what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Management as religion

As you may perhaps have noticed, I’ve been experimenting with the title of the blog – in the belated realisation that "Balkan and Carpathian musings" may not be a phrase that people often punch into their search engine! "Better government" has the sort of technocratic note which is perhaps needed and does reflect some of the content. But what about the phrase I used yesterday - "in the public interest"? Another possible title could be "A Common Reader – since I do try to give references and excerpts from my extensive reading. On the other hand, I have always liked the metaphor of striving and exploring – indeed the designation on my new business card is "explorer and aesthete"(I actually wanted to put "epicurean" but desisted since it has contradictory meanings). My first little book (way back in the mid 1970s) was called "The Search for Democracy". Two titles of recent papers of mine reflect some of what I write about – "Just Words" and "Thoughts for Posterity" – but again have no resonance for those hitting the search engines. I need someone to explain to me the relative importance of (a) the name of the blog; (b) the title of the particular post; and (c) labels and keywords.
What frustrates me is that I have no real idea who the 40-50 people are who hit my various posts each day – nor whether they actually read the posts. Apart from the (rising) numbers each day, all I know is the location of the readers (in the past week the top 6 countries are, in descending order, Germany, Russia and central Asia, USA, South Korea, Bulgaria, Romania and UK). I don’t know how many of them actually return (eg there was a spike of 80 German page viewings last night).

Curious that I should buy at the weekend and start to read a book which announces (for the 4th or so time in my lifetime) the end of the power structures as we know them and the power which ordinary people now have – when the global demonstrations against finance capitalism demonstrate the scale of political impotence people all over the world feel. The book is one I had been recommended - What would Google Do? and I have discovered that it can be read for free in its entirety here.
It was first published in 2009 and, as far as I can understand, tries to demonstrate that the google way of doing business is the way of the future – for the public as well as the private sector – giving us all new power (though networks etc). You will get a good sense of it from this review.
From what I have read so far, I do not expect to have my sense of corporate power shattered – although I do hope to learn a bit more about how Google and internet companies operate.

But the book seems to me another example of how we seem to have lost our social memory.
I remember reading, in the early 1970s, books by prominent management theorists (such as Warren Bennis) and others (such as Toffler – Future Shock) which promised the end of bureaucracy.

The early 1990s saw breathless books (by people such as Tom Peters) which promised the same. Forty years on, what do we have – stronger bureaucracy (now called contracting, procurement and regulatory bodies) than ever - and more autocratic and pyschotic leadership and management!
And I find it significant that – as far as Google Scholar goes – Warren Bennis hardly existed.

For me, it is very strange how difficult it is to get hold of serious books which critique the whole management religion. I know that a lot of sociologists have in fact conducted such critiques but two factors make it difficult for the interested citizen (another possible title for my blog??) to access this stream of work. First the language in which (and the narrow audience for which) they write - in expensive, specialist academic journals.
And, secondly, the control exerted by (large) publishing companies who have a very special interest in NOT demystifying management since they make so much money from management books – whether textbooks or airport lounge pickups.
 All credit therefore to Sage Publications for giving Chris Grey the opportunity to publish A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organisations (2009 2nd edition) which, for me, contains more incendiary material than Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara and Al-Quada rolled together. It is written by an academic who can actually write clearly - and who sees it as his job to interpret for us the significant parts of academic work.

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