Business schools and the construction of management knowledge: an analysis of the MBA

Esland, Karen Victoria (2007). Business schools and the construction of management knowledge: an analysis of the MBA. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e97a

Abstract

The focus of this thesis is the expansion of business education in the UK over the past two decades. The reasons for the expansion are tied to the political and economic agendas of the New Right. The economic crises of the 1970s, resultant labour market instability and growing international competition led to the emergence of a political strategy around the promotion of management, to improve employment discipline, economic efficiency and national competitiveness. The dismantling of the post-war welfare settlement and consequent marketisation of the public sector resulted in the role of management being elevated within the public sector. The state-sponsorship of management within private and public sectors involved a confluence of interests around the growth of management education: increased demand was created which the tertiary sector was favourably predisposed to supply.

The political articulation of public sector policy and practice in terms of a management discourse constitutes a distinct cultural and ideological transformation. The movement of a managerialist discourse into non-business spheres has involved business schools becoming important cultural intermediaries, contributing to a reconstitution of society. Given the political emphasis upon and cultural prevalence of management discourses, the factors influencing the construction of management knowledge and the ideologies it favours are of significance. This study examines the MBA curricula of business schools, focusing on the induced tension between business values, based on the broad acceptance of capitalist principles, and the academic requirement for critical analysis of business practice. This potential tension is explored in interviews with a number of academics. The responses indicate that balancing academic and business priorities can be a complex process with consequences for identity management. This study traces the implications of the political promotion of management knowledge and the role of the business school in the emergence of a new political settlement.

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