Sub-theme 41: The Power of Management Experts in Organizations and Society

Stefan Heusinkveld
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Andrew Sturdy
University of Bristol, UK
Andreas Werr
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Call for Papers

This sub-theme focuses on how those management experts who produce and actively promote particular management ideas and practices as an answer to contemporary economic and social challenges, actually reshape the nature of our organizations, institutions, societies and economies. It seeks to combine traditional and emergent macro concerns with elites and ideology in society with those of organization-based studies of management and professional work. Theoretically, it aims to embrace diverse or integrative perspectives on power, management experts and managerial ideas and practices.

Management ideas and practices have, arguably, come to permeate many aspects of everyday life. This has come from different processes, but theorists have pointed to the particular importance of various groups of management experts such as business schools, consultancies, gurus, elite managers, academics and other professionals. Within organization studies, such groups have been seen to help rethink and transform work organizations to varying degrees. At the same time, studies based more firmly in sociology or political science point to a wider impact such as on public policies and the nature or 'spirit' of capitalism.

Such claims of the dissemination and impact of management are commonplace in academic literature, but rarely linked to detailed studies of the work of management experts, either front stage (in projects, promotion and 'thought leadership') or back stage (through elite social networks, agenda setting and lobbying). These activities are arguably more evident in the popular and business media in terms of the allure of high status jobs or, by contrast, critiques of the unaccountability of expert advisors or their complicity in scandals and the wider financial crisis. More recently, popular attention has been given to the way management experts are informing debate on contemporary economic and social challenges such as related to changes in financial and environmental regulation or health care for example. Power, politics and expertise are central concepts, but too often they are examined at the micro-level. As a result, the possible impacts and related value of management experts remain poorly understood or at least, partly conceptualized.

This sub-theme aims to direct attention towards concerns of popular political and social debate with an understanding of the power of management experts and their specific ideas and practices that both encompasses and extends beyond their immediate work domains to those of clients, politicians and publics. This might involve exploring wider power effects of well-known micro-level dynamics or exploring otherwise largely hidden activities such as lobbying or informal networking beyond the employing organization. At the same time, power can be revealed in various ways, not least through notions of actors' agency and interests – how resources, processes and meaning are shaped – as well as where it is contested. Similarly, other views of power highlight its non-sovereign forms, as a relation or effect and together, they can bring different empirical and political areas of attention to the fore.


The following questions are indicative of our concerns:

  • Who are the key/elite actors in reshaping economic policies in different countries and sectors and to what extent are they changing?
  • In which way does lobbying and relationship management reshape changes in organizations, management and regulation?
  • How can 'macro' developments be connected to organizational changes and actors?
  • How do management experts secure influence beyond the context of specific projects or organizational changes?
  • How might organization studies be integrated with political economy and policy studies?
  • How might influence of management, especially evident in 'development' contexts (e.g. the spread of neo-liberalism), be achieved in 'advanced countries?
  • What is the role of business schools in shaping economic agendas?
  • How is the value of management expertise defined, negotiated, contested and resisted in both macro and micro level processes?
  • What are the power dynamics as management experts expand their jurisdiction to new areas of application in organizations and societies?


Stefan Heusinkveld is Associate Professor at the VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His research focuses on the production and consumption of management ideas and in particular the role of management consultants and management gurus.
Andrew Sturdy is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Bristol, UK. His research interests are on power, management consultancy and organisational change and his most recent book is "Management Consultancy" (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is currently researching the organisation and influence of both internal and external consultancy.
Andreas Werr is Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, and the Head of its Centre for HRM and Knowledge Work. His research interests include management consultancy, the management of professional services and the nature and development of management knowledge.