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Philosophy of Management

Volume 1, Issue 1, 2001

One of the Greatest Discoveries

Alan Bray
Pages 21-25

Why Is It That Management Seems to Have No History?

The starting point for this paper is the question that forms its title. Why is it that management seems to have no history? In making this bold claim I am not of course suggesting that historians have not written about management, as of course they have. The question I am posing is rather one about the practice of management, its received status as an amalgam of technical insights and administrative expertise perceived to stand objectively, and necessarily so, a corpus of skills analogous to those an engineer or a chemist might have: management as a transferable technology unclouded by competing values. Nor am I suggesting that the practice of management has been perceived as unproblematic. Rather, I aim to probe the degree to which its nature as an objective 'know-how' renders it as in some way anterior to ethics. It is that proposition that I am attempting to investigate here, indirectly as it were, by posing this question - a question initially about history. This question it seems to me is underlined by the assumption that the history of management is necessarily circumscribed in a way that, say, political history or the history of religion is not. Is it the story of how this expertise was acquired, the intellectual equivalent of a Brunel or a Napier, building bridges or constructing log tables? Or is it something more? Religion and politics clearly have a more problematic history than this, while management appears not to do so; and it is that question I propose to probe in this essay.

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