Management Theory Essay


(We can) conceive of twentieth-century management theory as being involved in a double movement of constructing organizational reality and rationality while effacing the process of construction behind a mask of science and naturalness, we can see Critical Management Studies as being engaged in a project of undoing this work, of deconstructing the reality of organizational life or truthfulness of organizational knowledge by exposing its un-naturalness or irrationality.�
Delbridge and Keenoy, 2010.

Discuss the validity of the above statement in light of your readings and research.

The essay will be based on the generic criteria of the student demonstrating a sound understanding of relevant literature, a critical evaluation of theory and an ability to construct a well reasoned and evidenced justification of an essay conclusion.

Don�t forget there is no right answer here! Your essay is a critical discussion and debate. What we are looking for is a thoughtful answer to the question, one that demonstrates that you have engaged with the subject – read about and around the topic and formed an informed opinion. You could take several different directions and compare and contrast these differing views. 
The key to getting a high grade in this essay is to argue your point with reference to different writers and concepts, considering those who might disagree but explaining why you reach your conclusion. 



The core devotion of management theory throughout the 20th century has been understood to entail the scientific improvement in managerial practice as well as the way organizations function. A major assumption is that questions relating to effectiveness and efficiency both directly and indirectly ought to be central to management theory. According to Delbridge & Keenoy (2010), we can conceive the 20th-century management theory as one that involved a double movement. The first movement entails the construction of organizational rationality and reality (Delbridge & Keenoy (2010). The second movement in 20th-century management, according to Delbridge & Keenoy (2010), entails effacing the process through which a mask of naturalness and science is constructed.


            However, it is evident that the view held in critical management studies is aimed at undoing this work. The approaches used in critical management studies appear to be deconstructing the reality that has been entrenched by organizational theory with regard to organizational life, particularly in aspects of truthfulness in organizational knowledge (Willmott, 1992). This is done mainly through exposing the so-called ‘irrationality and un-naturalness’ of organizational knowledge.

            The aim of this paper is to discuss the views of Delbridge & Keenoy (2010) and to determine whether they are a true reflection of the position held in critical management studies with regard to the tenets of the 20th-century management theory. As per this paper’s thesis, the argument made is that Delbridge & Keenoy (2010) are right in asserting that in critical management studies largely undo the position held in management theory. In this regard, critical management studies undo the reality that has been entrenched with regard to organizational life as well as the truthfulness and scientific nature of organizational knowledge.

The relevance of knowledge of management in 20th-century management theory

In the 20th-century management theory, it is widely assumed that the greatest relevance of knowledge of management is to managers. In this regard, efforts are routinely made to present managers as carriers of initiative and rationality (Morgan, 1980). This is evident in many aspects of corporate cultures and measures aimed at improving strategic management. In most cases, other actors are viewed as objects of actions arising out of managerial practice. Management is viewed as a technical function that is socially valuable, particularly because it works in the general interest of employers, workers, customers, as well as citizens (Fleetwood, 2005).

However, in critical management studies, there is a trend that is characterized by an increasingly large body of knowledge relating to critiques of the core tenets of management theory. In this body of knowledge, a lot of emphases is on questioning the wisdom of taking the virtue or neutrality of management as one that is unproblematic and self-evident.

From the viewpoint of critical theory, management is considered too potent in terms of its impact on the lives of consumers, employees, and citizens to be guided solely by narrow and largely instrumental conceptions of rationality (Hassard, 2001). In holding this view, most critical theorists argue that management a social phenomenon that is too crucial not to be subjected to serious critical examination (Mingers, 1992). For many of these scholars, most of the critical examination should be directed towards white-collar employees, among them numerous supervisors and managers (Grice, 1997). The scholars argue that a critical analysis of this group may provide crucial hints to the existing bourgeois division of politics and science. In this analysis, the assumption is that such an undertaking would amount to emancipator commitment to critical management studies. Moreover, the analysis would set the critical theorist apart from the positivist scientist who assumes that there is an objective, instrumental relationship between management decisions and the value judgments for operations in other spheres such as politics.

It is evident, though, that management plays a critical ‘productive’ role in organizational work, and this is a major argument that is propounded in the 20th-century management theory (Adler, 2007). Critical theorists, however, point out that it is not appropriate to assume that the role of management is restricted to innovation, production as well as the distribution of social goods (Hancock, 2004). According to the proponents of critical theory, companies and management are also involved in efforts to ‘produce’ different ‘categories’ of people, including customers, workers, and citizens in various capacities. In this way, management is seen to play a critical role in shaping and promoting needs, beliefs, wishes, and identities.

In critical management studies, there is a lot of emphasis on the argument that management theory promotes the view of knowledge as an undertaking that is subject to neutral development in efforts to realize corporate goals (Meredith, 1998). Such a view, according to critical management studies, is politically partial and narrow-minded. Nevertheless, scholars also point out that it is not possible to equate the effects of different corporate activities with the actions of management. What the critical management theorists are opposed to, though, is the tendency to reduce the nature and role of managers to strict adherence to market dynamics and external imperatives.

Criticism of 20th-century management theory as presented in critical management studies

 In the criticism of management theory, the main effort in critical management studies is to undo the scientific approach and strict adherence to naturalness and rationality that has dominated management thinking throughout the 20th century. In this way, these studies appear to be deconstructing the reality that is conventionally associated with organizational life as well as the truthfulness attached to organizational knowledge by exposing its irrationality and unnaturalness.

One of the ways through this critique is presented is through focus on other perspectives and interests apart from those that have an immediate association with managerial positions (Zald, 2002). In this regard, the idea is to look beyond the knowledge that is acquired through the process in which the manager is managing people as well as organizational activities. One of the key outcomes of this analysis is the realization that there are numerous groups that have a very legitimate interest in getting representation in the way management functions, discourses, and processes are illuminated and developed.

            One of the main arguments is that management is not the sole preserve of managers, who are predominantly male. There are also other key participants and contributors, including customers, subordinates, and citizens, who continually express a legitimate interest in the practice of management. An example that is often provided to support this argument is the question of gender relations, which continues to be neglected in management practice as well as management theory throughout the 20th century. This neglect appears to be a crucial indicator of the irrationality and unnaturalness of the tendency to adhere strictly to the scientific tenets of management and organizational practice.

However, scholars operating in the realm of critical management studies have also been accused of neglecting discussions on gender relations, largely by not highlighting this major omission in the management theory (Carroll, 1994). There is a need for managerial practice and discourse to be subjected to careful scrutiny in terms of not just the voices that speak out loudly, but also those that speak quietly or are not yet being heard. It is unfortunate that this task is normally brushed aside in critical management studies as one that is not important (Tsui, 2004).

A major reference point in the criticism of management theory is the existence of diversity with regard to both interests and groups in the discourse as well as the practice of management (Deetz, 2000). In this reference point, contrasts are made between the technical function of management and management as a predominantly socio-political phenomenon. On the issue of technical function, it is possible to point to several activities that are conventionally undertaken within the realm of management. These include the intellectual and physical labor of producing and distributing goods as well as planning and coordination of activities.

In the example of the technical function, scholars in the critical management function agree with the proponents of management theory that what is produced and the processed used in the manufacturing and delivery systems is doubtless going to change (Pozzebon, 2004). However, engagement in various activities relating to production involves the undertaking of a number of processes and tasks that are best viewed within the realm of technical functions (Koontz, 1961). Up to this point, management theory highlights an argument similar to the one highlighted by critical theorists.


However, major differences arise in respect of the particular organization of the technical functions. For instance, the issue of who is going to occupy specific positions of management authority in the process of maintaining the division of labor is one that cannot be determined on the basis of an impersonal, technical logic (Donaldson, 1995). Yet this is precisely the position that has traditionally been held by the 20th-century management theorists. In critical management studies, this view is opposed. Scholars in this school of thought argue that this decision also entails determining who is going to derive the greatest symbolic and material advantage from the social division of labor. On this basis, they conclude that this constitutes a political matter in which there is no way that technical logic can be applied. Critical theorists hold the view that any efforts to make such appeals are aimed at making conscious efforts in the defense of sectional interests in the guise of spearheading a universal interest.

From this point of view, recurrent struggles continue to exist over what interests, purposes, or production work is to be served by the manager, the producer, the owner, and the consumer. Similarly, the critiques are motivated by struggles whether work should be organized bureaucratically, autocratically, or democratically. In most cases, when these struggles take collective actions aimed at challenging the status quo, it appears that management theory is being challenged by critical management studies.

A case in point is the opposition by critical management studies to the technocratic approach to management. According to the body of knowledge falling within the category of critical management studies, managers who use the technocratic approach are interested in exerting tight control over corporate management (Fournier, 2000). They are interested in maintaining the hierarchical organization of the organization. In so doing, the employees tend to be excluded from the efforts of designing and operating various programs. However, such exclusion makes employees express suspicion and sometimes indifference towards these programs (Alvesson, 2008).

There is no doubt that employees are interested in ‘better management’, although it is not appropriate to view this as an effort to preserve the existing structure of relations in which managers appear to be virtually unaccountable to the people they are responsible to be managing (Drucker, 2007). In a non-technocratic approach to management as suggested in critical management studies, there is a need for all the functions and processes of the manager to look at from a critical perspective (Spicer, 2009). In such a perspective, the focus should be on not just means-ends relationships but also the ways in which the conditions of the present management practice and discourse are institutionalized (Alvesson, 1992).

Lastly, in critical management studies, the 20th-century management theory is criticized for failing to take into serious consideration issues relating to power and ideology (Gladwin, 1995). The management theory is viewed as being inadequate for not paying attention to diverse perspectives and interests that have either been silenced or grossly under-represented in the mainstream discourse, incorporate discussions, and in the organizational decision-making process.


In conclusion, it evident in this discussion that in the 20th-century management theory, most focus is on the scientific approach to managerial practice and the functioning of organizations. Moreover, as Delbridge & Keenoy (2010) points out, the naturalness, rationality, and scientific aspects of this management theory continue to face criticism from critical management studies. In this criticism, most of the focus is on undoing and deconstructing the reality that has been entrenched by organizational theory with regard to organizational life, particularly in aspects of truthfulness in organizational knowledge.


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