Managers in the Protest Camp – Is there managing beyond management?

In a guest post for the CPPE, Fabian Frenzel, Lecturer in the Political Economy of Organisation at the University of Leicester School of Management, writes on the importance of rescuing the concept of managing from a narrowly business-centred understanding. Fabian will be launching his new co-authored book Protest Camps at the University of Leicester on the 29th of October, along with Liam Barrington-Bush who’ll be presenting his new book Anarchists in the Boardroom. To register for the event, please follow this link: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/management/about/news/new-perspectives-on-anarchism-and-management

Would you consider a manager as someone who helps organize a protest; who is involved in a social centre or alternative housing project; who creates a rota on a large piece of white paper, hoping to win some volunteers for the empty slots? Would you consider a manager as someone who runs a family, takes care of children, the elderly, who helps in greening a street corner? Would such a person consider themselves as a manager?

Probably not. The term manager is reserved for roles of a more abstract order: the running of corporations for the purpose of making profits or the organization and control of our collective life by the state. Management is – for the very reason of this context – considered at best a dreadful necessity by most people exposed to it.

Indeed anti-managerial sentiment is probably one of the most widely held public experiences of our times, be it because we are hassled in our workplace by managers and their ‘plan’ for us or because bureaucracies are overwhelming us with Babylonian and Kafkaesque demands. We don’t like managers and this is not surprising considering that they are – on top of often being a pain  – extremely well rewarded for what they do, receiving high earnings, powerful positions and an ever increasing realm of influence.

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As teachers and researchers in a school of management this should concern us. We are critical of management, perhaps, but what do we do? We receive our salaries because so many people understandably decide that entering the managerial class is smarter than being merely exposed to it. If you can’t beat them join them. For the fees our students pay we provide them with the backstage pass of modern social organization.

More recently there is a lot of talk of responsible management. Perhaps this is in response to the obvious limits of current managerial practices. There is the call to educate better managers, to make them more responsible, to make them consider the harm they often do. In the context of the UN Global Compact (link to http://www.unprme.org/), business schools now network and cooperate globally in order to make management education more responsible.

But does this suffice? We know well the traps of corporate social responsibility, of green-washing, of business ethics applied. And who would want to teach irresponsible management anyway?

Perhaps something can be gained by liberating management from its marriage with abstract, distant organization and with business administration: severing the conceptual ties that bind what we think of as management to the pursuit of capitalist profit and political control. Instead, what if we started understanding as management those things we do to collectively organize our lives and struggles against capital and the state and what we do to care for and help each other, how we co-operate without domination and in solidarity.

In my collaborative research on protest camps I found managing and organizing to be useful, practical and mundane as well as decentralised and autonomous.

Perhaps liberating managing from management doesn’t involve much more than reminding ourselves that we all manage all the time and that we should not allow some people to claim that we need to be managed by them. But this also means that we can no longer pass the blame. The challenge is to take full responsibility for our own affairs.

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