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Philosophy of Management

Volume 3, Issue 3, 2003
What is Management

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1. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
Editorial: ‘What Is Management?’
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2. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
Bruce G. Charlton, Peter Andras What Is Management and What Do Managers Do? A Systems Theory Account
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Systems Theory analyses the world in terms of communications and divides the natural world into environment and systems. Systems are characterised by their high density of communications and tend to become more complex and efficient with time, usually by means of increased specialisation and coordinationof functions.Management is an organisational sub-system which models all necessary aspects of organisational activity such that this model may be used for monitoring, prediction and planning of the organisation as a whole. The function of a specific management system depends on its history of selection by interactions with theenvironment (which includes other systems). The main function of a management system will be a consequence of the most powerful and sustained selection pressure it has experienced.Systems Theory implies a management science which is quantitative and comparative. It is quantitative because it is based upon the measurement and mapping of communications as the basis of analysis; it is comparative because evaluations relate to specific variables measured in a specific spatio-temporal contextand subjected to analytic processes of constrained complexity.Selection processes are broadly responsible for the dominance of management in contemporary Western societies. The complexity of management systems will probably continue to increase for as long as the efficiency-enhancing potential of complexity outweighs its increased transaction costs.
3. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
Michael Macaulay, Alan Lawton Misunderstanding Machiavelli in Management: Metaphor, Analogy and Historical Method
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This article investigates some of the various ways in which theorists have used Machiavelli (and more specifically The Prince) in a business and management context and suggests that the two most common approaches, the use of metaphor and the use of analogy, are both flawed. Metaphor often relies on a reading of Machiavelli that cannot be sustained, whereas analogy takes Machiavelli too far out of historical context. This article discusses how business and management can more usefully incorporate Machiavelli’s ideas by placing them within a tradition of discourse, along the lines of Lockyer’s historical method. We outline three potential discourses: those of humanism; of guides to leadership; and of power. In so doing the article suggests that historical texts (in particular Machiavelli) can prove useful to students and practitioners of business and management.
4. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
Mark W. Moss Practically Useless? Why Management Theory Needs Popper
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What would Karl Popper have made of today’s management and organisation theories? He would surely have approved of the openness of debate in some quarters, but the ease with which many managers accept the generalisations of some academics, gurus and consultants might well have troubled him. Popperhimself argued that processes of induction alone were unlikely to lead to developments in knowledge and considered processes of justification to be more important. He claimed that it was not through verifying theories from experiment that knowledge actually developed but through the invention of bold and innovative theories that experimenters then tried to falsify. If new theories did not agree with the results of experiment, then they were considered false. If they passed testing then they were considered unfalsified and worthy of further testing rather than true. Objective knowledge was to be obtained through ensuringcritical debate and learning, rather than adhering to some objective scientific method.In this paper, Popper’s notion of falsificationism is explored through stressing the importance of the predictive content and testability of theories. A number of theories from the fields of management and organisation theory are examined and it is argued that many of them suffer from one of three defects: fromover-reliance upon untestable elements with psychological origins; from being phrased in language so vague that they gloss over phenomena; or from making predictions that are so cautious and all-encompassing as to be practically useless. As a result, they are likely to be unfalsifiable in Popper’s terms and their epistemological status is called into question. While acknowledging that the unpredictability of social systems poses problems for an approach stressing predictability, I conclude by arguing that organisation theory and management knowledge might well benefit from the openness and critical nature of Popper’s approach.
5. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
René ten Bos, Ruud Kaulingfreks Organisational Writing and the Lust for Combination
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This is a book that we would enthusiastically recommend to those who unconditionally believe in the epistemologically or politically unproblematic character of organisational research. Carl Rhodes, once an employee of the Boston Consulting Group, now researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, has written a small yet important book about academic writing on organisation. It has appeared in a small but interesting collection called Advances in Organization Studies that is edited by Stewart Clegg and Alfred Kieser and published by John Benjamins.Rhodes’ book resonates well with developed traditions in narrative and storytelling approaches to management and organisation studies. Such traditions have approached organisational knowledge from a narrative perspective and used narrative and literary methods to understand organisations. More specifically, Rhodes both draws on and contributes to an understanding of the relationship between narrative and power and to using multiple interpretations and representations in research.However, although we would argue that it is possible to identify Rhodes’ position in the field, ‘summing up’ in his own terms what he has to say is not easy. His central point seems to be that conclusively singular representations, perhaps including the one that we give here, are problematical from both an ethical and political perspective. One may be tempted to discard this as yet another postmodernist frivolity, but we would suggest that what writers and researchers in organisation studies, and the social sciences more generally, might get from this work is an increased sensitivity to the ethics of their writing practices.
6. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
Andrew Atherton Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say: Relating Cognition and Voice in Business
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This paper examines the dynamics of thought-language interactions within the organisational context of business. Based on an assessment of the cognition-voice debate within the cognitive sciences and related areas of philosophical enquiry, the paper proposes that thought and language are distinct systems. This notion of modularity is developed into a framework within which the two systems interact and, in doing so, influence and shape each other. These interactions form multiple thought and voiced drafts, reflecting the ‘multiple drafts’ model developed by Daniel Dennett to examine the phenomenon of consciousness. The drafting and re-drafting of thought and language are analysed via critical consideration of two transcripts of interviews with owner-managers. The overall theoretical approach suggests that the dynamics of voice-cognition drafting offer insights into: the development of expert cognitive frameworks;patterns in group development - in particular the emergence of shared values and concepts within the business; and processes of experiential learning within organizations.
7. Philosophy of Management: Volume > 3 > Issue: 3
John K. Alexander Pragmatic Decision Making: A Manager’s Epistemic Defence
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I was in manufacturing for over thirty years and a manager for nearly twenty-five. During that time it never occurred to me that the consequentialist, utilitarian framework I used was inadequate as a conceptual framework for making decisions to ensure organisational viability and success. The framework gave three criteria which enabled me to construct a rational approach to issues associated with my role as a manager:(i) to make product at the lowest possible cost so as to maximise the bottom line;(ii) to take into account the interests of everyone affected by my decisions equally; and(iii) not to cause unnecessary and avoidable harm to innocent people.To show that this framework is adequate as a basis for managerial decision making I want to spell out the logical implications of the three criteria and show that they are necessary and jointly sufficient to provide an epistemically sound framework for managerial decisions. I will argue that we can look to managerial practice for examples which can serve as paradigms for constructing a pragmatic approach to management decision making, one that - when employed correctly - will result in the best moral outcome for all those affected by a decision.This approach is derived from, and ultimately justified by, the primary role responsibility of a manager to create and implement a healthy work environment. This is one designed to be viable so that the organisation can compete successfully in the marketplace and meet the morally minimal standard that we ought not to cause unnecessary and avoidable harm to innocent people. Because the approach is goal directed, it is teleological and consequential in nature. I maintain that a workplace, or organisation, is healthy when all the components that constitute it are working coherently together to achieve legitimate organisational goals designed to ensure the best chances of being viable and competitive. Such an organisation is what I term optimally functional.