The 'long march' of the management modernizers: Ritual, rhetoric and rationality

Chris Carter*, Frank Mueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article deals with a transition process from a professional engineering archetype to a modernizing managerialist archetype in a British electricity utility. This took place in the context of the substantially changing utility sector characterized by privatization, the introduction of efficiency targets, the introduction of a regulatory system, the prospect of mergers and predatory takeovers. The high-flying rhetoric of modernizing managerialists needs to be seen in the context of institutional templates, which carried substantial mimetic legitimacy, in particular programmes such as total quality management, teamworking and job redesign. They provided a basis to displace entrenched engineering rituals, and establish a new 'dominant rhetoric'. One reading ascribes such projects as striving towards objectified and technocratic organizational improvements the modernizers' rhetoric. An alternative reading is one that problematizes such an understanding by instead drawing attention to the largely ceremonial and rhetoric intensive nature of modernizing managerialism - the critics' rhetoric. A third perspective is provided by engineers who were fighting a largely rearguard action, as professional expectations emphasizing engineering safety were gradually losing force, but remained in sedimented form. The rhetoric intensive practice of talking 'spin' and engaging in elaborate rituals may well, whether in political or in organizational life, lead to critical, and sometimes cynical responses. In this article we highlight the way in which the scripts of ceremonialism, reformism and cynicism have played out among managerial and professional groups in the organization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1325-1354
Number of pages30
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2002

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • archetype
  • bifurcation
  • ceremony
  • institutional isomorphism
  • managerialism
  • modernizers
  • professional engineers
  • rationality
  • sedimentation


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