Reflections on Self, Other and Organisations

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Chapter summary

It is evident from our own experience of teaching that students prefer a diet of ‘good news’ stories. Yet the cumulative effects of the system in which they hope to secure employment as managers are the intensification of the suffering of many and the increasing degradation of Earth. This is so regardless of all those who are doing what they can to act with integrity, to manifest values of justice, perhaps (but not only) through the implementation of the United Nations Global Compact and like instruments. The United Nations itself has raised issues about vulnerable forms of employment as the ranks of the working poor swell.

This is a paradox not only for the so-called developing nations. Our own students are among the vulnerable, as are we their teachers. There is no outside. Yet it seems much university education in management persists in underwriting with pragmatic zeal the processes that universalise an economic system that even in the most so-called developed countries suggests deep cause for concern. Blame for exclusion and poverty can be placed at the feet of bad decisions of individual victims. They can be said to have made bad choices. Yet when globalisation is conveyed as a system, we see ‘economies’ expressed as ‘Rising Dragons’ and ‘Celtic Tigers’. The depictions of cyclical and systemic explanations are based on implied naturalistic metaphors. They may be better depicted as waves of hope and optimism dashed – a tsunami in the lives of those at their mercy. The blaming of individuals for their personal circumstances makes sense only if the faith we place in ‘the economy’ as an arbiter of justice can be sustained.

The globalisation and accreditation of largely western management education by ‘leading’ (western) business schools everywhere are the harbingers of this faith. What are we teaching? What do we hope for? What are the likely outcomes of this trajectory unchallenged? What might a critical management perspective bring to the education of people, some of whom will find jobs as managers, very few of whom will hold executive control? As teachers we may be told that we cannot risk making our students (customers) uncomfortable. Their comfort (teacher rating) is of vital concern to our Deans and to our personal job opportunities. Are we, as teachers, to be bound by such a market lead administration? Are we to be the silent (or silenced) adults of the village in the story with which we open Chapter 10 of Understanding Management Critically? Bauman (1999: 99) wrote that prominent in modernity is “the tendency to shift moral responsibility away from the moral self either toward socially constructed and managed supra-individual agencies or through floating responsibility inside a bureaucratic ‘rule of nobody’”. Post modernity, he claims renders relationships ‘fragmentary’ and discontinuous, foster ‘disengagement’ and ‘commitment avoidance’ (ibid., p. 156) It is an observation to which Volf (1996) suggests that theologians could foster “the kinds of agents capable of envisioning and creating just, truthful, and peaceful societies, and on shaping cultural climate in which such agents will thrive” (ibid., p. 21). It may be that the specialisations and professionalisation in teaching and research, their secularisation draws us to think on the spiritual dynamics of Shamans, teachers of all kinds who have a sense of vocation. Our faith in our doctrines needs some radical recalibrations. There is some evidence that this is occurring beyond the typical management classroom. We encourage that there be more of it – even though we may not know where such challenges will take us. We concur with Foucault who says:

Critique doesn’t have to be the premise of a deduction that concludes, ‘This, then, is what needs to be done.’ It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesn’t have to lay down the law for the law. It isn’t a stage in a programming. It is a challenge directed to what is

Capitalism: What do you think?

Watch the film below and reflect on your own position before you decide to ask students to view it. We have drafted some examples of questions that can be used as starters and/or modified to suit the level of your class, geo-social context or emerging local issues.

The Market as a Socially Responsible Lemonade Stand 3.45 mins

The attractiveness of the teaching cartoon may be obvious to those who challenge neoliberalism and are drawn to a stakeholder/community orientation. Have students watch the cartoon – and based on the time available invite group discussion or written assignments that look at the hope and the risk in this type of ‘politicised’ management education.

Orientation to deeper integration of issues

i) Is the lemonade stand situated on land stolen from indigenous people?

ii) What are the sources of water used to make the lemonade, irrigate the orchard? Is this water ‘free-flowing’?

iii) Where and how is the sugar grown, transported, sold? How are the vehicles for its transportation fuelled and disposed of at the end of their ‘productive’ life?

Reviewing key ideas in Understanding Management Critically

Reification reviewed
The naturalisation of the social fabrications and politically influential pressures of trade and exchange (reified as The Economy) has facilitated the generation of people ‘acting naturally’ to serve the interests of an elite few while seemingly pursuing their own aspirations and interests. Such ‘naturalisation’ of this institutionalised knowledge may get in the way of creative rethinking of our humanity. The Community Economies Collective argues that

if we understand capitalism as necessarily expansive and naturally dominant, we eliminate the imaginative space for alternatives and the rationale for their enactment. (p.3)

Where and how have ‘new genesis stories’ arisen and to what effect? [The world is not flat – but a sphere; Earth is not the centre of the Universe; Mind and Body/ Spirit and Matter can be bifurcated]. Is humanity at the cusp of a new story?

Critical Management Studies: Fuelling therapeutic or transformational change?

Since his publication of the Fifth Discipline Peter Senge has been recognised as a leading influence in management education. He calls for a radical re-think of our way of being (human) and of organisational learning. Margaret Wheatley is another author calling for a much more radical review of our ways of being human. The ideas being disseminated by the radical human ecologists offer a more radical ontology than the ‘technical fixes’ of the inventors of less environmentally destructive technologies – as exemplified in the TALKBOX for this chapter. Given the broad brush ideas we have canvased in this book, do you think humanity is on the cusp of radical and restorative transformation or on the brink of global disaster?

Restoring Earth

The practice of management that results in good human and environmental outcomes requires creative minds willing to face some of the hard questions before humanity. All is not well on Earth. The way we do things, the way we manage our humanity and our relationship with Earth are embroiled in this state of affairs. In various chapters, we discuss the connections between systemic exploitation of people and planet and the destruction that comes with these dynamics. We explore the risk to universal as well as personal well-being when managers in this context merely ‘function’ to serve their contracts, job-description or prescribed roles.

A debate: The motion –‘The Global Compact tightens western hegemony globally’

Instructions for setting up and ending the debate

  • Choose teams of three speakers FOR the motion (Team(s) F)
  • Choose teams of three speakers AGAINST the motion (Team(s) A)
  • Ensure all the participants in each ‘Team F’ and in each ‘Team A’ can meet as clusters of three. This can be done in class – or as homework in preparation for a future class.

Have as many teams as class numbers permit. Allocate space for all teams to

i) prepare their side of the debate;

ii) meet as two teams and conduct their debate.

You may decide to end the exercise there and to encourage each student to journal their experience of the debate and their idea about whose arguments were more persuasive. If you have time, you may select one or more teams to perform their debate to the class as a whole – or perhaps to the school as an open seminar.

Instructions to participants

The instructions below are for doing the whole debate and its preparation in class time. You might choose to have students prepare their parts as homework.


i) RALLY your collective wisdom and divide it into three lines of reasoning/arguments and allocate one line of reasoning to one of your team members. (10 minutes)

ii) Choose a Lead Speaker.

iii) Spend 10 minutes thinking through your allocated argument and prepare a 3 minute speech.

iv) Come together to prepare your presentations and to inspire your team leader, who has the responsibility for summing up at the end. (5 mins)

The debate

i) Lead speakers on each side introduce team and has one point of their own to make with great brilliance!

ii) Speakers alternate between Teams F and Team A (3 minutes per speaker). (20 mins)

iii) LEAD SPEAKERS: summarise and ‘counters’ as best they can the points made by the opposition.

iv) Adjudicator (Teacher) or the Class chooses a winner – if this is decided and/or

v) Write a reflection in your journal (5 minutes in class or a bigger piece if set for home-work) on the process and content of the debate – and where your current thoughts on the matter lie.

References and additional resources


Bauman, Z. (1999) In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity.
Fleming, P. and Jones, M.T. (2013) The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. London: SAGE.

Senge, P. (2006) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. London: Random House.

Volf, M. (1996) Exclusion and Embrace. A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Wheatley, M. (2006) Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Additional resources

David Harvey: ‘The End of Capitalism’ at A slow start – but worth hanging in! (85mins)

A question bank to review the book’s orientation

  • What is the contribution of key concepts drawn from CMS to the understanding of ‘the colonisation of the life world’ by a limited economic rationality?
  • How readily are potentially transformative ideas co-opted and assimilated into preserving the institutional logic that underpin the prevailing and intensifying economic rationality?
  • To what extent do you support or otherwise the view that the wealthy must think beyond individual consumer choices to the overall effect of their decisions on the lives of the poor?
  • What kind of notion is the notion of ‘global citizenship’? How would it be enacted other than it is now through the combination of decisions we each make – not only as consumers?
  • What will be the consequence of raising the material aspirations of the poor to the levels of wealthy western consumers and the productivity outputs to meet these?


The success of a revolution resides only in itself, precisely in the vibrations, clinches and openings it gave to men and women at the moment of its making and that composes in itself a monument that is always in the process of becoming, like those tumuli to which each traveller adds a stone.