Management Studies as an Applied Social Science

I’m concerned that Management Studies as an applied social science lags behind the social sciences generally. It certainly does not provide a lead in any theoretical or methodological sense. It appears to finally latch on to theories sometimes several decades after these have been developed and discussed in other branches of the social sciences. A case in point is Postcolonial Theory (PCT), which has appeared a while ago in critical management studies, but so far has only made a very small impression in cross-cultural management studies – hence texts such as the excellent book by Gavin Jack and Robert Westwood, International and Cross-cultural Management Studies: A Postcolonial Reading (Palgrave Macmillan) published in 2009. Although it is a shame it is so expensive (listed at $100, although I think I paid just under £60 for my copy), as it is too expensive for students.

Cross-cultural management studies is of course still mired in the positivism that it finds difficulty breaking out of. Yet now that more critical voices in the form of proponents of PCT have just begun to emerge, I’m wondering to what extent this is now really out of date. I’ve argued in my Organization article (Jackson, T. 2012 Postcolonialism and Organizational Knowledge in the Wake of China’s Presence in Africa: Interrogating South-South relations, Organization. 19(2): 181-204.[Article][Journal]) that PCT is time specific, reflecting, as the term suggests, post-colonial geopolitical dynamics, or North on South (or West on East) hegemony. This of course is still relevant, but things are rapidly changing with a South on South dynamic.

Of course the West has heavily influenced management practices in China, yet this has been as a number of authors have argued, with Chinese characteristic. What happens when Chinese organizations take these practices outside China is still under-researched. Yet, despite all the negative publicity China’s presence in Africa has attracted, from the Press and from some scholars, the fact remains that China’s historic engagement with African countries has been much different from that of the West. Far from being a colonial/imperial engagement it has mostly been an anti-colonial one. So how does this leave a Postcolonial analysis of China’s engagement in Africa? Certainly cross-cultural management studies is far behind in even getting to the stage where it might  recognize the geopolitical nature of this engagement, let alone using PCT as a critical theory, and certainly not critiquing the critique itself.

Cross-cultural Management, as a pioneering sub-discipline within Management Studies, should be in a position to take the lead and contribute to the development of social sciences, rather than lagging well behind it. Sadly it is not yet in that position.


The image above shows the 1865 Social Science Congress in Sheffield, where the Parsi reformer Manockjee Cursetjee speaks on female education in India

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