Gabriel, Yiannis (2014) Book Review, Management Learning, 45/4, p. 499- 503.
Review of: Kostera, Monika. 2014. Occupy management! Inspirations and ideas for self-organization and self-management. Oxford: Routledge.
In a recent article, Phillips, Pullen and Rhodes (2014) argue that a large part of academic writing in the area of organizations is deeply gendered, part of a “system of exchange where science, mastery and rigour are not so much an effort in inquiry, but more a form of (rough) trade through which to appease the fear of castration; the fear of not-knowing” (313). In its playful style, its photographic illustrations from the author’s valuable collection, its joyful spirit and its totally uninhibited mix of personal storytelling and poetry that draws the reader into the author’s private life with the free ranging discussion of ideas, this book provides a welcome antidote to the stifling straightness of much academic writing.
This will, of course, displease many scholarly readers who may turn to the author and say “With what authority do you speak?” “Who entitles you to speak like this?” I am sure that, as someone who grew up in Communist Poland, the author will have no difficulty in answering back “I write what I wish and those who want to read my work can; those who don’t are not forced to do so.” This then is not a book for those who would like a linear engagement with management, positive or critical. It is a book that will interest and maybe inspire those who feel that the time is ripe to start thinking and talking about management in a different way, neither glamorizing it nor vilifying it but beginning to reclaim it, or, as the book’s title suggests “occupy it”.
Unlike many academics writing in the area of organizational studies, Kostera is someone who started her studies as a student of management. Not for her the knee-jerk anti-management rhetoric of many of her peers nor the temptation to intellectualize management through esoteric gymnastics of discourse. She firmly believes that management learning and education are essential in addressing the formidable problems and challenges facing the world today (and Kostera is not afraid to think big and global) – environmental catastrophe, population movements and near-universal disempowerment. However, for this to happen, management must be reclaimed from the corporate giants that have commandeered it and prostituted it to the service of profit and exploitation. Hence ‘occupy management’ becomes Kostera’s plea to manage ourselves out of the looming crisis, by rediscovering ‘self-management’ and ‘self-organization’ processes that have largely been silenced by the clamorous hype of contemporary management writers.
Although Kostera describes her book as a management textbook, albeit one devoid of ‘managerialist and corporationist ideology’, it is far from the kind of textbook that one would encounter today in university management courses. She firmly believes that she is offering a radical rethinking of mainstream and even traditional management theories and ideas that, when stripped of ideology and when coupled with imagination and courage, can shift management from its current standing as the housemaid of those in power, or, as a source of ideological obfuscations. Thus, she takes heart from the huge numbers of students studying management at university to argue that their knowledge and talents can be effectively redeployed towards progressive social goals.
The book’s structure is itself a very individual one. It is organized in four parts, each entitled after Henri Fayol’s classical management functions – planning, organizing motivating, controlling – viewed as representing sets of broader humanistic archetypes. Each of the four parts is subdivided into three chapters, each headed by a single word. It is here that Kostera takes flight from conventional management approaches through highly imaginative windows. Planning is subdivided into imagination, inspiration and intuition; organizing yields structure, space and synchronicity; motivating entails leadership, learning and love; and controlling is accomplished through ethos, ethics and ecology. The contents of each subdivision include a short history, two reflection pieces, an evocation of sounds, images and dreams, an organizational story and a set of questions for reflections. This pattern is repeated twelve times throughout the book.
What is difficult to describe to the reader is the wide range of topics, thoughts and ideas that are conveyed within this structure – I will only try to offer a small sample. A reflection under ‘inspiration’ prompts the author to ponder why managers, unlike poets, have no muse of their own. This takes her on a journey through Jungian archetypes to discover inspiration for the manager in the images of the King, the Adventurer and the Shadow, this last one often manifested in greed. Greed can be inspiring, argues Kostera, and its inspiration can take one in destructive or creative directions – greed for money and power versus greed for knowledge, greed for life and experience. This is followed by reminiscence from her student days when a group of friends travelling on a train to their university fantasize about staying on the train and visiting the exotic destinations and attractions of “the North”. On leaving the train, they discover that Ronny, of them, has decided to act on the fantasy and stays on the train. Ronny goes on to become a social entrepreneur, an inspirational leader and a community organizer, much lamented by all who knew him on his death in 2010.
The chapter on ‘Structure’ contains a personal story when, as a doctoral student, Kostera acted as hostess and translator to Alice, a senior American professor visiting industrial facilities in Lodz, Poland, shortly after the fall of communism. Alice is taken to visit a rather opulent factory, previously owned by a prosperous Jewish family who, it turns out, were all exterminated in Auschwitz and Katyn. Following various comical incidents in the factory’s palatial offices, where the factory director mistakes the chauffeur for the illustrious visitor, they are reluctantly taken to see the textile manufacturing facilities where each floor is like an episode from Dante’s Inferno – death by deafening, by asphyxiation etc. In a laconic final sentence we learn that shortly after the visit, the factory was sold to a western ‘investor’, who liquidated it and laid off all employees. We know not if the factory is now housing a Western retail outlet called “Factory” (as happened to a similar factory in my own native country) but the story lingers in the reader’s memory for days raising questions, arousing emotions and creating possibilities. The reader may then be compelled to imagine what a Ronny might have done, if presented with such a challenge and how a different managerial mindset might have spared suffering and degradation.
Our last illustration from the book comes from the chapter on Love, itself one of the three L’s of motivation (the others being Leadership and Learning). Now having a chapter on love in a book on management is both provocative but also thoroughly justified. Doesn’t love regularly surface in relation to people’s relation to the work they do (Clarke et al., 2012; Hughes et al., 2005), in relation to followers’ relations with their leaders (Lindholm, 1988) or more generally as part of the topic generally known as ‘organizational emotion’ (see e.g., Fineman, 1993). Why then is it that love is so rarely addressed head on in organizational texts? Could organizations be objects of love? Schwartz (1987) argued that we love organizations in as much as they make us feel good about ourselves by rewarding our narcissistic desires. Sims (2004) went a step further. Starting with the story of the velveteen rabbit, a children’s toy that comes alive whenever a child loves it, Sims asks why the same may not be true of organizations, some of which generate extraordinary amounts of affection and loyalty among their participants, while others languish as mere objects of instrumental usefulness and emotional indifference.
Kostera approaches the subject first by differentiating between different types of love – Eros, Agape, Philia. She then takes her reader through a quick tour of Plato’s Symposium, Lucretius’ tribute to Venus as the bringer of peace, Saint Theresa’s ecstatic praise for divine love as the source of all earthly love and wisdom, Adam Smith’s treatise in support of altruism and Emmanuel Levinas’s belief in the epiphany brought about by the discovery of the humanity of the Other. Following an excursion into Korean poetry, she then surveys some organizational literature to propose a version of compassionate management and compassionate teaching of management as the missing elements in today’s management practice and education. The chapter concludes with what amounts to a morality tale from her personal experience - the real and contrasting stories of two restaurants in Malmoe, Sweden, one ruled by autocratic Taylorist managers, the other run by a chef with a real love for cooking, for his customers and staff. Predictably, the former was afflicted by strife and discontent, while the latter provided a welcoming home for staff and customers. Years later, the former had vanished, the latter was still prospering.
I hope that I have managed to convey a sense of the nomadic quality of the book, an approach that very explicitly eschews linearity, in the spirit of presenting the reader with opportunities for accidental discoveries, uncanny coincidences and unexpected cross-fertilization of ideas. This approach acknowledges and even relishes contradictions, lacunae and mysteries and lies at the opposite extreme of the masculinist line of attack noted earlier with its the fear of not-knowing and its desperate search for cohesion and clarity. The text is one that makes considerable demands on the reader, who is required to reflect on the text in a non-linear manner, to make connections, endure uncertainty and put up with discontinuities and paradoxes. It is certainly not a book that can be read in one swift sitting, nor is it one that will produce the same responses in all readers. It is exactly what Barthes (1977) described as a writerly text, one that requires that the reader becomes writer, producing his/her own distinct text.
I read the book over many sessions, frequently revisiting earlier passages. How well did it work on this reader/writer/reviewer? It undoubtedly prompted considerable thinking – it is the kind of book that lingers in the mind and whose ideas have surfaced repeatedly in subsequent conversations with scholarly friends. It is also a book that prompted me to re-evaluate some of my own prejudices against core managerial texts and ideas, opening up new possibilities that I had not envisaged. My notebook is full of interesting notes on archetypes, emptiness, serendipity, compassion, sacrifice, healing and many other topics. It is also a hopeful book, one in which one envisages the reassuringly smiling face of the author staring you from the page, without lapsing to the tepid platitudes of current positive scholarship in management studies or the unremitting gloom and cynicism of critical approaches. I found much to enjoy in it, although I feel that it is at times too optimistic – too prepared, maybe, to disregard the long shadow cast by international capitalism, consumerism and profit. The huge numbers of students paying considerable fees to study management are far more liable to embrace managerial best practices, benchmarking and branding and to imbibe a free market ideology of choice, inequality and selfishness than to investigate the emancipatory possibilities opened by here. In a fascinating interview with her publishers , Kostera explains that, as an Eastern European, she is used to lifting things out of the shadows and using them in ways completely unintended by their designer, an anarchic sabotage, or radical recycling of accepted ideas. Hence, the book’s optimism too may be a tactical sidestepping of the impotent pessimism that the shadow is seeking to generate. Yet, one suspects that today’s multifaceted global capitalism may be a harder to nut to crack than yesterday’s monolithic state socialism.
As someone who has long been fascinated by the unmanaged and unmanageable qualities of life in and out of organizations, I was not won over by Kostera’s attempt to reclaim and recycle management. I agree that there is much that management can accomplish and even more that it may accomplish if shorn of its managerialist reflexes. It would, of course, be naive to believe that life without management would be remotely possible. Yet, there is a lot that lies beyond the remit of management and this book offers a prime example: in not seeking to manage the thought processes of the reader, in creating unmanageable spaces, it seeks to encourage the kind of surprise and serendipity that can never be planned or organized. For this reason alone, but also for many others, it deserves to succeed.
It may seem churlish to finish this review with a grumble – however, reviews are not only meant for scholarly readers and students; they are also meant for publishers. How can this book receive the dissemination it deserves, published as a hardback at a price that would get you a flight from Warsaw to Alicante (L85 and even L59 in a Kindle version)? Students would certainly find it unaffordable and most scholars probably too. This seems to sum up some of the irrationalities of that highly profitable and problematic outpost of contemporary capitalism – academic publishing.
Barthes R and Heath S. (1977) Image, music, text London: Fontana.
Clarke C, Knights D and Jarvis C. (2012) A Labour of Love? Academics in Business Schools. Scandinavian Journal of Management 28: 5-15.
Fineman S. (1993) Emotion in Organizations, London: Sage.
Hughes B, McKie L, Hopkins D, et al. (2005) Love's labours lost? Feminism, the Disabled People's Movement and an ethic of care. Sociology-the Journal of the British Sociological Association 39: 259-275.
Lindholm C. (1988) Lovers and leaders: A comparison of social and psychological models of romance and charisma. Social Science Information 27: 3-45.
Phillips M, Pullen A and Rhodes C. (2014) Writing Organization as Gendered Practice: Interrupting the Libidinal Economy. Organization Studies 35: 313-333.
Schwartz HS. (1987) Anti-social actions of committed organizational participants: An existential psychoanalytic perspective. Organization Studies 8: 327-340.
Sims D. (2004) The velveteen rabbit and passionate feelings for organizations. In: Gabriel Y (ed) Myths, Stories and Organizations: Premodern narratives for our times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 209-222.