Sub-theme 70: Management in Crisis: Understanding Anomie in Contemporary Corporations
Call for Papers
Organizational life for managers has never been an easy option. Disruption, instability, contingency and uncertainty have
characterized the working lives of the majority of managers for many decades across a range of societies. However, the level
and intensity of ontological insecurity experienced by many managers under neoliberal capitalism seems to have significantly
exceeded those felt under the neo-Keynesian/Fordist conditions prevailing until the 1980s. As the overall theme of the Egos
2019 Colloquium suggests, we seem to be entering a ‘new age of organization and management’ in which the forces released by
neoliberalism – individualism, populism, market fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism and constructivism (Cahill & Konings,
2017) – fundamentally challenge the intellectual and institutional foundations of modern management theory and practice. Specifically,
this subtheme attempts to gather contributions aiming to understand how the recent transformations of work and organizations
lead to the crisis of managerial occupations, and what could be imagined and done to “fix” it.
Indeed, four decades of the ‘unbridled capitalism’ promoted and legitimated by neoliberalism (Korten, 1995; Etzioni, 1994; Sennett, 2006) have left managers – along with many other professional and technical expert occupations – ‘drowning in anomie’ (Mestrovic, 1991; Durkheim, 1961). In practice, organizations witnessed changes in their environment that complicated the everyday work of managers. The latters’ activities are increasingly dispersed around the world; they belong to networks of organizations that depend upon them and upon which they depend, making their autonomy a real challenge. They are increasingly observed by consumer associations and social movements while they are under growing pressure for a better financial performance. The managerial role itself has now been partially appropriated by different occupations including financial officers, human resources officers, accounting officers or others that perceive their expertise as crucial to the very exercise of management. The professionalization of these roles and the competition it involves renders corporate cohesion even more difficult.
Managers’ working lives and prospects are indeed defined by insecurity, instability and uncertainty such that they feel ‘completely on their own’ and forced to fall back on their personal, but substantially depleted, social and psychological resources within a shareholder-driven economy and market society that is unforgiving in its ferocity and ruthlessness (Head, 2003). The latter also undermines any residual sense of ethical commitment and moral sensibility that managers might feel for the organization as a collective entity socially anchored in a fine, and often delicate, mesh of reciprocal relationships in which “each member of the community owes something to all the rest, and the community owes something to each of its members” (Etzioni, 1994, p. 23). This communitarian configuration is today very difficult to imagine, much less realize, when “under neoliberal conditions, managers are hired protection … the division between workers and the elite that professional managers are hired to maintain inevitably fuels a rampant growth in the number of administrative technocrats employed by the institution, the new ‘securocrats’ of the modern order” (Fleming, 2015, p. 93–95).
The purpose of our sub-theme is to identify the major causes and consequences of this contemporary condition of ‘managerial anomie’ and to assess what kind of intellectual and practical responses might be made to counteract the pervasive sense of organizational dislocation that characterizes contemporary managerial life. Such an exploration of the collective existential/cultural crisis which now confronts contemporary managers will require a number of interrelated analyses of the conditions and historical contexts under and through which the latter has emerged and festered. In turn, such an exploration of these conditions and contexts may provide insight into how entrenched anomie might be counteracted by intellectual and social movements refusing to accept it as an irrevocable and irremovable state of affairs.
Taking these broad issues as framing the agenda for this sub-theme, the conveners invite contributions from a range of theoretical perspectives that will help us to develop further insights into and potential responses to ‘managerial anomie’ with an interest for questions such as:
What are the key features of ‘managerial anomie’ in contemporary organizations?
How did the work of managers evolve during the recent years in the context of neo-liberalism?
How has the shift towards neoliberal conditions, in both the polity and economy, contributed to the disintegration of modern organizations and the demise of management?
How did the role of different occupations (finance, accounting, human resources, engineering, etc.) evolve with the disintegration/dislocation of the organization? Who is really managing organizations today?
How do managers deal with the new challenges (internationalization, delocalization, disintegration, financialization, etc.)?
Can social concerns still be taken into account in the neoliberal organization and how?
Can alternative ideas and movements, help in reviving conceptions of the corporation as a community?
The above are illustrations of the kind of themes and debates which the conveners wish to address in this sub-theme. We would encourage contributions from those who have ideas about how the managerial anomie might be analysed and addressed. We welcome empirical studies shedding light on different transformations of corporations and the managerial work and challenges in them and invite you to join us in exploring these questions in Edinburgh in July 2019.
- Cahill, D., & Konings, M. (2017): Neoliberalism. Cambridge: Polity.
- Durkheim, E. (2014): The Division of Labour in Society. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Etzioni, M. (1994): Spirit of Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Fleming, P. (2015): The Mythology of Work. London: Pluto Press.
- Head, S. (2003): The New Ruthless Economy. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Korten, D.C. (1995): When Corporations Ruled the World. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.
- Mestrovic, S.G. (1991): The Coming Fin de Siècle. London: Routledge.