The Concepts Of Postmodernism Development Cultural Studies Essay


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Postmodernism gives us a radically different way of looking at the discipline of management. Although relatively new to organizational studies, it has exercised a growing influence in the social sciences, from sociology and psychology to women's studies and history (Rosenau, 1992) and is considered by some to be one of the 20th century's greatest challenges to established knowledge (Wisdom, 1987). Even within the so-called hard sciences such as physics, postmodern dilemmas are increasingly debated (Farney, 1994). One of the reasons of the growing popularity of this concept is because it actually challenges the very social and cultural foundations on which we build our theories and models (Berg, 1989). In fact, the very idea of encompassing a stable framework runs counter to some of the basic assumptions in the postmodern approach, with its rejection of the "grand narrative" (i.e. the assumption of rational and general overall explanations). Postmodernism is sometimes seen as a patchwork of ideas and assumptions shared by scholars from the most diverse scientific fields and disciplines in which the most common denominator is a resistance to the modern or rational mode of discourse in society. The authors justify their criticism by pointing out that in today's society, the average intelligence of employees is much higher than that of the employee in the modern era. People are now aware of their value as human beings and they are no longer content to receive monetary rewards, unlike in the modern era, workers were viewed as working only for economic reward.

Modern versus Postmodern Thinking

The modernist believed that science had shaken the foundations of traditional authorities and truths. For example, developments such as the steam engine, the harnessing of electricity, and Darwin's evolutionary theory had radically altered the social consciousness of western man. He believed that he could find a new, rational foundation for universal truth; science, particularly, would reveal new truth, which, when applied to modern society and institutions, would literally remake the world. A modernist also had an extravagant expectation that science would further not only the control of the forces of nature, but also the understanding of self and world, moral progress, justice in social institutions, and even human happiness (Habermas J, 1996, pp. 162-63) presupposed an understanding of human identity and self that was unified, coherent, and autonomous: man was a thinking being capable of rationally perceiving, knowing, and conquering the world. To be "modern," then, was to embrace the power of scientific rationality, the spirit of progress, a vision of unlimited potential for human society, and an optimism for the future in which man could obtain his two greatest needs: meaning and material security" (Hurd, 1998). So modernism was viewed as a concept that used science as the proper means to solve all social problems.

One of the most noteworthy developments against this backdrop was the theory of Scientific management, that was formulated by F.W Taylor, who believed that factual scientific knowledge would replace the traditional "rules of thumb". He was of the opinion that a majority of workers are ill educated and unfit to make important decisions. This can be illustrated in the following quotation, "One of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles […] the ox… Therefore the workman…is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work" (Taylor, 1998 (Re-published, originally published in 1911, p. 28). He was also of the opinion that work would become more efficient when it was broken down into parts and the management, planning and decision making functions are developed somewhere. From this, it can be understood how in a way, profit maximization was given more importance than the needs and expectations of the workers. A good example of an organization that represents this philosophy is McDonalds. George Ritzer in his book "The McDonaldization of Society" gave us an idea of how detailed instructions are given to the staff to perform even the most simplest jobs in an efficient manner (Ritzer, 2000, p. 38). I also observed a similar situation when we visited the Jaguar-Land Rover factory recently, where each employee had a handbook that contained detailed instructions of a specific job that he/she had to do and had no say in any decision making process.

The situation has drastically changed in the postmodernism world. Today, there is a much higher access to technology and information. In fact, so much information goes into everyday decisions that it becomes difficult for managers to control all these functions. So the role of an employee in a decision making process becomes vital. Also, employees no longer work in isolated units that are cut off from the organization, but rather are connected to it. Employees are keen to know what their organization stands for, what their business strategy is, how they are faring and what their job means to the company as a whole. I can put myself as a typical example here because when I was looking out for a job, I looked at precisely asked myself the above questions. Also, while working at Thomson Reuters, my manager gave me the opportunity to make certain important decisions. It was this factor that enabled me to grow in my previous company. Google is another good example that represents postmodern thinking. Please refer to the article in the appendix on page

The authors also criticize modernism for the reason that it uses science to solve social problems. (Habermas, 1981, pp. 4-5) rightly describes this as "The belief inspired by modern science, in the infinite progress of knowledge and in the infinite advance towards social and moral betterment…modernity lives on the experience of rebelling against all that is normative". They argue that modernism is a doctrine that functions at and is relevant to all levels of social practice and hence, question the basis on which it views truth and reality that is dominated by science. They argue that modernism cannot define its own rightness through its roots in scientific rationality and give us examples such as (MacIntyre, 1981), who says that scientific management knowledge does not even exist and that what is claimed to be as scientific is rather ideologically constrained. Through this argument, they try to say that management should not base all its decisions on science, but should also look at the humanistic aspects as well.

The Right Content in Management Education

One of the main themes of this article is a discussion of what counts as knowledge for us today, how it is generated, communicated and put to use by individuals, businesses and societies. The authors refer to Lyotard's argument that "the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age (Lyotard, 1984, p. 3)

They point out that until today, management has quintessentially been a modernist discipline and state that the rationality of capitalism played an important role in deciding what subjects were relevant to management and also the correct content of those subjects.

Over the years, there have been many criticisms on various management theories but all have had no impact on them. They cite a good example of (Robbins, 1991, p. 193), where he makes a note of the theories of motivation: "The 1950's were a fruitful period in the development of motivation concepts. Three specific theories i.e., Maslow, McGregor and Herzberg were formulated during this period, which, though heavily attacked and now questionable in terms of validity, are probably the best known explanations for employee motivation".

They also point out that over the years, many theories have developed that are nothing but old recycled concepts. They offer a good example of a sudden renewed interest in leadership, where there is a move away from the old styles toward charismatic styles. Citing (Kotter, 1990), they argue that first of all leadership has nothing to with charisma but is all about coping with change.

They say that managers should be educated about having a much broader outlook towards principles such as social emancipation, long-run survival of the planet etc., instead of looking at things at the organizational level such as private profit, protection on power etc.,

Thus, through the idea of postmodern management, the authors try to offer a different perspective of management and what subjects should be included in management education.


So the authors say that the modern way of management is deeply flawed and contains several weaknesses that limit its influence in current work environments and therefore its techniques cannot be applied to modern organizations.

They also regard management as an education subject that is deeply flawed as it does not produce the desired results that it promises.

Lyotard further argues that we live in a knowledge-driven economy in which technological innovation and the ability to access and manipulate ideas rapidly is a key means of surviving, flourishing and making profits. We thus become consumers of a knowledge that has been transformed into a commodity. This commercially based view of knowledge is a significant shift away from the ways in which knowledge was conceived by earlier generations and particularly, the modernists.

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