My dissertation focused on traditional management practices like Human Resources (HR), Finance, Marketing, and the discourse associated with periodic organizational restructuring. I was particularly interested in how those those practices affected the lives of employees at and outside of work.
Late in my doctoral work, I was exposed to the work of Michel Foucault. His work was transformative for me, because at the time I had documented many of the ways that the corporate context was explicitly shaping the lives of employees – through HR practices, for example. But I lacked a theoretical framework to explain how employees were responding to those practices – the idea of power and resistance to that power seemed oversimplified.
I also felt that most of what I read about control in the workplace assumed employees were physically present (on a shop floor or in a call center, for example) where they could be monitored, and whose work was measurable in some way. At the time, little had been written about how remote workers (mostly knowledge workers) were being measured and managed. It became increasingly clear to me that self-management would play a critical role as corporations sought to control their increasingly mobile and remote workforce.
Foucault’s ideas about power opened up a whole new way of thinking for me, especially the idea of technologies of the self, which is the way that Foucault described the way that individuals internalized forms of power, thereby managing themselves.
… technologies of the self … permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality. 1988
Following my exposure to Foucault, I cam across a body of management literature called Critical Management Studies. This body of literature uses the work of Foucault to explain the changes taking place in a wide variety of industries and business practices. Those two bodies of literature – the work of Foucault and the work of critical management theorists – continue to shape my perspective on the business world today.