Can only managers (learn to) manage?:
Management, practice and trajectories of emergent identity

Len Holmes, The Business School, University of North London (at time of presentation)

Paper presented to 3rd International Connecting Learning and Critique Conference
Cambridge University, 17th -19th July 2002



The discourse of management education, training and development continues to display a division in modes of its framing, typically indexed by notions of 'theory vs practice', 'knowing that' vs 'knowing how', learning about management vs learning for managing, knowledge and understanding vs skills and competence, education vs training and development. The provision of management education, training and development tends to be separated between mainstream qualifications-bearing programmes offered within the higher education sector and various forms of human resource development activities by and for employing organisations (Fox 1997). Indeed, the educational offerings of institutions of higher education have been subject to continuing criticism for their purported failure to address issues of managerial practice , and such offerings have increasingly included some forms of attempts to develop management 'skills' and 'competencies'. The 'learning turn' in the field, particularly drawing upon notions of experiential learning (Kolb, Rubin et al. 1971) (Kolb 1984) (Honey and Mumford 1982), and action learning (Revans 1971) (Pedler 1983) may be seen as a response to the theory-practice divide and a framework for its resolution. In effect, within such framing, management is (best?) learned by engaging in managing.

A key issue in such learning-focussed framing is that management is implicitly taken to be equivalent to what managers do (Lupton 1983). This is reinforced by the general requirement for many post-experience programmes management in higher education that entrants already have some managerial experience, and by the marketing of such programmes which emphasises the opportunities for accelerated managerial careers post-qualification. Such framing is rejected by many engaged in the critical management 'movement', who critique the functionalist, technical-rationalist orientation and the restriction of legitimate interest to the management cadre (Alvesson and Willmott 1992). Such critics seek to broaden the field of management studies to have a (critical) concern with the social and political context within which the historically situated phenomenon of modern management has arisen, holds, and seeks to maintain dominance as a form of social organising within a capitalist world order. The critical framing thereby seeks to legitimate the study of management by individuals who are not managers and who may have no desire to be managers. Of course, the critical management movement is not monologic, and some proponents would argue for a reformist agenda, allowing for a potentially positive valorisation of management subject to recognition of certain ethical and political issues within a realpolitik perspective. For others, modern management is irredeemably part of a system which is beyond reform: critical approaches to management studies form part of an agenda of subversion. Both reformist and subversionist approaches appear to maintain the management/ manager divide, the separation of the study of management from the development of managerial abilities: reformism would allow for the inclusion of the latter, whilst subversionism would eschew it.

This paper makes no pretensions to be a contribution to subversionism, but is agnostic with regard to the possibilities of reform. The more modest aim to explore the nature of both:
1) management/ managing as a field of organised expertise;
2) learning in relation to such expertise.
The paper is intended as a contribution to the study of the phenomenology of managerial expertise which, it will be argued, must include attention to the social morphology of such expertise: how it is distributed within society, or, we might say, 'who gets to get it'. The main analysis will take as a point of departure the philosophical principle that socially meaningful human behaviour is not amenable to objective observation but is, rather, subject to construal or interpretation. Drawing upon a range of approaches, the practice/emergent-identity model will be presented as a way of framing the standing conditions for such construal/ interpretation. The analytical separation of practices and emergent-identity will be shown to present different modes of considering the nature of learning, and of challenging approaches based on conceptualising learning as an unsituated process free of content and context.

Before laying out the main analysis and argument, the paper will first discuss some sources of conceptual confusion in respect of claims that non-managers can manage, and argue that such claims do not hold. Three such claims will be addressed.

Claim 1: 'We all manage our everyday activities': mundane vs abstracted management

The verb 'to manage', and other word forms from that root, is the source of some conceptual confusion. Whilst it is used in discourse about the organisation and control of activities within the institutionalised entities we generally call '(work) organisations', it is also used in everyday, mundane discourse. Examples of the latter use may be:
    "I just managed to get to the airport on time."
    "Can you manage those stairs on your own?"
    "She managed to raise four children by herself and still pursue her career."
    "We can't expect a retired couple to manage on the basic pension."
It would be invalid to conclude from such use of the term that people ordinarily in the everyday life engage in the same kinds of activities as are undertaken by those who are formally designated as 'managers' in organisational settings. This can be demonstrated by asking what is done by the use of the word 'manage', in addition to what is done without that word (ie "I got to the airport on time"; "Can you climb those stairs on your own?"; "She raised four children etc"; "We can't expect a retired couple to live on the basic pension."). The additional work done by using the word 'manage' would seem to draw attention to the fact that some (ordinary) activity is accomplished despite some difficulty or other, or (in the final example), we should expect certain difficulties (insufficient income) to prevent a certain accomplishment (living the kind of life to which a retired couple should be entitled). This 'drawing attention to' may follow on from certain information previously given or jointly known, or implicitly evoke a question concerning the nature of the difficulty, or perhaps draw upon common understanding about what may be realistically expected. Used in such mundane modes of discourse, the term 'manage' also generally serves to provide some emotional tone, eg of relief, (self-)congratulation, concern, admiration, justifiable anger, or whatever.

It would therefore be invalid to argue that, because people ordinarily manage various activities in their daily lives, they are therefore 'managing', engaging in 'management' in the same sense as those terms are applied to managers in organisations.

Claim 2: 'We all are involved in managing': Management is a social accomplishment

The mundane use of the term 'manage' in the sense of individuals accomplishing some desired or desirable outcome in the face of difficulties should also be distinguished from its use in the context of the co-ordination and control of collective activity. It is the latter which applies in the case of management in and of formal organisations. Here again we may face conceptual confusion because, although there may be individuals, 'managers', who are said to be 'managing', the social accomplishment of the management, ie co-ordination and control of activities towards certain ends, requires that those who are being managed must play their part. Management is thus a joint accomplishment, by managers and managed; this follows from what Giddens (Giddens 1984) terms the 'dialectic of control'.

However, it does not follow from this that we can say that those who are managed are engaging in managing. There are two problems here. First, such an inference would be to make a category mistake (Ryle 1949), ie to confuse different logical types of concepts. It would be akin to concluding that, because a football team had won a match with a score of 2 goals to nil, each player had individually won the match, and each had scored 2 goals. The logical grammar (Wittgenstein 1953) of the concept of
management of a department, project, organisation etc as a social accomplishment differs from that of the activities in relation to certain categories of individuals who have their daily working lives in the dominant form of contemporary work organisations.

A second problem is that 'to manage' may be used as both a task verb and an achievement or success verb (Ryle 1949). Ryle uses this distinction to argue that certain terms in the latter category, because they are active verbs, tend to make us oblivious to their logic, citing examples such as 'win', 'unearth', 'find', 'cure', 'convince', 'prove'. These correspond with the related task verb with the force of 'trying to'; sometimes we use an achievement term as a synonym for a task term, eg 'mend' as a synonym for 'try to mend'. The main difference between the logical force of a task verb and its corresponding achievement verb is that, in using the latter
"we are asserting that some state of affairs obtains above that which consists in the performance, if any, of the subservient task activity."
(op. cit.: 143)
In the case of 'manage' and 'management' as a social accomplishment, the outcome of the collective combination of activities on the part of both manager(s) and the managed, we can see that the term is being used as an achievement or success term. The success arises from the various actors undertaking separate activities in what thereby becomes the collective accomplishment.

Claim 3: 'We do the same things as managers do': Studies of managerial behaviour

A third source of conceptual confusion arises from the studies of the actual behaviour of managers which purportedly challenge the approach of classical management principles (Stewart 1967; Mintzberg 1973; Stewart 1976; Kotter 1982). If the claim that managers engage in a special set of activities, eg planning, organising, commanding, co-ordinating, controlling (Fayol 1949), does not accord with the actual behaviour of managers then it might be argued that managers are not the only ones who engage in whatever it is that constitutes managing. This appears, on the face of it, to be an empirical matter: the behaviour of managers and of those who are managed may be observed and compared to establish what significant differences there are, if any. If, as Lupton states, managing is what managers do in their working hours, and what they do is no different from the managed do, then surely the managed are also managing?

Critics of such studies (Hales 1986; Carroll and Gillen 1987) point out that behaviour-observation studies are problematic in that any observational study requires a framework of categories of behaviour into which specific observations may be located. Such a framework constitutes some prior understanding of what is being intended and attempted, within a given situation, without which it is impossible to decide what particular aspects of behaviour are significant for the research purposes at hand. That is, we need to have some conceptualisation of the manager's job (Burgoyne 1976). Carroll and Gillen (op. cit.) adduce various empirical studies to argue that the classical functions approach represents the most useful way of conceptualising the manager's job.

However, such critique of behavioural studies does not properly address the issue here at hand. They are primarily concerned with the question of which framework of behaviour categories is best for 'capturing' what managers do. The question here is that of whether such frameworks allow us to identify a significant difference between what managers do and what non-managers do. That is, the framework should enable us to observe the behaviour of an individual not knowing whether or not they are a manager. Whilst this may seem to suggest the need for a more extensive framework, to 'capture' what non-managers do but managers don't, and vice versa, there is a further difficulty: the allocation of activity to a particular category involves some act of interpretation. It is therefore possible to interpret certain activities undertaken by individuals who are not managers as classifiable within a framework of managerial behaviour categories.

This can be seen in the attempt by a project on 'competencies of unpaid workers in the home' (Leigh 1992), undertaken in the early years of the development of the National/ Scottish Vocational Qualifications system in the UK, and adopting the method of functional analysis. The project sought "to define the similarities between competence in unpaid and paid work [… and] similarity between work functions in the home and paid settings…". The project focussed on unpaid work in the home "since such work is common and extensive, but largely undescribed." We may applaud the intention behind the project, to help in particular women who have not been in mainstream employment, because of family and domestic responsibilities, to gain recognition for what they can do, in respect of vocational qualifications and satisfactory employment. However, the project represented the family and domestic activities in terms of managerial categories. Thus, such 'workers' were said to have 10 'key roles', including the following:
· "develop and manage systems to meet routine and non-routine needs";
· "optimise the acquisition and use of material and financial resources"
· "maintain the health and safety of household members"
· "provide services to household members",
and the like.
These ten key roles are sub-analysed into a total of 29 'units of competence', thence in to 88 'elements of competence'. In respect of the first mentioned key role, the report provides as commentary:
"The householder provides substantial services to other members of the household, who are in effect clients or customers consuming these services. This key role is concerned with the development of systems which structure the functioning of the home, and enable the householder to provide services and manage change." (op.cit.: 37)

One would not necessarily have to be a critical humanist to agree with that such rendering on 'unpaid work in the home'
"reduce[s] the diversity of human activity to the discourse of management and manageability" (Grey 1999).
The idea of treating the activities involved in everyday domestic and family life as if these were no different in kind from those involved in managing work organisations, and vice versa, has been the source of many comedy sketches. However, this only serves to show that we can, if we wish, make such interpretation without exceeding the bounds of what is imaginable.

Why, then, do we not normally make such interpretation? Why are the activities of non-managers not normally regarded as managerial activities? In order to understand this, we need a general model who explains how human behaviour is interpreted or construed, such that in any particular setting some particular item of behaviour is construed as behaviour-of-a-particular-kind. In the next section, such a general model will be presented which, it will be argued, enables us to understand why it is that managing is normally treated as something which only managers do.

Interpretation of behaviour

There have been, and no doubt will continue to be, attempts to develop frameworks for categorising managerial behaviour capable of locating, by observation alone, specific items of behaviour by specific managers. However, such attempts fall foul of the long-established recognition that all human behaviour may be viewed in fundamentally different ways: that is, any statement about the behaviour of an individual may be subject to different 'logical grammars'.
"… we can talk of human beings in many different ways, at various levels of generality, with varying degrees of abstraction, with different points of view, or with the presupposition of different standards. It is important not to confuse or run together these different modes of talk."
(Hamlyn 1953) (emphasis added)
A critical distinction, on which Hamlyn draws, is that established by Aristotle between and ????s?? (kinesis, translated by Hamlyn as 'movement') and ?????e?a (energeia, translated as 'activity').

The importance of recognising the meaningfulness of human behaviour is, arguably, central to most traditions within the social sciences which seek to address the 'problem of order' without resorting to an 'oversocialised conception' of human beings (Wrong 1961). Amongst these traditions we may note: Weber's emphasis upon verstehen (Weber 1968); symbolic interactionism(Mead 1962; Blumer 1969); interpretativism and social constructionism (Berger and Luckmann 1966; Schutz 1967); the 'micro-sociological' studies by Goffman (1967) and ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967); structuration theory(Giddens 1984). Within psychology we may note the ethogenics approach (Harré and Secord 1972), discursive psychology (Potter and Wetherell 1987), and various forms of social constructionism, including the rhetorical-responsive version (Shotter 1993) and relational-constructionism (Gergen 1994; Hosking, Dachler et al. 1995). A key issue for our considerations here is that, in such perspectives, broadly, meaningfulness does not lie merely in the intention of the actor. An individual's behaviour has social significance and consequence to the extent that others attribute meaningfulness and they themselves act in a way that is related to the meaning attributed.

This recognition is central to Austin's exploration of performative utterances (Austin 1962), which Harré and Secord (1972) draw upon to distinguish between movement, actions and acts. An action is a movement or set of movements which we take to be meaningful which, if it meets certain criteria may be taken to be the performance of an act, eg a promise, apology, greeting, threat, marriage.
"A movement is given meaning as an action by being identified as the performance or part of the performance of an act."
(Harré and Secord 1972)
There is no one-to-one correspondence between movements, actions and acts: thus smiling is a physical behaviour which may be taken as a greeting, a threat, an apology, and so on:
"Which act it represents on a particular occasion will depend on the overall definition of the encounter into which it fits and the kind of actions by which we can perform the same act."
(Harré, Clarke et al. 1985)

Recognition that the intention of the actor may not be taken up by others in their response to what the actor does requires us to look beyond what a manager or non-manager does when considering what constitutes managing. It requires us to conider what Harré et al. refer to as 'the overall definition of the encounter', or more generally in the symbolic interactionist tradition, 'the definition of the situation' (Thomas 1931). Two key elements will be considered here: practices and identity.

The practice-identity model of interpretation of performance

The English language has many words referring generally to what people do, ie 'doing' and 'doings': behaviour, action, act(s), conduct, activity, practice, performance, and so on. Various writers have used these terms in differing ways, sometimes attaching particular theory-laden meaning to particular terms. Separating, analytically, the uninterpreted behaviour of an individual within a particular context from the construal, by the various engaged parties, of that behaviour as behaviour-of-a-particular-kind, let us here refer to the former as 'activity' and the latter as 'performance' . Our question may then be framed as concerning how activity becomes interpreted or construed as performance. Two 'standing conditions' would appear to be highly significant:
a) there is some set of practices, deemed by the relevant parties, to be appropriate to the situation such that the activity may be construed as the instantiation of an item from the set of practices;
b) there is a set of identities deemed to be appropriate to the situation such that the person whose activity is in need of interpretation may be taken as 'having' a particular identity (Holmes 2000).
This may be illustrated pictorially as in figure 1.

Figure 1: Interpretation of activity as performance


Figure 1: Identity-Practice Model of Interpretation of Actvity as Performance

In much recent philosophy and social science, the term 'practice' has taken prominence over terms hitherto used, such as 'conventions', 'typifications', 'norms', 'customs' and 'rules', and modes of framing such as 'structures', 'systems', 'meaning', life world': this has been referred to as the 'practice turn in contemporary theory' (Schatzki, Knorr Cetina et al. 2001). Limitations of space prohibit an extensive discussion here of this notion, and of debates concerning its validity and utility: however, a few comments are pertinent for the issues under consideration in this paper. First, the concept of 'practices' as a 'primary social thing' (Schatzki, Knorr Cetina et al. 2001) may provide for a more sociologically robust consideration of the matters which are often addressed through notions of 'skill' and 'competency' conceived as entities possessed by individuals and as causally related to behaviour (Holmes 2000).

Secondly, we may note Schatzki's useful distinction between 'dispersed' and 'integrative' practices. Examples given of the former include describing, ordering, following rules, explaining, questioning, reporting, examining, imagining:
"[t]heir 'dispersion' consists simply in their widespread occurrence across different sectors of social life …"
(Schatzki 1996)
In contrast, 'integrative practices' are
"the more complex practices found in and constitutive of particular domains of social life. Examples are farming practices, business practices, voting practices, teaching practices, celebration practices, cooking practices, recreational practices, industrial practices, religious practices, and banking practices."
(op. cit., 98)
This distinction helps in addressing further 'claim 1' discussed above, that because people mundanely talk of 'managing' various activities in their daily lives, they may be said to be managing in the same sense as managers do. Against that claim, we may say that 'managing' in the mundane sense is a form of dispersed practice, whilst in the latter sense it is an integrative practice.

Thirdly, it need not be necessarily the case that all or any of the parties to a situation are explicitly aware of and can articulate the practices relevant to the situation. Not only may they remain tacit to the actor concerned (Polanyi 1967), they may remain 'enigmatic' (Harré and Secord 1972) to the significant others. Nor is it necessary that all parties agree on what is the 'proper' interpretation of what practice is being instantiated: the interpretation may be subject to contestation. The arena of practice which constitutes management in work organisations implicates issues of power and control, and so should be regarded as a 'contested terrain' (Edwards 1979). These issues of the tacit dimension, enigmatic activity, and contestability lead us on to issues relating to the notion of emergent identity.

Emergent identity

As with the notion of 'practices', 'identity' has "become one of the unifying frameworks of [recent] intellectual debate" (Jenkins 1996). It has somewhat displaced the notions of 'self' and 'role', the latter often being seen as situationally specific. Scott and Lyman express the distinction thus:

"The terms 'identities' and 'roles' may be used as synonymous in that roles are identities mobilized in a specific situation; whereas role is always situationally specific, identities are trans-situational."
(Scott and Lyman 1968)
A more important distinction for our purposes is that whereas 'role' suggests a fixed and determinate property or characteristic, 'identity' has the related verb 'identify' and verbal noun 'identification' which is capable of allowing a more dynamic understanding. 'Identifying' and 'identification' provide for an interactional, relational conceptualisation, such that various parties to a situation may identify an individual in various ways. Although we may talk of someone 'having' a particular identity, the interactional conceptualisation reminds us that such idiomatic expression should not lead us into confused thinking that an identity is something which may be possessed in the way that a car, watch, book etc may be possessed. This accords with the conceptualisation of 'self' in the symbolic interactionist tradition, in contrast with the 'modernist/ humanist' conceptualisation of the monadic sovereign self. Jenkins adopts such a conceptualisation in his model of the internal-external dialectic of identification (Jenkins 1996). The implications of such an interactionist understanding will be discussed further below, using the concept of 'emergent identity'. Before doing so, the significance of issues of identity, so understood, for the situated construal of activity as performance will be explained.

It is not difficult to think of examples where the issue of someone's identity is important in how we interpret their activity in some situation. Consider, for example:

Consider also Garfinkel's empirical demonstrations (Garfinkel 1967), particularly the 'breaching' studies and the faux counsellor. In the former, students behaved at home as if they were paying guests, to the consternation of other family members; in the latter, students accepted merely random responses by the purported counsellor as if they were specific and appropriate responses by a 'proper' counsellor to the questions posed. Finally, consider the notorious case of Harold Shipman, the doctor (general practitioner) recently sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering several of his patients. Not only did those patients willingly submit to his murderous behaviour, believing that he was carrying out 'proper' medical activities in the interests of their health. Many others including relatives, undertakers, coroners, fellow medical practitioners and police officers found great difficulty in associating their perception of him as a doctor with the possibility that he was engaging in untoward practices.

Figure 1 attempts to indicate the coupling of practices and identity. Identities carry, or are associated with, certain kinds of practices, such that someone with a certain identity is generally deemed to have, or not have, certain rights and/or a duty to engage in certain kinds of practices. Similar analyses are made by others in terms of role-rule models (Harré and Secord 1972) and of member-categorisation and category-bounded activities (Sacks 1972).

In some kinds of social contexts, it may be necessary for both the identity of the actor whose behaviour is under interpretation and what counts as the instantiation or performance of a relevant practice to be highly specified. This is the case for what we tend to term 'rites' and 'rituals' (eg marriage ceremonies, coronations, swearing of oaths of office, ordinations). In others, there may be considerable open-ness with respect to both identity and specification of practice in performance terms. However, in many contexts it is the issue of identity which appears to take primacy. This seems to be particularly the case where there is a fairly strong separation of relevant identities, and the specification of relevant practices in performance terms is relatively under-specified: these are the characteristics of management (Holmes 2000).

On this analysis, the determination of what is to be interpreted/ construed as, to count as managing requires that the behaviour under interpretation is carried out by a person who may be deemed properly to be a manager. That is, to interpret a certain person's activity as managerial performance is to construe that person to be a manager, and thereby to interpret the behaviour as the instantiation of managerial practice. This point takes us on to consideration of what Jenkins (1996) refers to as the 'internal-external dialectic of identification', or what is here referred to as 'emergent identity'.

It should be clear from the foregoing discussion that the conceptualisation of identity here is non-essentialist, ie the term should not be taken to refer to a fixed state or determined entity which a person possesses. Clearly, no-one is born with a managerial identity, so there is some temporal process through which a person becomes a manager. In that sense, managerial identity is emergent; indeed, it has been argued that no unique individual ever becomes a manager (or anything else) but is always in a process of 'continually becoming' (Watson and Harris 1999). The sense in which 'emergent' is used here is somewhat stronger: a person's identity within a particular context is always and continually the subject of the interaction between that which the person themselves wishes to be seen as, and that which significant others ascribe to the person. Identification takes place synchronically as well as diachronically.
"Identity is not a given, but an activity, the result of which is always only a local stability."
(Miedema and Wardekker 1999)

The claim-affirmation model of emergent identity

The two separate aspects of identification, by self and by others, may be developed further. The individual may be taken as claiming a particular situated identity; the corresponding ascription by others that accords with the individual's claim may thus be taken as affirming that claim, whereas an ascription that does not so accord may be taken as a disaffirmation of the claim. An ascription by others to an individual of a particular identity may be contested by the individual, which may be taken as a disclaim. This interaction between claim or disclaim by the individual, and affirmation of disaffirmation by others thus give rise to what we may term different 'modalities of emergent identity' which, as 'local stabilisations', are significant in respect of the construal of activity by an individual as performance of some kind. Allowing for a degree of tentativeness in both claim/ disclaim and affirmation/ disaffirmation, the model in figure 2 attempts to 'map', for heuristic purposes, the modalities of emergent identity. The model is of course highly schematic in considering 'others' as a monologic bloc; in practice, there may be some or complete disagreement between those who constitute the significant others. For simplicity of presentation of the argument here, that consideration must be placed on one side.

Figure 2: Claim-Affirmation Model of Modalities of Emergent Identity

Two further points may be made here in respect of the claim-affirmation model of modalities of emergent identity. First, each 'zone' in the model represents a temporal and local stabilisation. However, where the local context has some continuing stability and the significant others remain relatively unchanged, the interaction between claim/ disclaim and affirmation/ disaffirmation may have more enduring stabilisation, as represented by one or other particular 'zone'. Movement through the zones, or 'trajectories [through modalities] of emergent identity' thus provides for a mode of analysis of what otherwise may be termed 'career'. In particular, it provides for an analysis of education and development in terms of such trajectory, with 'zone 1' ('indeterminate identity') representing the origin and 'zone 4' ('agreed identity') the desired and 'happy' state to be accomplished. Management education and development may thus be considered in terms of such 'identity projects' (Harré 1983), or 'moral careers' (Goffman 1959).

Such an approach, generally consonant with the 'legitimate peripheral participation' model (Lave and Wenger 1991), provides different insights on our understanding of learning from those which are provided for by internalist/ mentalist theorisations of learning (Holmes 2000). In particular, it takes account of the contestability of claims on competence, 'having learnt', by allowing for a move back from 'zone 4', where competence is claimed and affirmed, into 'zone X' or even 'zone 2', where claims on competence are challenged or disaffirmed (Holmes 2001). The Legitimate Peripheral Participation model (Lave and Wenger 1991) tends to underplay such contestability; narrative presentations of biographical accounts (Watson and Harris 1999) tend to neglect comparative analysis.

Secondly, the relationship between claims/ disclaims and affirmations/ disaffirmations may be viewed as 'negotiations', which require each party to warrant the stance they adopt. Here we may draw upon Toulmin's concept of warrants in respect of argumentation (Toulmin 1958), and extensions of that in respect of 'everyday explanations' (Draper 1988). Thus we might view educational qualifications as often (but not always) being a basis for warranting the claim on managerial (or other occupational) identity by the individual, and also as a warrant for affirmation of such a claim by a selection panel. Other possible bases for such warranting include experience and previous performance, the traditional bases upon which job applicants are exhorted to present themselves, and upon which selectors traditionally claim to base their decisions. It is not necessary that the individual and significant others deploy the same warranting basis for claim and affirmation. Nor is it necessarily the case that warranting is explicit, as for example in the case where ascription in respect of other identity, eg ethnicity, affects ascription in respect of managerial identity (Holmes and Robinson 2002).

A similar concept, that of 'accounts' (Scott and Lyman 1968), may be seen as a special case of warranting, deployed when disaffirmation is encountered. Scott and Lyman's use of the concept, drawing on Austin's discussion of excuses and justifications (Austin 1961), relates to the discursive devices deployed to 'repair' breaches in the social order and restore equilibrium. Such accounts may be required whenever an action is subject to 'valuative inquiry':

"By an account, then, we mean a statement made by a social actor to explain unanticipated or untoward behaviour - whether that behaviour is his own or that of others, and whether the proximate cause for the statement arises from the actor himself or from someone else."
(Scott and Lyman 1968)
Moreover, they argue, the vulnerability of actors to questioning about their conduct will vary with the situation and their status. In particular,
"Where hierarchies of authority govern the social situation, the institutionalized office may eliminate the necessity of an account, or even prevent the question from arising."
(Scott and Lyman 1968)
This suggests that a fruitful arena for exploring warranting and accounting in respect of identity claims is that of the relatively unresearched field of 'novice' managers (Hill 1992; Holmes 1995; Watson and Harris 1999; Holmes 2001), rather than of established managers as is dominant in the studies of managerial behaviour. A further arena likely to be fruitful is that of managers who are demoted, or lose their jobs, or under some sort of threat to their positions, where we might expect such managers to seek to articulate the warrant on their identity claim more explicitly than for those whose position is 'safe', at least for the present.


On the basis of the line of argument presented in this paper, the original questions, 'can only managers manage?' and 'can only managers learn to manage?', may be answered as 'yes … but …'. We are concerned here with management in the context of modern work organisations. The systematic ambiguity of the term 'to manage' should not lead us to confuse mundane managing to do everyday activities with those undertaken by those designated as managers in organisations. Nor should the recognition that management in and of organisations requires the contributory activity of non-managers, management as a collective accomplishment, lead us to infer that non-managers engage in the same management activity as managers. Consideration of studies of managerial behaviour leads us to recognise that all socially significant human behaviour is subject to a process of interpretation and construal, of 'activity' as 'performance'. Such inference/ construal is based on the twin conditions of sets of relevant practices and sets of relevant identities. Of these, issues of identity are particularly pertinent in respect of managerial behaviour. Thus to construe some activity as the performance of managing is to ascribe managerial identity to the person whose behaviour is so construed. In that sense, only managers can manage; or, to put it another way, if we are seeing managing taking place we are seeing a manager in action qua manager.

However, identity is not fixed; rather, it is to be viewed as emergent in situ from the dialectical interaction between the individual's claim on the identity and the ascriptions (ie, in effect, affirmations or disaffirmations of identity claims) by significant others. This has enabled us to consider the notions of modalities of emergent identity, trajectories through such modalities, and the warranting and accounting of claims and ascriptions. These notions provide for empirical studies of the processes by which individuals become managers, and thus able to manage. Only managers can learn to manage in the sense that learning to manage is inseparable from the identity trajectory of becoming a manager.

This argument may appear to be a counsel of conservatism, that there can be no possibility of organising and co-ordinating the collective economic and social enterprises that are, under present conditions, undertaken by managerially structured work organisations. However, such a conclusion does not necessarily follow from the analysis here. Rather, the attempt here has been to contribute to a phenomenology of managerial expertise and to identify how it comes to have its present social morphology. By elucidated the critical issues explored within limitations here, it may yet be hoped that change in that social morphology is a realisable project to which (critical) management and management learning scholars can contribute.


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