“The critical management studies are a set of works that draw on critical theory to formulate different ways of understanding the livelihoods and daily functioning of organizations.”
In this article we will see in more detail what are the critical management studies, or critical studies of management, where they come from and what are some of their main proposals.
What are the Critical Management Studies?
The Critical Management Studies, are a set of works that apply critical theory in the analysis and operation of organizations.
It is a series of studies on management, organizations and work that, from a critical perspective, address social issues relevant to these areas, such as gender, power, identity… Some of its main objectives are, in broad strokes, the following:
- Offer an alternative vision to the traditional proposal in management studies.
- Use methodologies other than quantitative and experimental analyzes.
- Study power relations and ideology within organizations.
- Study aspects of communication between the people that make up an organization, as well as the implicit values.
We will see below where the critical management studies come from and what are some of their contributions to the management of organizations.
Critical theory applied to management
Critical theory is a current of philosophy and social sciences that was born in the mid-twentieth century. It establishes a rupture with the traditional theory, based on a project of scientific and naturalistic objectivity of the natural sciences; since, beyond generating explanations or descriptions about the phenomena studied, critical theory has the intention of evaluating them under a political component omitted in the traditional theory.
This theory considers that all objects of research, and anyone who investigates, have been socially constructed, that is, they are in a particular vision of the world that corresponds to a specific historical and cultural context. Consequently, people and the social sciences have a transformative potential that critical theory directs in terms of power and domination especially.
This opened up crises, debates, objects and methodologies of research in social sciences as well as in other areas, such as in the world of work and organizations. Specifically, the opportunity was given to problematize some foundations of traditional business management, as well as its consequences on the daily activity of those who make up the organizations.
Three fundamental elements
Baleriola (2017) tells us that the contributions of critical theory to business management, and the proposals that derive from this, can be summarized in the following points:
1. Criticism of technical and self-limiting positions
They question the foundations and scientific methodologies that had been transferred to the activity and management of organizations, since they ended up reducing the explanations on their operation to variables or related categories by numbers. These distanced themselves from what actually happens within organizations, that is, they did not consider the existence of more variables, or the ability of people to interpret what others say and do, and so on.
From here, new methodologies for the analysis of organizations are proposed.
2. Criticism of the power and ideology of traditional theory
Related to the above, critical management studies analyze the impact of language, implicit values and actions in interpersonal relationships, organizational culture, goals and objectives, and so on. The previous thing was omitted by the traditional theory, or it was considered as a secondary element.
3. The pursuit of ideals
It is about thinking and building other ways of acting, that is, rethinking what is taken for granted or that has been naturalized within organizations. From there look for alternatives, in this case critical and with approaches to ethics.
Methodology and ethical practice
The critical management studies are intended to carry out in-depth analyzes of the phenomena they study. For this reason, they are based on a primarily qualitative methodology, which supports a possibility of critical choice. In other words, critical management studies make explicit political use of the study and analysis of the phenomena that occur in organizations.
Some of the techniques and methodological foundations that critical management studies use are ethnography and discourse analysis, as well as the possibility of transformation at the moment of investigating the phenomenon.
In this regard, the researcher is positioned as a tool for empowerment, and finally, analyze the ethical commitment in organizational activity, which involves understanding the tensions between the demands of the organization itself and its members.
In the same sense, critical management studies criticize the traditional postulates of corporate social responsibility, which generally insists on individual responsibility, and maintain a special concern for the image they project in their immediate context.
They also problematize reductionist biases on ethical practice, for example, the idea that ethical responsibility is an exercise that only applies to the highest levels of the organization (Tirado and Gálvez, 2017). They seek, on the contrary, to make visible that individuals are actively and daily constituted as moral subjects, which implies analyzing ethics not as a universal reality, but in the concrete context in which this occurs.