The modernist perspectives

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In this report we will be focusing on "Why modernist (traditional / classical) perspectives are of value to organisation studies as a field of study and practitioners, and why they are more effective than postmodern, critical and sense-making approaches". Modernist theories highlight the importance of effectiveness and significance. We have divided the classical perspective into two parts: scientific management and administrative management. Indeed, management activities are at the base of any activity worldwide. Scientific management is more concerned with the individuals and has been pioneered by Taylorism (1856-1915) and Franck (1868-1924) and Lillian (1878-1972) Gilbreth. Administrative management, on the other hand, is concerned with the organisation as a whole. Two main contributors to this perspective are Max Weber (1864-1920) and his bureaucracy and Henri Fayol (1841-1925). These modernist theories are still used nowadays, like for example in McDonaldization (George Ritzer, 2008). Thus, we believe that modernist perspectives are of greater importance than postmodernist ones as efficiency is key. Postmodernism creates confusion and endless debates. It is an ambiguous and contested theory as it challenges the idea of "definitive perspective" and likes to avoid simplicity within an argument.


Management is the most important human/business activity in the world. It is the art or science of achieving goals through the organization of people. Modernist and postmodernist management theories are but a few of the many schools of thought developed over the years on the subject.

It seems clear that modernist perspectives are of greater value to organizational studies than postmodernist ones as they are more efficient and more relevant to modern business management.

It is important to remember, throughout this essay, that the Modernist perspective was developed during the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, during this time of war, poverty and famine, efficiency and productivity were key. Better management skills were required as organizations grew larger and more complex. The managers who emerged during this period had backgrounds in engineering and always tried to focus on the "one" best way to solve management problems in the workplace as time is of the essence (George Sierchio).

The modernist perspectives thus bring great benefits to management as the world today is based and relies on these theories, such as, for example, Taylor's four principles (1911) or Weber's bureaucracy (1930s). The classical approach, in this essay, will be divided, into two parts: scientific management and administrative management.

Scientific Management:

Scientific management analyses workflow processes and "emphasized the scientific study of work methods so as to improve the productivity of individual workers" (Angelo Kinicki, Brian K. Williams, 2008, p. 42). Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Gilbreths made great contributions to this perspective.

Frederick W. Taylor (1911), the father of scientific management, indicated that "The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee" (John Sheldrake, 2003). As a result, Taylor applied four principles to support his thought: he replaced the old rule-of-thumb methods (using solutions to new problems that were based on past problems resembling the new one) by scientific studies of each part of the task, he noted that tasks should be reasonably allocated to workers according to their abilities, that workers should be trained and encouraged to use proper methods while completing their jobs and that the workload should be equally divided between managers and workers in order to achieve the goal of scientific cooperation (Angelo Kinicki, Brian K. Williams, 2008, p. 43).

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were pioneers of the time and motion study which evaluated industry performance by analyzing the time period and varieties of motion factors, i.e. individuals' actions. The purpose of this study is to promote production and improve efficiency. After her husband had passed away, Lillian also developed a theory according to which the working environment also influences peoples' motions.

Although scientific management was developed during the twentieth century it is still applied nowadays in companies by adopting scientific approaches to increase productivity, selecting and training employees and distributing tasks reasonably among superior and subordinate staff. It has also helped organisations today realise the importance of human resources.

Administrative Management:

The second aspect of the modernist perspective is Administrative Management. This concept is the idea of managing the organisation as a whole. It is of vital importance in today's society as it structures companies.

Bureaucracy, developed by Max Weber, is a good example of how, through administration, one tries to organize and simplify an already very complex organization. Indeed, a bureaucracy is "The administrative structure of any large organization, public or private. Ideally bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchical authority relations, defined spheres of competence subject to impersonal rules, recruitment by competence, and fixed salaries. Its goal is to be rational, efficient, and professional." It is always evolving and improving. The last decade has seen, for example, a huge development in information systems and the use of Internet (e-mails...).

Max Weber also identified three forms of authority (1958): traditional, charismatic and rational / legal. However, let us concentrate on the last form which depends on the state's rules and laws, which, more often than not, are "written down". One gains power through merit and not through heredity (the traditional authority). "Modern societies depend on legal-rational authority".

Another modernist, Henri Fayol, was also the first to "systematize" "management behavior" and "identify the major functions of management" ("planning, organizing, leading", "controlling" and "coordinating") (Angelo Kinicki, Brian K. Williams, 2008, p. 44). Nowadays, these are used throughout society, in every company. For example, McDonaldization and the standardization of procedures.

Thus, administrative management is extremely important as it is fairer and more efficient. It is easier to pass knowledge to workers and it enhances productivity (like for example McDonalds or Burger King). Moreover, the modernist perspective "prided itself as being more possessed of truth than that earlier era." It also made possible advances in "technology", in "industrialization and arms", "transportation and communication". This "made colonialism possible and brought great wealth." "Humankind is progressing by using science and reason." Finally, humans, in the modernist perspective, are autonomous and can live their lives as they wish without over-questioning and making more complex certain situations.


Postmodernism is a cultural and intellectual phenomenon dating back to the 1920's. It defines the non-acceptance of the current socio-economic climate. The term Postmodernism is used by philosophers, social scientists and social critics. It refers to aspects of contemporary culture, economics and society that are the result of features of late 20th century and early 21st century life, including the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. It "aims to reclaim conflict", by rejecting "managerial education" and results in creating confusion and endless debates, which can be detrimental to an organisation as the argument will never be concluded. It hopes to claim "a space for lost voices". Postmodernism is "interested in diversity and creativity" and is "concerned with marginalisation" and "suppression of conflict and discursive closure".

There are three principal analyses. Theorists such as Callinicos (1991) and Calhoun (1995) offer a conservative position on the nature of contemporary society, understating the significance and extent of socio-economic changes and emphasising continuity with the past.

Secondly, a group of theorists have tried to analyse the present as a development of the "modern" project into a second, distinct phase that is nevertheless still "modernity": this has been termed the "second" or "risk" society by Ulrich Beck (1986) and "late" or "high" modernity by Giddens (1990, 1991) for example.

Thirdly, some argue that contemporary society has moved into a literally post-modern phase distinct from modernity, like Lyotard (with the "Critical theory", 1979) or Baudrillard.

Postmodernism is an ambiguous and contested theory because it challenges the idea of "definitive perspective" and likes to "avoid simplicity" within an "argument". It creates fragmented individuals and there is thus a "loss of 'collective'". Knowledge is "fragmented, multiplicitous" and "contradictory". There isn't just one postmodern theoryand approach, but many complex ones that deny the existence of truth. All these theories are of interest, but, ultimately, will never suit an organisation as they are too vague and do not define a standard set of rules that an institution needs. Postmodernism also does not take into account the fact that a company may be restrained by a particular time frame and thus not have time to analyse every single option.


We have found that modernist perspectives are of greater value to organizations and societies than postmodern perspectives, for many reasons. First, scientific management, pioneered by Frederick W. Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, have highlighted the importance of time and motion in a business. They also showed how crucial the reasonable allocation of tasks to workers and training of the workforce is. Furthermore, the importance of scientific management is also supported by the fact that it is still being practiced today even though it was first developed during the twentieth century. Secondly, administrative management, was pioneered by Henri Fayol and Max Weber. Henri Fayol identified the major functions of management still used in all companies and business books today. If we go deeper into the way businesses' work we will realize that it's all about implementing a system and working within set parameters. There are many examples that can be mentioned in every industry ranging from food production to tourism. Max Weber was at the base of the discovery of how these working processes affect society members in the work place. Moreover, he helps us understand how the workers' social identity can be utilised to make them more productive and enhance their capabilities. Administrative management is efficient and fair. Postmodernism however, contributes only to making our business world convoluted. It can eradicate the fundamentals of essential management. There is no one answer to important problems as it is too complex. It does not take into account time constraints.

References / Bibliography


McDonaldization: Ritzer, G., 2008. The McDonaldization of Society 5. California: Pine Forge Press.


The Industrial Revolution and Management:

Scientific Management:

  • Talyor, F. W., 1911, The Principles of Scientific Management, First Edition. 2005. 1st World Library-Literary Society,2005, pp 9
  • "Scientific management.", 2006. A Dictionary of Business and Management.[Online] Available at:[accessed 19 Nov. 2009]
  • "Time and Motion study.", A Dictionary of, Reference Answers TM. [Online] Available at: [assessed 19 Nov. 2009]
  • "Time and motion study.", 2008. The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition. [Online] Available at: [assessed 19 Nov. 2009]
  • Kinicki, A., Williams, B. K., 2008, Management A Practical Introduction, Singapore: Mc-Graw Hill.
  • Sheldrake, J., 2003. Management Theory. London: Thomson Learning.

Administrative Management:

  • "The administrative structure of any large organization, public or private. Ideally bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchical authority relations, defined spheres of competence subject to impersonal rules, recruitment by competence, and fixed salaries. Its goal is to be rational, efficient, and professional.":
  • Max Weber and his three forms of authority:
  • "prided itself as being more possessed of truth than that earlier era."; "technology"; "industrialization and arms"; "transportation and communication"; "made colonialism possible and brought great wealth." :
  1. "Humankind is progressing by using science and reason.":
  2. Lecture slides: lecture handouts 2: page 2, slide 2.


Lecture slides: Lecture 2:

  • Slide 19: "fragmented, multiplicitous", "contradictory"
  • Slide 21: "loss of 'collective'"
  • Slide 22: "aims to reclaim conflict", "concerned with marginalisation", "suppression of conflict and discursive closure", "a space for lost voices"
  • Slide 23: "definitive perspective", "managerial education", "avoid simplicity", "argument"
  • The "Critical theory" in The Postmodern Condition, 1979
  • Linstead, S., Fulop L., Lilley, S., 2009. Management & Organization A Critical Text. China: Palgrave MacMillan (p. 397, 499, 526-530).