Why do managers do what they do

Only grint 1995 has done so and then some what

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Only Grint (1995) has done so and then some- what dismissively. He argues that activities are only 'managerial' because they are socially ascribed as such and that, since 'management is about talk if it is about anything' (1995, p. 48), this ascription depends on managers constituting their actions, and accounts of their actions, through certain linguistic forms and on researchers construing those actions and accounts in similar ways. In this purview, therefore, what needs to be explained is not why managers engage in certain common activities, but why and how such activities are negotiated as acceptable descrijjtors of 'man- aging'. However, in Grint's analysis this treat- ment of the evidence is only alluded to, rather than demonstrated, thereby avoiding, by design or default, the problems of how this approach can avoid lapsing into infinite regress or how it can account for variations, as well as consensually negotiated agreement, in categories of managerial work. Three recent attempts to theorize managerial practices (Reed, 1990; Tsoukas, 1994; Whitley, 1989) have been at pains to avoid the suggestion either that these practices flow, unproblematic- ally, from inescapable management tasks or that they are simply linguistic constructions. For Whitley (1989), managerial tasks arise, contingently, out of the inherently discretionary character of management within its organizational context and are, as a consequence, interdependent, context- dependent, fluid, concerned with both mainten- ance and innovation and lack attributable, visible outputs. For Reed (1990), managing is a 'second- ary social practice', characterized by its own concepts, aims, means, activities, and problems and situational conditions, which is chronically concerned with establishing and maintaining con- trol over those engaged in 'primary productive practices'. For Tsoukas (1994) the key issue is less what managers do, as what they are capable of doing, and hence the need to identify the neces- sary conditions which endow management with causal powers to elicit cooperation, pursue effi- ciency and control labour and from which derive, in increasing empirical apprehendabihty, manage- ment functions, tasks and managerial activities. Whilst a central virtue of these theories is the attempt to deal conceptually with the generic character of managerial work, rather than adum- brating its many variations, what they all eschew is engagement with empirical evidence. Thus, there is limited indication of which managerial practices might manifest Whitley's fluid, context- dependent managerial tasks, the aims and prob- lems of Reed's secondary social practice of management or Tsoukas' causal powers of man- agement. Without this engagement with the evidence, all three remain formal theories of how managerial practices might be explained, rather than substantive accounts of these practices.
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