Critical Management Studies

McDonald and Bubna-Litic (2012) and Dashtipour’s (2015) work embrace critical management studies (CMS) as both a source and basis for conducting research in critical organisational psychology. CMS includes a broad set of reflexive practices, both methodological and epistemological, in organisational and management studies. CMS developed out of a range of affinities between a broad spectrum of critical stances and provides a space for dialogue about radical alternatives that question established relations of power, control, domination and ideology under contemporary neoliberal capitalism. Arguably, CMS has been an outlet for a range of social scientists who found their home in business schools paralleling a long-term decline in funding to social science research and teaching programmes. In many ways, CMS mirrors the state of disarray in left-wing politics in the early twenty-first century, where a strong suspicion of totalising narratives has encouraged a lack of common ground necessary for a united opposition to the neoliberal agenda, even after the 2008 global financial crisis and the deep economic recession that followed (Couch, 2011). This can be seen in debates about the relevance and marginalisation of CMS, in particular the concern regarding the lack of influence that critical research has had on practice. Thus, CMS has become a broad umbrella to “challenge prevailing relations of domination” (Alvesson, Bridgman, & Willmott, 2011, p. 1), including those who represent marginalised groups in society, such as low-income workers, women, sexual minorities and also those who see new avenues towards liberation, representation and empowerment though the documenting and understanding the mechanisms of power and oppression.

A strong element of the critical perspective is the view that knowledge is incomplete without openness to different perspectives that challenge mainstream ontologies and epistemologies. Thus, it embraces a radical doubt regarding the possibility of neutrality and universality. These two stances remain suspicious of taken-for-granted forms of thinking, particularly in organisation behaviour, which they identify as inescapably located within existing historical, economic, cultural, social and political contexts (Alvesson et al., 2011; Grey & Willmott, 2005; Tadajewski et al., 2011).

An important debate in CMS revolves around the concern that critical research has rather little influence on what managers do in practice. Conflicts emerge within CMS because the more activist groups see others as ‘armchair critics’ who have failed to embody their espoused critical stance. However, the same criticism is levelled at management studies in general (Augier & March, 2007; Pfeffer & Fong, 2002). Overall, CMS seeks to ‘denaturalise’ concepts and theories, reflexively surfacing hidden assumptions regarding value systems, which affect the meaning and interpretation of research. For example, a common interest is to reveal the power relations that structure and maintain inequality in the workplace.

Dashitour (2015, p. 193) suggests that CMS obliges social psychologists to take a systems wide perspective that “influence management logics, perceptions and cognitions in organisations”. That seeking to solve managerial problems by employing a perspective based on positivist approaches to prediction and control will only further reduce the freedoms of workers; instead, the focus for social psychologists should be on the politically charged and often contradictory nature of organisations under the political economy of neoliberalism. As we ourselves have previously argued, CMS has the potential to provide the basis for new research agendas for critical social psychologists to follow as well as potential collaborations (McDonald & Bubna-Litic, 2012), particularly where social psychological topics in organisations remain under researched by social theorists and CMS scholars. These include critical social psychology’s perspectives on prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, aggression, attitudes, conformity, group processes and helping behaviours.

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