Critical management studies (CMS) is a loose but rapidly growing grouping of politically left wing and theoretically innovative approaches to management, business and organisation. It encompasses a wide range of perspectives that are critical of traditional theories of management.


It is generally accepted that CMS began with Mats Alvesson and Hugh Willmott's edited collection Critical Management Studies (1992). Critical Management Studies (CMS) initially brought together critical theory and post-structuralist writings, but has since developed in more diverse directions.

A dominant narrative within CMS is that perhaps the most important development in its stimulation was the global expansion of business schools, an American invention, especially in Europe. Decreases in state funding, so the narrative has it, for social sciences and increases in funding for business schools during the 1980s resulted in many academics with graduate training in sociology, history, philosophy, psychology and other social sciences ending up with jobs "training managers". What Business Schools are or should do has always been debated, however.

These academics brought different theoretical tools and political perspectives into business schools. They began to question the politics of managerialism and did not automatically buy into its often conservative ideology. These new voices drew on the Frankfurt School of critical theory, and the work of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Feminism, queer theory, post-colonial theory, anarchism, ecological philosophies, and radical democratic theory also had some influence. (See Alvesson and Willmott 2003 for a recent survey of the field.)

The roots of CMS also came from a series of UK Labour Process Conferences that began in 1983 and reflected the impact of Braverman's (1974) attempt to make Marxist categories central to understanding work organisations. Industrial relations and labor studies scholars have joined the CMS fold in the US, seeking new opportunities for employment as labor-related programs have diminished in number.

Contrasting with the dominant origin narrative is an account which states that, along with the contributors to CMS from the intellectual traditions identified here, there is a significant - and overlapping - bloc among CMS scholars of those who have had extensive pre-University experience as workers and managers. The inconsistencies between their experiences in the workplace and the claims of mainstream managerialism, and an intention to connect those experiences to broader explanations and theorizing leads these people to CMS.

Geographical baseEdit

The main home of CMS has been in the organisation theory and behaviour parts of British, Australian and Scandinavian business schools, though there are strong contributions in related fields such as accounting with growing interest in other management specialisms, such as marketing,international business, operational research, etc. Since the 1990s academics from North America and other parts of the world are also engaging with this body of writing and research. The CMS Interest Group within the (American) Academy of Management (AoM), with a membership of around 800, is larger than some of its Divisions and is more international than any Division. Many heterodox scholars in various parts of the world had been inspired by the international activities of the Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism. This latter grouping developed work which drew variously on post-structuralism and symbolic interactionism in order to develop a cultural and anthropological understanding of contemporary organizations. Others, though, were without affiliation and/or seeking new formations and alliances. Since 1999, there has been a bi-annual CMS conference held in the UK as well as workshops and a bi-annual conference held at US Academy of Management.

Controversy and debateEdit

Main points of debate now centre on the relationship with more orthodox forms of Marxism, the nature and purposes of CMS critique, as well as questions of inclusion and exclusion (Fournier and Grey 2000), the possibilities of social transformation from within business schools (Parker 2002), and the development of alternative models of globalisation.

Wider impatience with market managerial forms of organization are common enough outside the business school, from anti-corporate protest to popular media presentations of managers. What CMS attempts to do is to articulate these voices within the business school, and provide ways of thinking beyond current dominant theories and practices of organization.

See alsoEdit


  • Alvesson, M and Willmott, H (eds) (1992) Critical Management Studies. London: Sage.
  • Alvesson, M and Willmott, H (eds) (2003) Studying Management Critically. London: Sage.
  • Braverman, H (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Fournier, V and Grey, C (2000) 'At the Critical Moment'. Human Relations.
  • Parker, M (2002) Against Management: Organisation in the Age of Managerialism. Oxford: Polity. ISBN 0-7456-2926-1.
  • Grey, C. and Willmott, H.C. (2005), Critical Management Studies: A Reader, Oxford University Press

External linksEdit

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