Critical management studies (CMS) provides an alternative view of management systems, theories and doctrines that we have accepted. Apart from management it also involves other disciplines and is mainly focused on providing critique of the practices and execution of different disciplines and not just management. The critique calls for debate and discourse and does not necessarily mean abandoning the systems that is dysfunctional and needs to be improved.
According to the Critical Management website, CMS “is a largely left-wing and theoretically informed approach to management and organization studies. It challenges the prevailing conventional understanding of management and organizations.”
The discipline has its roots deep in philosophy and draws heavily on the writings of Immanuel Kant and his quest for enlightenment and Michael Foucault for his discourse analysis. The proponents of CMS have successfully brought the discipline as part of the university’s academic community and research and publications about the subject is also plenty and contributes to the body of knowledge. At the same time business schools in Europe have opened its arms and now consider CMS part of the management curriculum.
CMS researchers and scholars gather regularly for their bi-annual conferences where they share developments, identify challenges and pursue research direction.
As a growing discipline, the weight or criticality of critic in CMS has been explored by different scholars and some of them have suggested expanding the definition of C to include “cynical, comfortable, or constructive (Hartz, Rätzer & Weik, 2013), or clinical (Butler, 2008) management studies”, considering the breadth of the subject and the multiple disciplines and applications it embraces.
In identifying critical research, the University of Leicester provided these critical questions to consider:
- What is and what is not critical research on business, management, or organisation?
- How do you understand criticality in your own research?
- Is criticality something that has to do with the chosen theories or methodology, the researcher’s worldview, or the topic being researched?
- Critical of what: management studies, managers, managerialism, capitalism, or something else?
- Does critical imply Leftist? Anti-neoliberal? Anti-capital(ist)? Anti-market? Can critique be defined positively?
- What research is critical enough?
While most researchers avoid the topic of “mainstream management”, university researchers are more inclined to consider finding out what’s wrong with the way be view and practice management as it is and how CMS can somehow, improve it.
As an emerging discipline, researchers and scholars are finding some challenges in CMS. One pointed out by Adler, Forbes and Willmott is that CMS is “a catchall term signifying a heterogeneous body of work, a body that shares some common themes but is neither internally consistent nor sharply differentiable from more mainstream analysis.” (Adler et al., 2007) They propose a vigorous debate in these different approaches to foster continuous development and diversity and at the same time make it a more progressive force than it already is. Finally, CMS scholars should promote a healthy dialogue with traditional mainstream management and find ways to engage individuals outside of the academic community to be part of the discussions.
Bridgman and Stephens observed that CMS as a discipline is facing institutional problems because it lacks engagement with the outside world and because it is embedded in its academic nature. Primarily, people outside of the university community will not pay attention to CMS because of the technical terms and details, as Kant pointed out, there are knowledge which are not meant to be shared with the public and meant to be with scholars and researchers alone.
However Kant is critical of the fact that the governments are using its influence to censor the academic freedom of scholars who critique laws, popular belief and the status quo. Further, universities have a moral responsibility to question the state when it is being unreasonable or going beyond what was morally acceptable. Kant believes that universities have a moral obligation to the communities in which they belong and that these universities deserve to enjoy academic freedom without fear or reservations in expressing itself.
As a discipline, CMS can greatly benefit those outside the university because it promotes a higher nature of research that is unafraid to question the prevailing order. As centers of knowledge and progress it is natural for people in the academe to seek to enjoy freedom and raise their voice as the moral conscience of society. This benefits the public and not just CMS scholars. It is the scholar’s job to present the public with information that can help change the situation or solve the problem all together.
CMS research is often related to mainstream management and management practitioners and leaders can benefit with the ongoing CMS research that can help improve their organizations and its practices. One such study documents the development and practice of leadership – exploring how we have arrived with the present leadership principles we have today. As a broad spectrum of mainstream management, this study on leadership can improve current practices not just in business organizations but also in schools, churches and communities.
Another study looks into the post-growth development of societies and explores what strategies can be used to manage societies who have reached that level and what strategies and steps they should take next.
Considering that we are now in an age where we are bombarded with more data than we can handle, and big data can get us even more that we can hope to process, we can use CMS to identify areas where we can improve the most at the same time this can also pave the way for CMS as a discipline to be more “mainstream” and not be confined within academic walls anymore.
One area CMS scholars can focus on is rethinking the way universities operate. Apart from the diminishing academic freedom and the freedom of thought, most universities are also facing challenges in terms of budget cuts and lesser funding to continue their research work. Restrictive migration laws are also causing a drain in the intellectual capital of research universities.
The contribution of CMS can be valuable outside the academic community if its proponents can digest and present information in terms that the general public can understand. Since most CMS scholars write their outputs in forms that are not easily understood by those who do not have their academic training and skills, the public cannot grasp and appreciate the information presented to them.
If CMS can present its case and facts in terms that those trained in mainstream management can understand, it can greatly help advance the research and foster a healthy correspondence and dialogue between the two.
The application of CMS in many management and research problems can benefit different fields of study and not just management. Consider the impact CMS can have in other traditional disciplines that already falls within its own clout like the social sciences and philosophy.
One of the advantages of CMS as a discipline is that embraces everything and leaves nothing to coincidence, its empirical and cognizant nature makes it a very likely discipline that will remain despite the challenges it is facing.
“About CMS.” Critical Management, 26 Apr. 2016, www.criticalmanagement.org/content/about-cms. Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.
“What is ‘critical’ in CMS? — University of Leicester.” University of Leicester — A Leading UK University, www2.le.ac.uk/conference/previous/critical/what-is-2018critical2019-in-cms. Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.
Adler, Paul S., et al. “3 Critical Management Studies.” The Academy of Management Annals, vol. 1, no. 1, 9 Apr. 2007, p. 119179, dx.doi.org/10.1080/078559808. Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.
Bridgman, Todd, and Murdoch Stephens. “Institutionalizing Critique: A Problem of Critical Management Studies.” Ehemera Journal, vol. 8, no. 3, 2008, pp. 57-270, www.ephemerajournal.org/sites/default/files/8-3bridgman-stephens.pdf. Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.
“Critical and Clinical Management Studies.” Ephemera Articles, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 7-25, www.ephemerajournal.org/sites/default/files/8-1butler.pdf. Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.