Critical Management Studies

Academic year
2022/2023 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Critical Management Studies
Course code
PHD016 (AF:402243 AR:218834)
ECTS credits
Degree level
Corso di Dottorato (D.M.45)
Educational sector code
4th Term
Course year
Go to Moodle page
The “mainstream” that dominates management studies conceives research and knowledge production as functional to the improvement of management practices in a capitalist economy and market environment. Management is proposed as a neutral task promoting ideals such as quality, competitiveness, control and transparency that are seen as “good” across organizations, cultures and societies. By adhering, often implicitly, to these views, management scholars tend to adopt approaches that seem as well neutral and practical. The methods and languages of formalization, reductionism, experimentation and quantification borrowed from the hard sciences thus become the preferred way to express managerial knowledge in a “scientific” way in order to increase both its legitimacy and usefulness. Ethical and political questions concerning the value of the ends, or even the unintended consequences of pursuing a means-ends calculus, are excluded or suppressed.
However, a different view is possible.
Management can be seen as a cultural artefact, a phenomenon that is embedded in the social and political contexts in which it operates. Management practices are social constructs around which power and interests are negotiated and political processes enacted. As such, management loses its neutrality and claims to objectivity to gain in terms of cultural significance. This shift towards the interpretive and critical dimensions requires different forms of understanding that question precisely those implications of management that are often taken for granted in mainstream management studies. Critical Management Studies provide one possible form of understanding by suggesting that in practice managerial tools function in diverse and often unintended ways related to the social and political processes that exist in contemporary organizations and societies. The interpretation offered within Critical Management Studies draws on an understanding of managerial theories and tools as mediating and reinforcing the particular cultures, values and meanings instituted in organizational practices.
The course challenges received wisdom about management and offers alternatives via its unorthodox treatment of established topics and/or its attention to marginalized issues. It encompasses the analysis of a breadth of approaches that provide heterodox insights into the social and political nature of management and its intrusive and divisive impacts on today’s organizations and societies. The course is concerned with showing how what appears to be neutral is actually constructed as such with power, in various forms, as the principal medium of such construction. The aim is to equip doctoral students with the capacity to recognise how accounts of how organizations function are mediated by the producers of these accounts - notably researchers, who themselves are embedded in particular conditions and traditions of research. By appreciating this, the course articulates a methodological and epistemological challenge to the objectivism and scientism inherent in mainstream positivist research. Disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, politics, history, cultural studies and the humanities in general are presented as legitimate alternatives to mathematics, biology and physics for conducting plausible research in management.
To take full advantage of the learning experience proposed in this course students are expected to have an advanced knowledge of management theories, practices and tools. A keen interest for political aspects such as collective goals, common goods, social transformation, ideology, and conflict will facilitate the understanding of some key discussions proposed during the lectures and in the required materials. Some familiarity with the fundamentals of western philosophy and historical periodization, especially of the XX° century, would also be convenient.
Some epistemology: learning to ask the “why” question in management research
What we tend to take for granted: management as the natural way of sorting things out
Who are we writing for ?: management studies as a fragmented ad-hocracy
Modernity and its consequences: the scientification of management
Post-modernity and its consequences: management as a cultural artefact
Postcards from Frankfurt: management and Critical Theory
Ideology and Hegemony: Marxist analysis of management
Management as a text: the discursive production of reality
Masculinity and rationality: a gendered understanding of management
Conducting the conduct of others: Michel Foucault and Govermentality
Alvesson, M. Bridgman, T., & and Willmott H. (2009), The Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies, Oxford University Press
Digital Journal (30% of the grade)
Students will be asked to keep a journal of their learning experience by writing a daily post (max 200/300 words) on the Moodle forum reflecting on the topics discussed in class. The daily journal should be an individual reflection on the topics presented by the professor in class that same day and/or the chapter/articles assigned for readings. Students can also join the conversation by reacting to postings submitted by their colleagues. Students can write what they think they have learned from each day’s lesson, discuss how different themes are connected, or how their daily learning could be of relevance for the development of their academic interests or professional career. Overall, the posts should demonstrate the ability to connect the topics discussed in class with actual and contemporary issues, episodes, initiatives, and controversies taken from debates occurring in mainstream media and frame them within critical management perspectives.

Daily pitching (20% of the grade)
At the beginning of each class (starting on class 3) each student will be assigned to pitch to the class for 10 minutes about the discussion that has been developing in the forum during the previous days. The presenter is expected to summarize the collective discussion, identify common issues, and key points, and leave the class with one question for the professor and the rest of the students to respond to. The presentation should demonstrate the ability to critically interpret the different views, construct and propose a coherent argument and identify gaps and open issues that require additional reflection and may lead to further discussion. In other words, the presenter is supposed to assume the role of the lecturer for the initial part of the class and offer an assessment of the extension, clarity, depth, and creativity of the discussion that has been going on in the forum. The presenter are expected to use slides or other forms of visualization of their presentation.

Research Paper (40% of the grade)
Students will be required to write a research paper (3500-4000 words) with a critical management hedge drawing from theoretical aspects of critical management studies, philosophical contributions and case studies encountered during lectures, insights from additional reading, engagement in contemporary discussion in the media or from personal experience. The research paper will have to look like an expanded essay that presents the student’s own thinking and interpretation backed up by the ideas of scholars and experts in the field. The research paper will have to feature a review of the literature that requires to research information and then summarize and paraphrase. It will then add the step of synthesizing the information and developing the student’s own insight or argument on the topic or issue that the information presents. In the research paper, the student is expected to address one central question and develop a thesis, i.e. the answer to the question thus anticipating the type of intellectual exercise that is required for the doctoral thesis.

Research paper presentation (10% of the grade)
The main findings of the research paper (topic, research question, development of the thesis, answer to the research question) will be presented by each student during the last day of class.

The course is deliberately designed for students who wish to actively engage in debates with the professor and their peers. Class participation isn’t therefore “strongly advised” but rather taken for granted as a key element of the learning pact that is implicitly signed by enrolling in the course. Students who expect to sit, listen, record notes and be infused with expert knowledge are possibly not the ideal participants in the type of learning experience we want to generate in this course. The professor will of course cover the topics discusses and analyzed in the required readings but the views (written and spoken) of students will form an integral part of the teaching method.
written and oral

This subject deals with topics related to the macro-area "Poverty and inequalities" and contributes to the achievement of one or more goals of U. N. Agenda for Sustainable Development

Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 13/10/2022