Management Textbooks Bungle Weber

16 March 2011 at 8:38 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Most management scholars, like most economists, have little interest in doctrinal history, so it’s not surprising they don’t pay much attention to the history of management thought. But Stephen Cummings and Todd Bridgman’s “The Relevant Past: Why the History of Management Should Be Critical for Our Future” (Academy of Management Learning and Education, March 2011) is an eye-opener. Focusing on Max Weber, Cummings and Bridgman document a series of whoppers that appear consistently in leading management texts, such as the belief that “ideal type” means best or optimal; that Weber did his major work in the 1940s (Parsons’s translation of Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft appeared in 1947, 27 years after Weber’s death); that Weber personally admired bureaucracy (In Search of Excellence avers that Weber “pooh-poohed charismatic leadership and doted on bureaucracy”); and other gross misunderstandings. FAIL.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Management Theory, Myths and Realities.

Stockman on the Crisis that Wasn’t Paper Titles I Wish I’d Written

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. RussCoff  |  16 March 2011 at 8:59 am

    Of course, modern texts often don’t even cite foundational works like Weber, Barnard, or Simon. I’m not sure that is an improvement over incorrect cites…

  • 2. KevinH  |  16 March 2011 at 11:05 am

    “Most management scholars, like most economists, have little interest in doctrinal history.”

    This is part of the problem with modern academics and society as a whole. As a group we have little interest in where ideas and theories came from, the competing theories that didn’t win, and the accidents that often led to one idea becoming preeminent. When we gloss over the historical roots of ideas, we are ignoring the context in which the ideas were conceived and often fail to see the forest for the trees as a result.

  • 3. Richard Ebeling  |  16 March 2011 at 4:02 pm

    If anyone wants to see an example of what true doctrinal attention and care is like, in economics, take a look at Arthur W. Marget’s “The Theory of Prices: A Re-Examination of the Central Problems of Monetary Theory,” 2 Vols. (1938 & 1942).

    Every theoretical statement is presented in the meticulous context of what scholars (great and small) in several languages had said on every point and topic discussed over a four hundred-year period. This is done through smaller font supporting text, with the main text and the supporting text all complemented with extensive annotated footnotes.

    Perhaps an instance of going too far in the “other direction,” certainly. But it does given a sense of what an older generation of scholars often considered reasonable knowledge in their discipline to write intelligently about it.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 4. Michael E. Marotta  |  17 March 2011 at 11:24 am

    I like the Panic of 1857. Everyone accepts it. Myself, I am not so sure. We know of the event from sensational news stories about frenzied mobs hopelessly demanding the return of their money from banks that were forced to close their doors. The truth may be different – certainly more complicated – than this.

    The 1907 History of the United States by James Ford Rhodes gives the Panic of 1857 one line, never calling it by name. To Rhodes, the importance of the financial event was only that it temporarily drove “bleeding Kansas” from public attention.

    John Fiske’s History of the United States published in several editions by Houghton Mifflin from 1894 to 1907 says nothing about the Panic of 1857, mentioning instead the Dredd Scott Decision. However, Fiske does cover the Panics of 1837 and 1873.

    William Graham Sumner’s History of American Currency, published in 1874, does tell the story – including the loss of the S. S. Central America – but Sumner puts the word “panic” in quotes. Perhaps that is where it belongs.

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