Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

7
Deus ex Machina: Concluding Remarks

If one wants to pass through open doors easily, one must bear in mind that they have a solid frame: this principle, according to which the old professor had always lived, is simply a requirement of the sense of reality. But if there is such a thing as a sense of reality -- and no one will doubt that it has its raison d'etre -- then there must also be something that one can call a sense of possibility . . . So the sense of possibility might be defined outright as the capacity to think how everything could 'just as easily be, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not.

(Musil 1953/ 1979: 12).

What is management? In this book I offer a historical approach to that question, viewing management as ideology and practice. In order to uncover the roots of management, I went back to the period between the Civil War and the Great Depression -- exhuming the conflictive and controversial process by which management became an established or institutionalized activity in the United States. Today, American industrialization and its ideology celebrate corporate capitalism and glorify the contribution of professional management to the further advancement of capitalism. The rise of professional management became a progressive symbol of the American industrial way. This ideal, and linear view of management is the product of historical reification; challenging management has required a return to its origins, to the 'scene of the crime', as it were. One could find early assertions of discontent with the rise of management in the writings of Adam Smith, the founding father of modern economics. With the advent of managerial capitalism, however, Smith's admonitions (and similar ones made by his contemporaries) have been forgotten, as has the early conflictive history of American management. Such conflicts and discontents have been largely papered over by the optimistic and progressive historical narrative of modern management and its theoretical handmaiden, organizational and management theories.

My attempt to uncover the roots of management unfolded along three dimensions. First, I documented how the roots of modern American management theory and practice lie in mechanical engineering. The basic contours of managerial ideology emerged from the discourse of mechanical engineering, a

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