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Critical perspectives on management and leadership

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3609 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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There is a difference between what theorists believe managers should do, what managers believe they should do and what managers actually end up doing (Grint, 1995). Applying critical theory to determine what is what and who has what.

Critical Theory

The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory is the longest and most famous traditions of Marxism. This tradition is often referred as critical theory- meaning a special kind of social philosophy from its inception in 1923 by Felix Weil (Seiler, 2004). The critical theory of society of the Frankfurt School continues to excite interest and controversy (Kellner, 2001). A theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation, to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them. A number of critical theories have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimension of the domination of human beings in modern societies (Gutting, 2003).

Thus, the term ‘critical theory’ was used as the symbol of a philosophy which questions the effective order of political and social modernity through an order of immanent critique. It was mainly an attempt to regain a critical potential that had been overrun by recent intellectual, social, cultural, economic and technological trends.

The term Critical theory has its origins in the 20th century Frankfurt School, and now is associated with scholars across a range of disciplines.  Its purpose of inquiry is to confront injustices in society (Clark, 2004).  Critical Theory has been deeply concerned with the fate of modernity, and has offered systematic and comprehensive theories of the trajectory of modernity. Critical theory began by putting Marxian political economy at the centre of analysis, and early critical theory was materialist and committed to socialism (Gingrich, 2000). 

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Critical theory has generally been committed to the idea of modernity and progress, while at the same time noting the ways that features of modernity can create problems for individuals and society (Kellner, 2000). This is much reflected on the 21st century, though there is progress in many things, but still issues like globalisation tends to pose important problems for the society. 

According to Heilman (1998), being critical involves understanding the sets of historically contingent circumstances and contradictory power relationships that create the conditions in which we live.  Theory helps us to organize the world, to sort out the details, to make some coherent sense out of a kaleidoscope of sensations (Ayers, 1992).

When theory is theorized, as stated by Heilman (1998), the imperatives of practice bring the theory down to the ground.  Phenomena are observed and experienced; this experience informs theory; and then the theory is further modified as a result of additional practice.  Rather like fiction writing, critical theorizing is a process of imagining and describing a non-real but possible world.

 The critical theorists have deeply influenced contemporary social theory, communication theories, cultural theory and many more for a number of decades.  According to Clark (2004), Critical theorists are committed to understand the relationship between societal structures (such as economic and political) and ideological patterns of thought that constrain the human imagination and thus limit opportunities for confronting and changing unjust social systems.  Critical theorists emphasise that theory and research must serve emancipator interests, to create a world that satisfies the needs and powers of social actors (Sanghera, 2004). 

According to critical theory, people are dominated by a false consciousness created and perpetuated by capitalism in order to preserve the hegemony of those in power (Meyer-Emerick, 2004).  Due to this cause, one can assume that it prevents people from freely pursuing their own interests.  This dissent is only dismissed if people begin to see the contradictions between the social construction of the world and their lived experience. 

Critical Management Studies

Critical management studies also known as ‘CMS’ which is the known as the term that describes the a diverse group of people that has adopted the critical or questioning approaches to management, this term emerged of recent years.

The report outline

The above statement sets the mood for this report, as the report will be looking at how the critical management theory of yesterday applies to the modern western approaches of management today.  Another key aspect will be on trying to articulate the connections between the management perspectives of contemporary society in the critical theory. 

The focus will be on Karl Marx and Michael Foucault as critical theorists and how their perspectives affect the management and leadership in today modern western era. Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which will lead to its destruction. Just as capitalism replaced feudalism, he believed socialism would, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism; Marx economic relationship between managers and the workers. Whilst Foucault argued that patterns in disciplinary behaviour found in management practices.

management and leadership

Scientific management

Scientific management (Taylor System) also known as Taylorism is a theory of management that analysis and manufactures workflows to improve employee (labour) productivity. The idea was developed by a Frederick Winslow Taylor between 1880 and 1890, and it was the first published ‘monograph’ (written documents). Frederick Taylor believed that decisions based upon tradition and the rules of the thumb should be replaced by accurate procedures that are developed after a study of an individual at work. This means that there is a high level of managerial control over employee work practices.

Scientific management is a distinction on the theme of ‘efficiency’; it developed in the 19th and 20th century were instance of large recurring theme in the human life of increasing efficiency, decreasing waste and using experiential methods to dictate what matters rather than accepting pre-existing ideas of what matters. Management today is the greatest use of scientific management is a form to contrast a new and improved way of doing business.


Leadership is having the ability to give guidance to those that will follow. Those that follow will help to complete the mission. It is an immature science and the body of knowledge in the field has developed through a series of fits and starts. Leadership is a soft science, just as anthropology, sociology and psychology. It can not be proven exactly what it is. Leadership is an art; the skilful application of leadership behaviours beyond techniques is much the same as the skilful application of brushstrokes by a master painter. Leadership is both rational and emotional. It involves both sides of human experience. It includes actions and influences based on reason and logic as well those based on inspiration and passion. Leadership is a social process shared among all members of a group. (Yolk, 2002)

Leadership also involves in political activity as in power activity; conversely, it is much more like transformational leadership. Political processes involve efforts by members of the organization to increase their power or protect existing power sources (Pfeiffer, 1981). Although the ultimate source of political power is usually authority, control over resources, or control over information, political power involves influence processes that transform and magnify the initial basis of power in unique ways

Karl Marx

A Marxist’s thought is based on this lifestyle, a science of logic called Dialectics. Thus, Marxism is both a theory and a practice. The theories of Marxism are based on a scientific method of thought called dialectal materialism.  Theory is based on a particular set of conditions that are always finite, and thus, any theory is necessarily limited. To test the validity of theory, Marxists rely on empirical evidence as the criteria of truth (Basgen, 2005).

Marxism embraces modernity and Marxists argue that one of the main problems is that capitalism puts fetters on the progressive forces. The forces of capitalism are viewed as progressive in sweeping away the traditional, religious, backward, and feudal forms of society, spreading industrialisation and urbanisation across societies (Moody, 2003).

Michel Foucault

His studies challenged the influence of German political philosopher Karl Marx and Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Foucault offered new concepts that challenged people’s assumptions about prisons, the police, insurance, care of the mentally ill, gay rights, and welfare (Ron, 2000).

The main influences on Foucault’s thought were German philosophers Frederick Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.  The connect.net website, describe Foucault’s thought as explored the shifting patterns of power within a society and the ways in which power relates to the self. He investigated the changing rules governing the kind of claims that could be taken seriously as true or false at different times in history.

critical analysis

Marx critique of capitalisms

Capitalism is the system that upholds the relationship between the owners of the means of production and workers. The former comprise the bourgeois class and the latter the proletariat

Marx’s critique of capitalism was that while this system had incredible power and potential to transform human society positively, in actual fact it resulted in exploitation and ultimately limited the possibility for further improvement (Powell, 2001). Moody (2003), describe this environment as workers were emancipated from traditional limits but became slaves of the new factory system, monopolisation resulted in limits on trade and further progress, and the state acted in the interests of the bourgeoisie rather than society as a whole.

Commodity Fetishism

Labour Power

To be clear about is what the capitalist has bought. The worker has sold not his labour but his ability to work. This Marx calls his labour power. Also, as Marx defines, ‘labour power is the abstraction of human labour into something that can be exchanged for money. In addition, capitalism can purchases labour power as a commodity.

In other words, ‘Labour power is a commodity governed by the same laws as other commodities. Its value is determined by the labour-time necessary for its production. Labour power is the ability of the worker to work. It is “consumed” by the capitalist in the actual labour-process. (R.Sewell and A.Woods)

Marx explains, “I use the term labour power or capacity for labour, to denote the aggregate of those bodily and mental capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any kind”… “The value of labour power, like that of every other commodity, is determined by the labour time necessary for the production, and consequently for the reproduction as well, of this specific article as well.

Capitalism Power

As Campbell (1981:34) describes, ‘…as in slavery, where the producers themselves are owned by the slavery owners; in feudalism where the land is owned by the landlords; or in capitalism where machinery and factories (capital) are owned by capitalists.’ In capitalism, the ‘machineries and factories’ is not the only thing owned by capitalists (or factory owners), also labours. For example, in a car making factory, all the machineries are fixed assets to the factory owner, machineries can not make profit for the factory owner if no one operates them, and so labourers who operate machineries are the main assets to the factory owners.

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In addition, labour power is a commodity (which is bought and sold on the ‘labour’ market), (The Marxist critique of capitalism) because it has an exchange value. As Campbell (1981: 38) says ‘all commodities labour power has an exchange value, its price (the wage), yet again like all commodities, it also has use value to the purchaser.’ The purchaser here is any capitalism or any factory owners. It continues ‘one purchased, like any commodity… Labour power is owned therefore, like a machine, and is put to work’ (Campbell 1981:38) As the labour power is a commodity, so once it is purchases by factory owner, the owner has the power to either use it or exchange it to others. Also, in capitalism, once the owner purchases new labour power, he has the rights to make decision on how much he will pay to his new labourers, and how long the new labourers will work every week; also he can fire any of the labourers in his factory any time if he feels not satisfied with them.

‘… in a capitalist economy the vast majority of people have only their labour power to sell in order to gain income with which to purchase food, clothing, housing and other goods and services. The means of production are owned by the capitalist class and if they are unwilling to hire labour, or wish to reduce the numbers of workers they employ, this puts workers prosperity immediately at risk’ (Campbell 1981:111)

Marx’s argument was against capitalism, which he referred to as a stage at which every society must go through that can bring about the seed of its own destruction. He indicated that human essence was labour and physical effort needed in the production of the means of subsistence. Hence, some forms of production are needed for survival. The suggestion being that it is acceptable for oneself but not for others because some individuals may have all factors of production (capital, entrepreneurship, labour and land), while others may have nothing but just their own labour, which eventually will result in uneven distribution of wealth and income. Additionally, Marx argued that capitalism deprives the labour force of their ‘creative fulfilment’, and since they are portrayed to be the already planned part of the production process, they are unable to achieve self-actualisation.

Exploitation and Alienation

For Marx, this alienation works as a process, but it can be broken up into 3 different aspects for analysis. The first aspect of alienation under analysis is how workers are alienated from the product they produce. Under capitalism, the object the workers produce is surrendered for the wages they receive. The workers then loose any relation to the object they are producing because they are handing it over. This is of course is different from the system of self-sufficiency, where the workers have a much more direct relationship with the object that they produce. As the workers become more independent of their product, they transfer power to the employer. As mentioned with Marx’s critique on the political economy, the more objects the worker produces, then the more power the employer possesses which will lead to a greater weakness to the workers. Therefore under this system, the workers are only competing to be exploited. This is a form of alienation, because the object that the worker produces becomes an alien entity to him, independent of his control and ultimately controls the worker.

Another aspect of alienation that Marx examines is how “the self” becomes another alien entity to the worker. Under the mode of capitalism, the working conditions are established by the capitalists and not by the workers themselves. These conditions are established along the grounds of the capitalists drive for profits, rather than the workers need for self-fulfilment. Marx felt that self-fulfilment was a major aim of a person, and felt that under the system of capitalism, where your working conditions are created by your employer, it was impossible for the worker to gain this self-fulfilment. He also felt that the capitalist employers were victims of this problem too because if they didn’t drive for profits, then they would be put out of business. The labour itself is described by Marx as “exterior to the worker, that is, it does not belong to his essence. Therefore he does not confirm himself in his work, he denies himself, feels miserable instead of happy, deploys no free physical and intellectual energy, but mortifies his body and ruins his mind” (David McLellan 2000).

Explain Marx’s articulation of exploitation. The practice of mistreat of workers in an environment that is deliberately designed to maintain it, i.e. capitalism,

Marx’s conforming – the workers alienated by/owners of the means of production to gain profits at the expense of the workers (e.g. managers forcing employees to undertake tasks outside their job description in order to cut costs and maximise profits) because people are alienated they conform to the demands of their employers in order to keep jobs safe.

Foucault disciplinary Power

Moves away from the economics of Marx. Looks at power and reconceptualises it. Management as a representation of power relations in society. Specific rules maintain, regulate and institutionalize practices in a work environment (office, factory, school, etc),

Power- Disciplinary power – the panopticon as a illustration of society, the middle tower is all seeing yet prisoners always obey without knowing for certain whether they are being monitored, by whom or by how many. The result is the creation of self-regulating, obedient and disciplined prisoners (at least in theory). Relate this form of disciplinary power to management.

Power as the central driving force in a society within a group of people in a working environment. Manager doesn’t create a system the manager merely plays along with the rules, thus maintaining the relations of dominance and dominated.

Critical Analysis on Leadership

Over the influence process of leadership, it needs power. (Northhouse, 2007). Leaders are usually described as wielders of power in the discussion of leadership because they are individuals who dominate others. Power is the capacity or potential to influence another party (Mint berg, 1983; Pfeiffer, 1981, 1992). It is talked as the basis of leadership according to many political theorists like Machiavelli through academic political scientists such as Marx in the twentieth century. People have power when they have the ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action. Ministers, teachers, doctors, and coaches are examples of individuals using power to effect change in people. In commercial, there are two major types of power, position power and personal power (Bass, 1960; Etienne, 1991): Position power refers the power a person derives from a particular rank in a formal organization system, for example, department heads have more power than clerical staff in position. It includes potential influence derived from legitimate authority, control over resources and rewards, control over punishments, control over information, and control over the physical work environment.  Personal power refers the power a leader derives from followers. It includes potential influence derived from task expertise and potential influence based on friendship and loyalty. Followers give leaders power when leaders act in ways that are important to them. Power is also inherent in a person’s position in the organization. (Bass, 1960; Etienne, 1991)

According to Northhouse (2007) the current dominant leadership paradigm is the transformation approaches which is a process that changes and transforms people. The elements at the heart of transformational leadership are: idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individual consideration.

Critical Analysis on Scientific management

The Marxist theory of capital sees labour as a cost of production resulting in the alienation of workers as the need for labour surfaces from the physical needs “defined by the fundamental relationship between humans and their physical environment” (Hatch, 1997, p.27).  Taylor’s ideas on scientific management (1990) have similar economic themes to Marx and Adam Smith.  By viewing management as a science, he broke down the managerial problem into stages of research, definition, analysis and implementation.  His principles were inherently based on the assumption that people put in as little effort as possible into their work and were soldiering on in order to earn money.  This shifted all the responsibility from the worker to the manager and scientific methods were used to determine the most efficient way of working.  After selecting the best person capable of performing the task, they were trained to work efficiently and their performance was strictly monitored.  In hindsight, though this may have appeared to be a good generic strategy for the success of a firm, it heavily depended on whether the optimal method of producing could be found and whether or not the strategy was implemented correctly.              




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