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Design and Devotion: Surges of Rational and Normative Ideologies of Control in Managerial Discourse

Stephen R. Barley and Gideon Kunda
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 37, No. 3 (Sep., 1992), pp. 363-399
DOI: 10.2307/2393449
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393449
Page Count: 37
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Abstract

This paper challenges the prevalent notion that American managerial discourse has moved progressively from coercive to rational and, ultimately, to normative rhetorics of control. Historical data suggest that since the 1870s American managerial discourse has been elaborated in waves that have alternated between normative and rational rhetorics. We sketch out the surges and contractions in the rhetorics of industrial betterment, scientific management, welfare capitalism/human relations, systems rationalism, and organizational culture/quality. Standard theories of ideological change are shown to be inadequate for explaining either the general pattern or the timing of the surges. We propose and find preliminary support for a theory that combines cultural constraints and material forces. Specifically, the tendency for innovative surges of managerial theorizing to alternate between rational and normative rhetorics of control appears to be rooted in cultural antinomies fundamental to all Western industrial societies: the opposition between mechanistic and organic solidarity and between communalism and individualism. The timing of each new wave is shown to parallel broad cycles of economic expansion and contraction.

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