Lawlessness at business school

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Think of the places where people talk about anarchism on college campuses. Beyond student activism, what comes to mind first are probably departments like anthropology or political science, perhaps geography, philosophy or history as well. These academic disciplines have often involved discussions of the pros and cons of the radically democratic and egalitarian practices that make up contemporary and historical anarchist movements.

The most prominent anarchist writer at the moment, David Graeber, comes from anthropology, and research groups such as the Anarchist Studies Network have generally focused on political theory and historical examples, including the anarchist revolution. during the Spanish Civil War. In recent years, research on anarchism, often carried out by anarchists, has become more visible in these areas.

But what about business school? Is this where one would expect to find discussions of anarchism? Probably not; and yet this is precisely where such discussions take place. Well, all business schools of course – many remain attached to the central role of the business school in training, both practical and ideological, the next generation of managers of capitalism – but certainly a few.

The School of Management at the University of Leicester, for example, has seen a growing interest in anarchism and radical politics in general in recent years, organizing debates and seminars on the subject. And this is not, to be clear, an attempt by jaded and cynical academics to capitalize on the sexy and edgy side of the word. These are people who take anarchist theory and practice seriously as a means of organizing society.

To understand why, and even how, this happens, it’s important to examine how management studies have changed over the past two decades. In the early 1990s, a group of management academics began to talk about the idea of ​​“critical management studies”. Drawing on various influences including leftist politics, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School of Sociology, and poststructuralist philosophy, critical management studies were to view management and business as phenomena that exist in the world and that should be approached in the same way that a geographer would want natural or built landscapes, or a political scientist would vote on trends. Management and business are things people do, in all aspects of life, not just for-profit businesses. These are also things that people have done to them.

In the UK, this shift to critical management studies has been prompted in part by successive cuts in funding for the social sciences and other disciplines which have led to an exodus of academics entering expanding business schools. and relatively easy.

It is against this backdrop that anarchist research has found an unlikely place in business schools like the University of Leicester School of Management (other departments hosting critical management research and teaching include Essex, Copenhagen, Manchester , Cardiff, Lund and Leuven, to name a few; there are also hundreds if not thousands of critical management specialists scattered across traditional departments). As anarchist practices such as consensus decision-making and general assembly have come to characterize contemporary social movements, interest in anarchism in business schools has also grown.

Although there has been a flurry of activity, concentrated around Leicester, over the past two years – culminating with the publication this month of a special issue of the journal short-lived

titled ‘Management, Business, Anarchism’ (a play about the MBA degrees that characterize traditional management education) – a concern about what anarchism can bring to the study of management and he organization has been around for some time.

British anarchist writer Colin Ward described the radically democratic and egalitarian practices of anarchism as seeds under the snow: they still exist beneath the surface of capitalism, waiting to converge and make visible their green shoots, as they do. have done in cases like the Spanish Civil War. , the alter-globalization movement, the uprisings of 2011 or even the current resistance of the Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq.

While anarchism appears as a term here and there in critical management studies, it is in the works of authors such as Martin Parker, Valerie Fournier, Christopher Land and Patrick Reedy that it has, during the last decade, is the subject of serious reflection. in terms of what it can offer those who study management, business and organization with a critical eye.

Parker – in his book Alternative business: outlaws, crime and culture
– and Land – in the article ‘Flying the black flag: Revolt, revolution and the social organization of piracy in the “golden age”’ – discussed the example of piracy as a radically alternative form of organization, and which shows many parallels with anarchist practice (something similarly pointed out by anarchist author Gabriel Kuhn in his Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy). Reedy, in an article on anarchism and utopia, draws on anarchism as “a powerful counter-discourse to the managerial vision of the good life”. Fournier, along with Parker and Reedy, wrote the Dictionary of alternatives, a book that discusses a number of sweeping influences on critical management studies, anarchism among them.

Ongoing work in and around critical management studies of anarchism continues in this direction, and those who contributed to this month’s issue of the journal are focusing on alternative anarchist infrastructures, anarchist forms of work, radical readings of art and music, protest camp, technology and anarchist economics among others.

The bringing together of these contributions is explicitly presented in the issue of the journal as an attempt to initiate broader and more protracted discussions about the potential of bringing together anarchism and critical management studies. A key element in this regard is the fact that the included articles are freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Indeed, short-lived
is one of a growing number of journals that reject the pay-to-view business strategy of major academic publishers.

While this project may seem like a good thing as it further anchors the roots of radical politics in academic departments, there are of course downsides. The first is that this is not the first time that radical politics has been taken up by management theorists. In the 1970s and later, there were attempts to humanize management, business, and capitalism more generally by introducing horizontal organization into the workplace (Google is a recent example of this trend).

In addition to refusing to question the role of the CEO or shareholder as the ultimate arbiter of decision-making, the profit was never distributed and many noted that it was simply a matter of a new form of authoritarian management that has done little to change the power structures of work and in fact results in often more intensive work patterns. This and the individualist and right-wing libertarian approaches to anarchism are things those involved in the project have been keen to distance themselves from, and often explicitly criticized.

Another question raised during a discussion of anarchism and critical management studies at the Anarchist Studies Network conference, held at Loughborough University in September 2014, was whether, in addition to anarchism having something to offer critical management studies, critical management studies have something to offer anarchism.

While some critical management specialists in attendance were skeptical, several activists who participated in the discussion were more enthusiastic, noting that not only do business schools often have the experience and academic knowledge to help activists mentor debates on the organization, debates which have very real practical implications in contemporary social movements, but also the material resources to provide a space for such debates.

This would be an important role for those in business schools who favor critical management studies: not only researchers examining both anarchist critiques of traditional management and business and their alternatives, but also engaging. with activists of radical social movements. With the recruitment of business school students still firmly focused on the careers of middle management and entrepreneurship graduates, they are unlikely to ever become hotbeds of campus radicalism that other departments have been. in the past.

But that does not mean that critical management scholars and others working on anarchism as a radical form of democratic and egalitarian organization cannot engage in political struggle. Whether it is the ongoing dispute between employers and university staff in the UK over wages and pensions, or wider struggles outside college campuses, a litmus test to link anarchism and critical management studies will be whether it can go beyond an academic line of inquiry. and are part of the critical theoretical and practical work that is at the heart of movements for social change.

Work carried out in recent years in business schools such as the University of Leicester School of Management, work including
short-lived The special issue is reflective, is intended to be the start of a process not only to carve out a place for anarchism in critical management studies, but also to align academic and activist concerns and identify the role of research. anarchist in radical political movements.


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