Presentation held at the XIX World Congress of Sociology, Toronto July 2018
Session: What Is New in Professional Work? Rebuilding Professions-Organisations Ties.
Abstract: This paper explores the early days of business education with the aim of understanding how an uncoordinated and rather heterogeneous network of practitioners, practices and knowledge was institutionalized as an academic discipline and as a profession. Adopting a critical constructivist approach, this inquiry questions the managerialist ideology by exploring the material circumstances which led to its establishment in early XX Century. In particular, it focuses on the role that the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) pedagogy, the case method, had in the institutionalization of management knowledge. It is argued that HBS’ pedagogy, working at the boundary between academia and industry, was capable to translate the values of post-WWI industrial capitalism into the HBS’ curriculum. The consequences of this translation were two: 1) the neutralization of capitalist’s rationality, achieved through the constitution of a new academic field, business management; 2) the birth of a new class of experts, the managers, endowed with the exclusive control over the use of managerial rationality. Methodologically, the research relies on an historical analysis of the first twenty-two years of operation of the Harvard Business School. A qualitative content analysis of the School’s Annals reconstructs the diffusion of the case method between 1908 (HBS’ inaugural year) and 1930. The analysis is complemented with an historical inquiry into HBS’ organizational transformations which supported the production of business cases and their use as pedagogical artifacts. The results show a rapid diffusion of the case-method, especially in the aftermath of WWI. The institution of the Bureau of Business Research, the creation of the Harvard Business Review and the standardization of the pedagogy marked the birth of business education, consecrated HBS as the behemoth of this new discipline and legitimized the managers as a new class of experts.