Using Foucault to make strategy

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 2010, 23 (8), pp. 1012 - 1031
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Purpose: The premise of the paper is that Foucault's concept of governmentality has important but unacknowledged implications for understanding strategy. Highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the governmentality approach, the paper seeks to suggest how governmentality can be used to conceptualise strategy. More generally, the paper seeks to contribute to the body of research on governmentality articulated by authors such as Peter Miller, Ted O'Leary and Nikolas Rose. Design/methodology/approach: The paper reprises the argument that accounting is constitutive of social relations. It proceeds to discuss Peter Miller, Ted O'Leary and Nikolas Rose's seminal contributions to the conceptual development of governmentality. In outlining their work, the paper highlights the significance accorded to the emergence of standard costing and scientific management and its subsequent role in developing both the strategies and structures of managerial capitalism. The paper examines how this, in turn, was pivotal to the emergence of strategy as an important means through which organisations began to understand and conceive of themselves. The paper rehearses the standard criticisms made of governmentality within the accounting literature, before arguing that the concept emerges intact from the critique levelled against it. Proceeding to summarise Foucault's radical conception of power, the paper notes the elusiveness of Foucault's relationship with strategy. Elaborating on the nature of governmentality, the paper employs the concept to re-examine the managerial revolution. The objective is to explore its implications for understanding strategy. Findings: The paper builds on the innovative work published in accounting on governmentality to construct an account of the emergence of the managerial revolution. This yields important insights on strategy. In particular, the paper challenges Chandler, arguing that the birth of strategy is best seen as a post-hoc rationalisation produced by the emergence of systematic management and standard costing. The paper explores how governmentality might be developed to study strategy. The overarching message of the paper is that there is a need to rethink strategy as a language and social practice. Strategy, therefore, must be understood as much as a cultural and political project than as an economic one. Originality/value: The paper highlights how strategy can be regarded as a cultural and political phenomenon. This opens up the possibility of accounts of strategy that are firmly grounded within studies of organisations, politics and society. Dispensing with neo-economic notions of strategy, the paper advocates writing Foucault into strategic management. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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