Monday, October 20, 2008

False Consciousness And The Self-Managed Team

Reading some of Bratton’s Work and Organisational Behaviour last night dragged me twenty years back into a major deja-vu of Cultural Studies class in NCAD. It has been that long since I read any reference to Marxist critical theory. Back in NCAD, I always remember believing that the Marxist cultural theorists essentially lost their own argument once they had to introduce the notion of ‘false consciousness’ into the debate. It seemed to me to be their way of both having their cake and eating it. (To summarise briefly, if you felt like a truly oppressed member of society with the weight of capitalism crushing your soul, then you were truly conscious. If not, and you believed yourself to be a happy, well-adjusted member of society, then you had been successfully infected with false-consciousness. As a rhetorical construct this no doubt helped Marxist Theorists always win a lot more arguments down the pub — at least from their perspective.

What brought all of that to mind was the Marxist criticism of Self-Managing Teams outlined on page 314. The thesis discussed was that such teams allow management to still control workers (in perhaps a more covert manner) through an ‘illusion of self-control’. That reads like the same old circular logic to me. One of the other key issues I have with that Marxist approach is that it is ‘in cause’: the choices available to the worker’s must always be limited by management’s schemes. To me this always gives Management (in the broadest and most general sense) a lot more credit than they actually deserve.