterization of CMS as non-performative or “anti-performative” has invited an interpretation of CMS as being “anti-performativity” in the sense that it has no interest in performance—something that, arguably, is not intended. CMS is against performativity only in the sense of being hostile to knowledge that has it as an exclusive focus. That said, the conception of CMS as “anti-performative” has clearly been confusing and, in this sense, unhelpful, though whether Fournier and Grey could have been expected to anticipate that is an open question. What would seem to be a misunderstanding of their position has led to calls for “pro-performative” ideas and ambitions. For those who celebrate the virtue of negative dialectics, defending and retaining what we have interpreted as a misunderstanding would, presumably, be a preferred option (see Böhm 2006). Our inclination is to accommodate this possibility within CMS but to distinguish analytically between, on the one hand, technical peformativity that is narrowly instrumental and preoccupied with reproducing the status quo and, on the other, critical performativity (see also Spicer et al. 2009, discussed below) that is emancipatory in its orientation and intended effects. Such critical performativity, we suggest, is fully consistent with Fourner and Grey's understanding that CMS has “some intention to achieve … a better world or end exploitation, etc.” (ibid.).9

In a recent effort to clarify and reconstitute the relationship between CMS and performativity, Spicer et al. (2009) have argued that Fournier and Grey's formulation of “anti-performativity” is unfortunate if it discourages the making of important distinctions between good and bad performativities, with the former including the development of knowledge in support of “progressive” objectives like environmental protection or gender equality. We have already noted this danger. A casual reader of Fournier and Grey (2000) might jump to this conclusion. A misconceived conception of “anti-performativity” may be counterproductive for engaging with those whose work situation does not permit its celebration. Yet, in the absence of “performativity,” the schools, hospitals, hotels, industries, airline companies, and other institutions upon which exponents of CMS—like people generally—rely, and are probably eager to see being well managed, would in all likelihood operate much less effectively. To counter this outcome, we believe that there is some merit in developing the concept of critical performativity (Spicer et al. 2009) in countering the distorted and erroneous view, gleefully seized upon (p. 13) by CMS detractors, that it has a “crippling commitment to the belief that the outputs of CMS have no performative intent and impact” (ibid.). In addition, an emphasis upon critical performativity can be valuable as an antidote to hypocrisy and/or cynicism within CMS, where scholars are content to reap the benefits of applications of instrumental reason that produce the economic growth which, in turn, provides the resources for critical scholarship. For unless a self-critical eye is constantly trained upon the institutionalization of CMS, the world of management and organizations may, perversely, come to be viewed instrumentally, and rather cynically, as a supplier of negativity to be exploited in writing critical articles in journals read only by other like-minded academics so that little is accomplished outside of this comfortably, career-facilitating space (Alvesson 2008; Hopwood, Chapter 25).

The critical performativity advocated by Spicer et al. (forthcoming) involves active and subversive intervention into managerial discourses and practices (see Grant et al., Chapter 10); and, in this regard, it echoes Fournier and Grey's (2000) identification of a “pragmatist” (and contrasted to “purist”) school of thought characterized by an “emphasis on engaging in dialogue with management practitioners and mainstream theorists” (2000: 17). A purist line, in contrast, regards any such dialogue as “the weapon of the powerful” (Burrell 1996: 650, cited by Fournier and Grey 2000: 24) that will likely result in the cooptation and dilution of CMS by the mainstream. Spicer et al.'s (2009) pragmatism favors affirmation, care, engagement with potentialities, and a normative orientation (the latter signaling an effort to clarify and pursue positive ideals and not just oppose forms of domination). For instance, exponents of CMS who draw inspiration from Habermas's ideal of communicative action (see Scherer, Chapter 1; Deetz and McClellan, Chapter 21) contend that the ideal of distortion-free communication offers a way of critically investigating communicative inhibition and spinning (based on hierarchy, gender divisions, power arrangements, cultural norms preventing an open raising of doubts and demands for clarification or revisions of positions). Invoking this ideal to reduce such distortions of communication has an affirmative, critically performative intent. By prioritizing critical performativity, Spicer et al. (2009) advocate and anticipate a variant of CMS that comes closer to saying something relevant but also critical to managers and other practitioners. Their conception of CMS accepts and promotes the idea that knowledge should be used to make a positive but also emancipatory difference, and thereby counteracts tendencies towards cynicism and hypocrisy. Focusing on engagement with theories of management in a spirit of critical performativity is seen, pragmatically, to provide a way for CMS to contribute to progressive social change in the form, for example, of micro-emancipation (Alvesson and Willmott 1996). Incorporating a performative dimension within criticality (or putting performativity in a critical context) underscores the understanding that critique can, and perhaps must, involve an affirmative, constructive impulse alongside its reflexive and deconstructive (p. 14) moment if it is not to become one-sidedly negative—and thus marginalized in any setting outside the esoteric domain of academic journal and monograph publication.

Recalling the Bigger Picture

We now briefly consider a couple of other recent reflections on CMS that frame its distinctive features in somewhat different ways than Fournier and Grey—although they also focus, more directly and concretely, on the key objects or targets of de-naturalization. Alvesson (2008) has argued that the concerns of CMS may be broadly described as follows:

  1. (a) the critical questioning of ideologies, institutions, interests, and identities (the 4 I's) that are assessed to be (i) dominant, (ii) harmful, and (iii) under-challenged;

  2. (b) through negations, deconstructions, re-voicing or de-familiarizations;

  3. (c) with the aim of inspiring social reform in the presumed interest of the majority and/or those non-privileged, as well as emancipation and/or resistance from ideologies, institutions, and identities that tend to fix people into unreflectively arrived at and reproduced ideas, intentions, and practices;

  4. (d) with some degree of appreciation of the constraints of the work and life situations of people (including managers) in the contemporary organizational world, e.g., that a legitimate purpose for organizations is the production of services and goods (see also Fleming and Mandarini, Chapter 16).

This formulation seems sufficiently broad to accommodate the different strands of CMS (see Part I) whilst demarcating the field from varieties of constructionist and interpretivist analysis. It invites exponents of CMS to orient their activities to the critical illumination of under-challenged institutions, ideologies, interests, and identities that are assessed to be dominant and harmful. In this respect, CMS is delineated from interpretive studies that illuminate and appreciate identities, etc. but do not focus on those that are dominant or target and critique their domination (willmott 2007). By incorporating negations as well as deconstructions, this conception of CMS endeavors to appreciate and accommodate the contribution of both its structuralist and poststructuralist variants (see Jones, Chapter 5). The idea of “re-voicing,” for example, points to how a managerial view of certain practices or groups of employees may be challenged by developing alternative narratives that not only subvert this view but also account for the dominant narrative in terms of an elite group's privileged access to key means of communication. As a movement, CMS is involved in striving to expand alternative means of communication in (p. 15) which actions and actors are re-voiced. Finally, with regard to point (d), it is worth acknowledging that for proponents of “purist” CMS this may be unacceptably compromising. Any measure of sympathy for managers and other elites may be interpreted as a loss of nerve that renders CMS needlessly vulnerable to absorption within the progressive mainstream and thus disable its critical edge.

When considering key objects or targets of CMS de-naturalization it is relevant to return to a proposal floated by Fournier and Grey (2000). CMS, they suggest, might usefully free itself from the “straightjacket” of debates about whether to promote or refuse dialogue with managers in order to “re-imagine engagement in terms of a broader organizational constituency” (2000: 27). Teasingly, Fournier and Grey have little to say about the nature of this “broader organizational constituency.” Here we take up the challenge by connecting its meaning and scope to the Domain Statement of the CMS Division of the Academy of Management where CMS is described as critical of practices that include “the profit imperative, patriarchy, racial inequality, and ecological irresponsibility” (ibid., emphasis added). Desirous of “changing this situation,” the domain statement presents CMS as ambitious “to generate radical alternatives” (ibid., emphasis added). This aspiration resonates directly with the objectives of broader social movements which we here understand to form part of Fournier and Grey's “broader organizational constituency.” More specifically, we take this constituency to be inclusive of the Global Justice Movement in which the importance of self-determination is stressed as an alternative to continued dependence upon corporate patronage or marginalization:

We stand for the right of communities to control their own destinies and resources, whether that is indigenous community preserving its land and culture or a neighbourhood deciding to keep its local hospital open. Enterprises and businesses must be rooted in communities and accountable to them. (Starhawk 2000; see also Cavanagh and Anderson 2002)

The affinities between the aspirations of CMS and the Global Justice Movement suggest the possibility of forging connections with similar movements that could be mutually strengthening and enriching. Individual members of CMS already participate in movements opposing corporate-led globalization—for instance, by fostering a sustainability ethos that gives priority to biodiversity, water usage, and carbon emission (e.g., Saravanamuthu et al. 2007). Building upon and extending such involvements and initiatives has the potential to develop closer links—for example, by making connections between struggles for Global Justice and insights of CMS research into the operation of global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, G8, and the World Trade Organization.

It is a connection made by Banerjee (2007: 102 ff.) in his analysis of the exclusion of human rights and inclusion of property rights (TRIPS) in World Trade Organization agreements. He explores how the WTO succumbed to lobbying by powerful transnational corporations in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and information (p. 16) technology industries and, in particular, points (2007: 105 ff.) to the damaging consequences of imposing a regime of intellectual property rights on indigenous knowledge. To address these concerns, Banerjee urges that greater attention be given to the range of social movements and organized collective efforts—which could include CMS as well as groups participating in the World Social Forum, for example—committed to addressing the most pressing contemporary problems of corporate social responsibility with respect to poverty, democracy, and climate change.

Murphy (2008a, 2008b) has also sought to better understand and challenge the role and logic of “global managerialism” in supporting and legitimizing grossly unequal patterns of resource distribution presided over by global institutions. His work provides an empirically rich and disturbing analysis of the role of the World Bank in processes of global economic homogenization. More specifically, Murphy shows how, as a dominant player within a complex of formal and informal transnational organizational networks (e.g., Davos, Bilderburg), the World Bank exports concertive control strategies into the international development domain. Through detailed, participant-observation case studies of the financing of the Karmet steel mill in Kazakstan and World Bank education initiatives in Niger and India, Murphy illustrates how global elites colonize their clientele through an appealing invocation of ostensibly depoliticized programmatic rhetoric of “partnership,” “participation,” and “inclusivity.”

Given the aspirations of the CMS Domain Statement referred to above, these signs that the critical study of management is being expanded from its current focus upon management-in-organizations to a broader attentiveness to the management-of-key-institutions and vital resources—such as banks, oil companies, global institutions, regulatory bodies and so on—are to be welcomed. Another example of how exponents of CMS can deploy their expertise to raise big questions about key issues of management, such as the corporate governance of major institutions, is provided by the series of Guardian blogs posted by Prem Sikka ( Although it is rather invidious to single out a particular academic, Sikka has been an exemplary exponent of CMS, especially in using publicly available information to challenge self-serving wisdoms promulgated by corporate executives, accounting elites, politicians, and regulators. In addition to his Guardian blogs, Sikka has tirelessly briefed the media and policymakers as well as written numerous newspaper articles and policy papers, often with politicians as co-authors (see For example, a recent blog comments on the role of auditors in endorsing the stability of major corporations where he refers to Lehman Brothers. Published prior to the company's spectacular demise in the financial meltdown, Sikka notes that their accounts listed derivatives contracts with a face value of $738bn and fair value of $36.8bn. Signing off these accounts, Ernst and Young, Lehman's auditors, gave the company a clean bill of health for the year up to November 2007 and were paid very handsomely (p. 17) ($31,307,000)for this box-ticking service. Yet, it was Lehman Brothers' massive exposure to these same, inherently risky and volatile, derivatives contracts, that led to the company's collapse into administration in September 2008, an event which considerably amplified the instability and panic characteristic of a rapidly escalating global financial crisis.

In such ways, mobilization of critical thinking in CMS research reaches out beyond the self-referential sphere of scholarship to provide resources for informed protests and progressive challenges to the operation of corporations as “instruments of domination and exploitation” (CMS IG Domain Statement). By extolling and disseminating research in which corporations and managerialism are situated in a wider context (see Barley 2006), there is an enhanced prospect of making connections between CMS research, pressing public issues and resonant forms of activism. It is by forging such links that CMS can better “connect the practical shortcomings in management and individual managers to the demands of a socially divisive and ecologically destructive system within which managers work” (CMS Domain Statement).

Business Schools: The Institutional Location of CMS

Before becoming too carried away by the prospect of business school academics becoming storm troopers in the fight against global injustice, it is relevant to recall their/our institutional location. This can undoubtedly act as a conservative influence and constraint upon the capacity of CMS to have a practical impact. Business schools are hardly renowned for the incubation of radical ideas and agendas. To the contrary, they are better known for turning out MBAs who run corporations like Enron and Lehman Brothers who extolled their “entrepreneurial approach to business” (Fortune 2008). In Chapter 9, Banerjee et al. consider the MBA in the context of globalization, exploring how this global business qualification rationalizes and homogenizes the canon of management knowledge. Nonetheless, and perhaps inexplicably and temporarily, business schools enjoy a certain cachet. Potentially, this provides business school academics with access to media and policy-making arenas that is more difficult for scholars based in social science departments. Moreover, so long as corporations, government departments, and increasingly third sector employers continue to recruit from business schools, management academics have the opportunity to shape and influence what and how they learn.

(p. 18) That said, it is an uphill struggle. In most management departments or business schools, the content of curricula and research is predominantly conservative or “right wing” in orientation. Business schools are implicitly or explicitly supportive of the institutions and values of corporate capitalism, especially where the teaching of MBAs and executive programs takes priority. Whether this will change in a context where key capitalist institutions, the banks, have failed spectacularly and large parts of the financial sector, including banks, have been nationalized, remains to be seen. The neoliberal dream of capitalism has produced the nightmare scenario of a liquidity lock down. As the debt mountain of risks and hedges associated with collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs) has ballooned and then punctured in the 2008 financial meltdown (Klimecki and Willmott 2009), questions will, or should, be increasingly asked about the value(s) and sustainability of capitalism, and not just about how the insolvency of financial institutions can best be socialized to restore stability.

To the extent that such questions are raised, and the insights of Marx as well as Keynes and Polanyi are rediscovered and reappraised, there will be a resonance with the critical performativity of CMS. In boom times, critiques of business and management are assumed to be irrelevant or casually dismissed as the bleating of a tiny, disaffected minority. But when the capitalist credo of neoliberalism becomes so shockingly and comprehensively discredited, critiques, including CMS ideas and texts, can touch a nerve. That CMS ideas have been developed within such a pro-capitalist an institution as the business school could not have been predicted, was certainly not intended, and is nicely illustrative of a key critical concept—contradiction.

To make sense of how the critical study of management emerged within business schools, we must take some account of the history of business education in the context of higher education (Contu, Chapter 27). A key condition of possibility for the development of CMS is the positioning of most (but not all) business schools10 as departments within universities. As such, they are required to comply with the values and norms of the wider institution by exhibiting at least a degree of “academic respectability.” Gaining and retaining their place within institutions of higher education requires that they subscribe, at least minimally and ostensibly, to the liberal virtues of diversity, and to contribute to the development of knowledge through processes of peer review. When located in universities where a reputation for independence is prized and guarded, business school deans cannot simply hire consultants or gurus as professors, even though this might be the preference of some corporate patrons and students. Instead, tenured staff are required to exhibit a modicum of academic respectability—as demonstrated through publication in esteemed journals and supportive references from established academics in prestigious institutions.

The outcome is that the hiring of most full-time staff within business schools tends to place academic qualifications and reputation above political allegiance or a (p. 19) track record in business and administration. Reputable universities as well as savvy students have a strong interest in their business schools conforming to the norms of academia even when they are mostly valued as “cash cows” that cross-subsidize other departments. On the other hand, because the funding of business schools (which in many countries includes fees from students who expect a return on their investment by improving their chances within the labor market) relies directly or indirectly upon corporate patronage and demand, the content of curricula tends to be rather conservative or, at best, partly lite-critical, even when taught by exponents of CMS. It is perhaps only in a situation where CMS staff comprise a majority of faculty, or form a well-organized, energetic, and influential minority, that a more extensively radical curriculum can be supported. In turn, it is only when radical content and teaching methods are widely introduced, rather than tolerated at the margin, that it becomes possible to test and debunk the (conservative) view that critical education will always be resisted by students.

In short, the nesting of business schools within universities, primarily for reasons of status on the part of students and necessity on the part of universities, has provided the conditions of possibility for opening up a space for the emergence of CMS. Other supportive circumstances have facilitated its growth. These circumstances include a creeping disillusionment with the (positivist) model of science that was assumed to provide the appropriate foundation for business education. Despite vigorous attempts (e.g., Pfeffer 1993), it has so far proved impossible to establish and police a single, agreed set of criteria or a “paradigm” for determining what is “scientific.” This difficulty has been compounded by wider debates in the social sciences about the ethics of aspiring to develop value-free, objective knowledge, to which proponents of CMS have very actively contributed (e.g., Willmott 1997; Alvesson and Sköldberg 2009; Johnson and Duberley, Chapter 17). Over the past two decades, there has been a gradual but steady process of fragmentation and disintegration as diverse theories, perspectives, and schools have emerged to disrupt the pious hope of a single, unified social science. This disarray has tended to distract and divide those who, armed with a totalizing formula, might otherwise have mounted stronger and more sustained opposition to CMS.

In this context, allegiance to the CMS banner can be seen as a deft, or at least expedient, move that confers a degree of protection and legitimation on marginal orientations, especially for academics based in departments lacking a “critical mass” of critically oriented faculty. Such allegiance does not necessarily occur self-consciously but that does not undermine the point. In a context where critical work has become more widely published in respected journals, where critical scholars are win prestigious research council grants, and where they are being promoted to senior positions, more open allegiance to CMS is becoming a less risky, more attractive option for those disillusioned with, or who had never been entranced by, the mainstream. As CMS has grown in profile and influence, it has also been occupied as a career platform by management researchers with (p. 20) “esoteric” interests in “management” (broadly defined). CMS as a label, identity, and affiliation has helped to legitimize work focusing on diverse phenomena—cartoons, fictional literature, philosophy, etc.—some of which are conventionally seen as having very limited reference to management, however broadly defined. A purist conception of CMS would tend to seek the expulsion of such “misfits” from CMS on the grounds that their work is idiosyncratic rather than critical, and that its effect is to dilute rather than enrich CMS. A more pragmatic and liberal response would be to say that, balanced against any adulteration associated with their inclusion, it is relevant to acknowledge the political value of their contribution to the size and related influence of CMS as a movement and, in addition, to recognise the possibility that such marginalized misfits may reinvigorate CMS with fresh and challenging insights. This brings us to a consideration of the prospects for CMS.

Future Challenges and Possibilities

The institutional strength of CMS continues to grow, yet there are many continuing, emergent, and dislocating challenges. We have noted how the wider world is changing in ways that may make CMS more relevant and engaging. After 9/11, Enron, and the so-called “credit crunch” or debt binge there is an emerging awareness of the relativity and contingent viability of dominant, Western values and forms of knowledge. Associated with this, there is greater skepticism about many types of authority as well as evidence of retreat to apparent givens and certainties (e.g., fundamentalism, evidence-based policy-making, etc.). There is growing interest in issues—business ethics, diversity, environmentalism, neo-imperialism—that have direct relevance for the everyday conduct of management, yet have been largely excluded from, or trivialized by, orthodox research and also from textbook accounts of business.

Fifty years after the appearance of a post-affluent society (Galbraith 1958), where a very high material standard of living is enjoyed by a majority of people in the advanced or overdeveloped economies, there is a renewed questioning of the sense—and even saneness—of a continuing emphasis on increased efficiency and productivity, economic growth and increased consumption, rather than a more enlightened focus upon attaining more equitable and ecologically sustainable resource distribution. Policy and practice on key questions of food, energy, and climate are in disarray. As we write, the neoliberal experiment has resulted in chaotic, ignominious failure and is set to further damage the life chances of ordinary people around the globe public assets are being sequestered to bail out the squalor of (p. 21) private greed fueled by a neoliberal cocktail of economic naivety and political-cum-regulatory irresponsibility. And we have yet to feel the full impact of failures to honor (unregulated and virtually untraceable) credit default swaps (CDS)—what Warren Buffett has termed the “financial weapons of mass destruction.”11 For those who sense that management involves issues that extend beyond the standard fare of orthodox textbooks and leading journals, CMS commends an approach that is politically as well as epistemologically differentiated from the mainstream.

In this changing and fragmented landscape of ecological degradation, extremes of affluence and poverty, and global capitalism in meltdown possibilities open up for CMS accompanied by immense challenges. Much CMS writing is criticized for being pretentious and obscure, rendering it inaccessible to a wider audience who, in principle, its exponents seek to reach, educate, and influence. In terms of theoretical and political orientation, CMS might appear to provide an ideal home for academics keen to take on activist roles. In practice, however, and with few exceptions, critical management scholars have tended to shy away from the public arena or, at best, have had limited impact when acting within it. An accusation might be made that the quest for academic credibility has become a (performative) end in itself; and that few critical scholars have been prepared to place their heads above the parapet. The focus and effects of CMS has, to date, been confined mainly to the realm of Academia—in terms of shifting teaching curricula, engaging in more critically-oriented research, establishing and running critical journals, organizing conferences, shaping the development of learned societies (e.g., Academy of Management), etc. Considerable and perhaps unexpected progress has been made in institutionalizing CMS in the curricula and research agendas of a number of business schools. On the other hand, it is perhaps salutary to acknowledge how few CMS academics have, for example, made any substantial contribution to public discussion of policies and practices, including scandals, relating to business—most recently, of course, the conditions and consequences of the financial crisis of 2008 that has filled the news headlines as we have prepared this Introduction.

The contents of this Handbook indicate what has been achieved over the past fifteen-twenty years in the development of a scholarly body of critically oriented scholarship on management. During this period, CMS has come to occupy and institutionalize a niche for teaching and research within business schools. Despite these achievements, however, its presence remains marginal and precarious. The dissemination of CMS ideas is currently comparatively thin and patchy, as is their application in the development of a less didactic pedagogy (Contu, Chapter 27). Business schools in which CMS has a significant representation are largely restricted to the UK. In addition to the task of strengthening and expanding its modest presence in North America, parts of Europe and Australia/New Zealand, CMS faces the daunting challenge of influencing the development of schools outside of the “First World,” especially in emergent and “developing” economies.

(p. 22) The emergence and development of CMS has occurred with a specific context and set of circumstances conducive to its growth, as sketched earlier. As a marginal and fragile movement, there is no guarantee that it will prosper. A change of circumstances, such as the expulsion of business schools from universities,12 could foreshadow its demise. Institutionalizing CMS, not just in books but inside business schools, within journals and in learned societies can provide some degree of protection against this vulnerability. Accordingly, much energy has been expended in building up, reproducing and reinforcing its (self-disciplining) networks, structures, and norms.13 Given the obstacles and challenges faced by exponents of CMS, it is, perhaps, a little too easy to subscribe to a one-sidedly hyper-critical view of CMS proponents harboring apparently “impure” (e.g., careerist) motives and pursuing “cynical” practices (e.g., empire-building). That advocates of CMS have mixed motives and equivocal aspirations is surely to be expected. CMS institution-building activities are a necessary basis for extending and deepening its influence and impact but this does not imply their sufficiency. Understood in this way, CMS is not so much a specialist area of management studies as it is a developing movement oriented to the emancipatory transformation of those aspects of management, as a dominant modern institution, that needlessly supports and sustains avoidable suffering and oppression.


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(1.) In preparing this Introduction, we have drawn upon and adapted a number of our earlier commentaries on CMS that include Alvesson and Willmott (1996); Alvesson and Willmott (2003); Grey and Willmott (2005); Alvesson (2008); Willmott (2008).

(2.) While we refer to “the mainsteam,” we recognize that this Other is much less coherent, discrete, and static than the term implies. To elaborate the aquatic metaphor, the mainsteam comprises a large number of currents and tributaries whose influence ebbs and flows. The mainstream may also inundate, or selectively draw in, approaches that, when suitably diluted, can refresh or change its course.

(3.) In reflecting critically upon our own experience in assembling the Handbook, it appears that this marginalization may extend to established exponents of CMS. Was it purely coincidental that a very high proportion of both US and female academics who were initially approached to prepare a contribution either declined or did not deliver? The latter might perhaps in part be explained by misgivings, if not hostility, to the exclusively male editorial team but can the former?

(4.) The collection drew upon papers presented at a small conference held in 1989 which brought together scholars from Europe and North America to connect critical work that was emerging on both sides of the Atlantic.

(5.) The growth, diversification and ongoing institutionalization of CMS is perhaps most evident in the spawning of conferences, notably, the bi-annual Critical Management Studies Conference that has attracted participants from over twenty-five countries; the development of a major journal (Organization) that is explicitly critical in orientation, and the recent establishment of CMS as a full division of the Academy of Management. There have also been numerous CMS workshops and smaller conferences held around the world (e.g., Japan, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand), the emergence of other journals with a strongly critical flavor (e.g., ephemera, Electronic Journal of Radical Organization Theory, Tamara), special issues of more mainstream journals (e.g. Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly) as well as regular contributions to established journals (e.g., Journal of Management Studies, Human Relations, Management Learning).

(6.) It was Max Horkheimer, Director of the Frankfurt-based Institute of Social Research in which critical theory was incubated, who identified white-collar employees, amongst whom may be included many managers and supervisors, as a social group that demanded urgent critical examination (Horkheimer 1937). In setting out his vision of critical theory, Horkheimer contrasted it with a view of scientific study that assumes a seemingly objective, instrumental relationship to its “objects,” a theme that remains of central importance for CMS analysis.

(7.) Fournier and Grey (2000) refer to the non-performative or anti-performative stance taken by CMS, and do not use the term “anti-performativity.”

(8.) We noted earlier how the development of CMS has been guided by a number of dominant perspectives. In a later section we attend to the business school as the immediate institutional context in which CMS has developed.

(9.) To illustrate their position, Fournier and Grey (2000) give the example of how gender is taken up in non-critical, performative analysis and contrast it with a critical approach: “In non-critical work, the issue might be one of harnessing diversity in the pursuit of effectiveness … gender inequalities are translated into problems of wasted resources … [In contrast], critical perspectives may concentrate on the making of gender differences and the ways in which organizational practices, including equal opportunity practices, are implicated in the reproduction of gendered power relations” (ibid.: 17–8). Given that this example of critical analysis presents an alternative to mainstream, performative accounts of gender, it is rather ironic that Thompson (2004) also takes Fournier and Grey to task for ignoring the politics of the workplace and diagnoses this omission as a consequence of their alleged obsession with epistemological and ontological quandaries. Concerns about knowledge claims and the nature of reality, Thompson contends, lead to the blunting, rather than a sharpening, of critique as they orchestrate a slide into relativism which makes it irrational to advance meaningful truth claims. And, allegedly, it is this slide that makes it impossible to distinguish between the rhetorical claims of the powerful and the underlying realities associated with these systems of power. To defend this assessment, Thompson appeals to critical realism. This move involves a further irony as the position of critical realism has been forged through an extensive and highly sophisticated engagement with dominant strands of the philosophy of (social) science (e.g., Sayer 1992; Fleetwood 2005), an engagement which suggests that wrestling with ontological and epistemological quandaries is neither optional nor marginal. Moreover, it is questionable whether this engagement need displace a focus upon “the politics of the workplace” and beyond. The challenge is to be reflexively sensitive to the ontological and epistemological limitations of each particular approach to advancing meaningful truth claims whilst undertaking critical work with an emancipatory intent that reaches, and has relevance for, a broad audience that incorporates managers as well as students but it not confined to these constituencies. The advocacy of critical realism is valuable in reminding us that if CMS is to be socially influential, it must focus on effective political engagement. However, it can be too quick to dismiss other traditions that share a concern to be politically relevant without privileging elements of critical realism that have been assessed to be problematical—notably its positive, naturalized ontology and, relatedly, its bracketing of reflexivity about its own construction as a discourse (see Glynos and Howarth 2007).

(10.) Our use of the term “business school” is intended to include similar institutions, such as schools and departments of management, and departments of business administration.

(11.) According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, CDSs have an estimated notional value of around $62 trillion (as of September 2008), which compares to the Gross World Product in 2007 of approximately $54.35 trillion (World Bank estimate).

(12.) This scenario is now rather unlikely as, perversely perhaps, universities have, in dining with the business school devil, become increasingly dependent financially upon the expansion of business school education.

(13.) These include its virtual elements— and the list serve whose archive can be found at