I really enjoyed speaking with Martin Parker about his bold book, Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education, published by Pluto Press. Yes, you heard that right – Shut Down the Business School, Bulldoze it over…flatten it! Sure, sounds a little hyperbolic, but this is a serious book and not some frivolous rant.
Even as far back as 1995, Martin Parker was criticizing the corporatization of higher education – what he dubbed, “The McUniversity” – the title of an article he published in the journal Organization. Soon thereafter, his book, “Against Management” came out, which landed him a Chair position at the University of Keele – a unique Department of Management composed of interdisciplinary scholars which became a radical hotbed.
I think what makes this conversation unique is that Martin and I are both Professors of Management; we’ve both been housed within a Business school at our respective universities. Martin is now at the University of Bristol in the UK. When he was the Chair at Keele, he spearheaded the formation of a fringe sub-discipline in the field of management, known as Critical Management Studies. We share a lot in common in that neither of us have an undergraduate or graduate degree in Business or Management…and as marginal outsiders.
So this conversation is very personal. There has been a great deal of criticism of Business Schools over the years, external critiques such as from the Carnegie Commission - but what’s quite remarkable that much of the criticism has come from insiders – prominent professors from such places as Stanford in the US and McGill in Canada. We reflect on the ironies of this, as Parker himself has been rewarded and promoted for his provocative articles and books. He has been biting the hand that feeds him for years, and that hand – the B-school, has seemed to have developed a natural immunity to such infectious assaults.
We briefly explore such topics as the history of the B-school, the problems with MBA programs, the various calls for reform that have fallen on deaf ears, along with why B-schools have been fiercely loyal and beholden to teaching managerial capitalism – and the inevitability of the corporatizied form as the one best way, even the only way, to organize. As our conversation evolves, Parker tells us straight up why the “student as customer” and such marketized notions as “student satisfaction” – are problematic. This insidious trend has been part and parcel of the corporatization of the university – where knowledge itself has become that which is purely utilitarian, relevant and which can be marketized and sold. Parker explains to us how B-schools have functioned as the loudspeaker for managerial capitalism – where Management has now come to be seen as absolutely necessary to all organizations, a claim of expertise which essentially denies that others have the capacity for managing their affairs. Finally, we come to the core questions – What should B-schools be for? Given the meta-crisis of climate change, gross global economic inequities, deteriorating mental health, and so on - why are B-schools accomplices to these meta-problems rather than their solution? Parker advocates that B-schools, given their tremendous reach and leverage, need to be shut down and reinvented as Schools of Organizing – where students can be introduced a wide range of approaches to organizing – and where the curriculum mandates that every discipline and course incorporates a fundamental imperative towards carbon reduction.
I hope you enjoy our lively and animated discussion – as well as few rants.
Martin Parker is Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Bristol. Professor Parker has held academic posts at the University of Leicester School of Management, Staffordshire, Keele and Warwick universities. His background is in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. He is previously Editor in Chief of the journal Organization: The Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society. His recent books include Anarchism, Organization and Management (Routledge 2020) and Life After COVID19 (Bristol University Press 2020), as well his classic, Against Management (Polity Press, 2002). His other projects include leading the Bristol Inclusive Economy initiative, helping tilt the city towards low carbon, high inclusion and high democracy workplaces. He has also written about such odd topics - outlaws, angels, the circus, angels - and showing how they can be understood as relevant to thinking about organizing. He is currently writing about weeds.