Management and anarchism have something very superficial in common – most people loathe them. Nevertheless, on Tuesday the 29th of October, a workshop held at the School’s Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy explored what else can be said about this most peculiar of intersections. The event featured talks from Liam Barrington-Bush, author of Anarchists in the Boardroom and from Fabian Frenzel, co-author of Protest Camps and it was chaired by Thomas Swann and Konstantin Stoborod, editors of a forthcoming special issue of ephemera: theory and politics in organization entitled ‘Management, Business, Anarchism’. Recordings of both talks are available here and a brief overview of the launch is presented below.
Liam’s talk outlined how management has been traditionally buttressed by unreflective belief in “the twin notions of hierarchy and control; the few would organise the many, and great things would be achieved”. The almost ubiquitous subscription to this belief is hugely problematic since, “in the name of professionalism, countless social change organisations began to adopt the rigid and inflexible structures typically found in factories and government departments”. Liam highlighted an alternative source of inspiration to be found not within corporate management but against corporate management:
Occupy and countless other social movements that have criss-crossed the globe in recent years, are living, breathing examples of what people who want to make the world a better place can achieve, when they don’t have someone telling them what to do and how to do it…This is the core of anarchism. It is not as naive as to say that this general disposition cannot be infinitely corrupted, but it does say that if we leave people who believe in something to their own devices, they will probably come up with better, more effective ways of supporting that belief, than we could have told them.
Whereas Liam’s talk heralded the death of management, therefore, Fabian’s argued for a broader understanding of what we mean by management. In so doing he asks:
Would you consider a manager someone who helps organize a protest; one who is involved in a social centre or alternative housing project; who creates a rota on a large piece of white paper, hoping to win some volunteers for the empty slots? Would you consider a manager as someone who runs a family, takes care of children, the elderly, who helps in greening a street corner? Would such a person consider themselves as a manager?
The very existence of such day to day forms of seemingly mundane management, according to Fabian, suggests that management is not simply the name we attach to activities undertaken by well-paid managers. It is, rather, a diffused, multiple and practical form of knowledge, much like anarchism. In this sense, Fabian continued:
Perhaps something can be gained by liberating management from…the conceptual ties that bind what we think of as management to the pursuit of capitalist profit and political control. Instead, what if we started understanding as management those things we do to collectively organize our lives and struggles against capital and the state and what we do to care for and help each other, how we co-operate without domination and in solidarity.
Perhaps management and anarchism aren’t so loathsome after all.