Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

A Reflection on Critical Management Studies

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

A Reflection on Critical Management Studies

Article excerpt


Critical Management Studies (CMS) is interested in examining and challenging the legitimacy of traditional management theories, values and assumptions. CMS believes by reflecting and questioning existing management practices, it is possible to generate better norms, policies, ideas and management values. The essence of CMS is to deconstruct the various management techniques and functions, to expose any forms of discrimination and exploitation taking place in contemporary organisations and emancipate employees from their pain, suffering and frustration.

This paper seeks to make a contribution in the area of CMS, by examining the overall effectiveness of CMS in fulfilling its objectives. It seeks to address the effectiveness of CMS in achieving its goals in organisations, with the support of an empirical study conducted at a professional accounting firm.

Keywords: critical management studies; knowledge; power; managers; reflection; efficiency


Management, as an academic subject, has gradually undergone a metamorphosis from a dull, rational, technical and neutral activity into a vibrant, exciting, excavation site where many thought provoking issues relating to politics, moral values, ethics, gender and exploitation can be unearthed and explored. The days of Fayol (1949) and his conceptualisation of managerial work have been declared extinct (Mintzberg 1973). 'Fayol's (the classical school of management) fifty year description of managerial work is no longer of use to us' (Mintzberg 1971, as in Carroll & Gillen 1987: 39), resulting in a dissolution of the notion that all managers are technical agents, 'rational actor [s] who [are] in charge and who can control' (Stewart 1984: 323) employees, to ensure efficient functioning of the whole organisation. This certainly has had a colossal effect on management thinking, education, teaching methods and syllabus followed by business institutions.

The 1990s saw the emergence of a new management sub-discipline known as 'Critical Management Studies' (CMS). CMS, since then, has gained prominence, with its own conference streams and academic networks devoted towards discussions of 'critical management studies'. Business institutions such as Warwick Business School, Lancaster University, UMIST and Cambridge University have introduced accredited courses of Critical Management Studies and Management Learning within their postgraduate and undergraduate programs (Fournier & Grey 2000; Grey & Willmott 2002; 2005).

Critical management studies and its related subjects aim to instill among management students the ability to be critical and learn from everyday work activity. CMS concerns itself to equip management students with the capacity of self-critical analysis, management education including development, management careers, leadership development within professions and other organisation-related issues like equal opportunities policy. CMS arms management students with the ability to constantly question 'how' and 'why' of the legitimacy of the traditional management values and social assumptions - enabling students the freedom to ponder and reflect on the rightness and truthfulness of management practices including the generation and development of better norms, values, policies and ideas allowing for democratic and fair organisational operation/function. Thus, the essence of CMS is to situate management and its disciplines in the real world 'by progressing (emancipating) management inquiry out of its paradoxical state towards a preoccupation with the articulation of issues in management practice. CMS also led to the development of norms, beliefs, notions of responsibility, rights and duty that would enable individuals to live and work together' (Smallman 2005: 8). This meant emancipating employees from their pain and suffering by challenging long standing practices or traditions of an organisation and trying to suspend the taken for granted belief - 'this is the way we do things around here' (Mingers 2000). …

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