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Managerialism - Eve's Commonplace

I gave a paper on Saturday at the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics’ annual conference at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. The conference theme was the Ideology of Managerialism in Church, State and Politics. My paper was entitled In Praise of Managerialism. What a very peculiar experience. I found it all rather perplexing. I think these intelligent people may well be slightly confused. I suspect their issue is more with capitalism than management, and that they may be killing the messenger by mistake. There certainly are serious issues arising from the wholesale transfer of management practices from one realm to another, be it private to public, or to the voluntary sector, the professions or the churches. However, to address these issues to me requires clarity over what management actually is, and how it is changing. It also requires a theology of management which addresses human teleology as well as work and vocation. Ideally, it also needs an economic theology, but these others will do. What worried me most was the lack of discipline in this discipline. With some notable and impressive exceptions, many of the contributions were rather thinly veiled complaints about how difficult life is in academia and the church. One such exception was the contribution by Bernd Wannenwetsch, who very usefully flagged the dangerously self-referential nature of managerialism, and the loss of the externality of the Word when the Church is seduced into responding to ‘needs.’ Tim Harle also introduced the notion of complexity thinking in management circles. While this is also rather self-referential, it is suggestive of a Quaker spirituality that may offer insight. My paper argued that management is necessary but not sufficient. A particular insufficiency is that it does not adequately address the ethics of the mangerial relationship, and this is one area where Christian Ethicists could usefully add value. A further insufficiency is the tendency of management to use proxies to measure intangibles to create an illusion of control. This particular charge is a brilliant summary of this conference. The proxy of managerialism was itself debated through proxies, and I remain unsure that any useful conclusions were thereby generated. I do hope these fine minds will abandon this debate for one with more merit, or engage with it rather more seriously: the genuine charges against it are indeed potentially devastating, particularly when management practices are inappropriately applied in a setting such as the Church.

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From: (Anonymous) Date: September 13th, 2007 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I too attended the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics’ annual conference at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. I too regret that ‘managerialism’ was not more specifically identified or defined by speakers at the conference. Indeed the final speaker Michael Budde expressed the same view. At Eve Poole’s session I expressed the view that the baby was in danger of going out with the bath water. Tim Harle in his session warned against throwing out the management baby with the managerialist bathwater.

There ends my agreement with Eve’s assessment of the conference.

She hopes that ‘…these fine minds will abandon this debate for one with more merit, or engage with it rather more seriously’. I suggest that she is in error in seeing these ‘fine minds’ all in tune with each other. This is not my take on the different contributions.

I saw three different strands in play at the conference. There was indeed the strand of thought that was defensive and suspicious of the inroad of the managers into what they saw as the domain of the professional. These thinkers are I believe legitimately the target of Eve Poole’s comments.

The second strand focussed on the hubris of management and management theory. It was perhaps best represented by Eugene McCarraher who traced the inherent evangelism and unmerited self-confidence of American management theory from the late nineteenth century onwards.

The third strand criticised, rightly in my view, the inappropriate transfer of management tools and values into a church domain which is primarily about the proclamation of the gospel. The presentation of Michael Budde on Corporate Practices and the Church is a good example of this. His approach also represents a school of thought that is unhappy with the church’s too ready acceptance of the ‘reality’ of liberal capitalism.

Finally, I suggest that there was another fault line in the group that attended the conference. The British approach and the North American approach could be seen in contrast. The North American approach was more likely to fit into either strand two or three as I have described them.

Tony McNamara
School of religions and Theology
Trinity College Dublin
evepoole From: evepoole Date: September 14th, 2007 07:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Reply to Tony

I like your three-strand analysis, which I also recognise. I do however think it may still be too broad. For me the first two strands require closer dissection of the management challenge. In the first instance, the challenge in any professional field will be to determine which categories are most appropriate in measuring performance - 'hard' management. This links in with the second strand, the hubris point, which is to me a crucial reminder that most such measures will be inexact, and may only give an illusion of control. However, in both there are the 'softer' management responses to do with motivation, information and training - are these not always appropriate, even within the Church?
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 15th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)


I suspect that you would find everybody at the SSCE conference as a taker for your application of soft management tools to church affairs, as to any other affairs.

However this does not address the issues raised by the conference.

Let me try and tease the issue further for my strands two and three.

Strand two takes issue with the hubris of management theory. You describe this very well as the tension created when control of proxies is accepted for control of what is actually happening. I would go further and say that if the agenda, and the language of the agenda, is framed in terms of metrics only, and indeed metrics that concentrate on quantifiable outcomes only, then we are presented with a false reality. And for the church this false reality will have denied/hidden/obfuscated transcendent realities. This is a land populated by customers and clients. This is a land where citizens are no longer the focus of public services.

Strand three is concerned with the colonisation of the proclamation of the good news by instrumental tools that are out of harmony with that proclamation. The tools in question are those of the marketer who sets out to meet wants, the overly-audit conscious financier, the HR specialist who sees persons as resources in the corporate world.

Any way of drawing some other people into our conversation?

evepoole From: evepoole Date: September 18th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi Tony - would that we could all agree that 'managerialism' specifically refers to 'hard' management practices. I did not hear this clarity at the conference. As I argued in my paper I think this would produce a much more focused and fruitful debate, because I agree with you. Metrics are a challenge in any environment, and if they are poorly applied they drive unhealthy behaviours as well as mistaken notions of value. For the Church, Bernd was spot on about the external and the problem of responding to 'needs.' However, for public services I don't see why the existence of 'customers/'clients' necessarily removes the focus from citizens...?
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 24th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Can't open the PDF of this talk

I cannot open the PDF "In Praise of Managerialism" although the other ones on your website are OK.

Your synopsis of the proceeding raises a question: is the inappropriate measurement of intangibiles by proxy an essential aspect of managerialism abuse?

I can't think of any exceptions.

evepoole From: evepoole Date: November 26th, 2007 11:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Can't open the PDF of this talk

Hello Jim - thanks for flagging this broken link - I'll get it fixed.
Hmmm - good question - I suppose it is not so much the measurement of intangibles by proxy - it may be inevitable and almost by definition 'inappropriate' - it is more that those managers who mistake the proxy for the real thing may be inclined only to manage that which can be measured, risking the sacrifice of means to ends, causes to effects and illnesses to symptoms. It would be very neat if it were possible to boil down the evils of 'managerialism' to the specific issue of measurement, but I suspect my SSCE colleagues would also want to argue that management begs a serious ideological question and, in assuming its ideology, is susceptible to a charge of ethical impropriety. What do you think?
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