Business Management

RELATED TERMS: Anthropocene - Capitalocene - Chthulucene; Disciplinary societies and Societies of control

Business management as an academic discipline

In Europe, schools dedicated specifically to business offered classes throughout the 1800s. The USA, however, did not gain its first institution of higher education in management until 1881, with the founding of the Wharton School. The establishment of Harvard Business Review in 1922 could be considered another milestone in the progress toward the belief that management was a discipline of growing evidence and evolving theory (McGrath, 2014).

However, contrary to this progressivist view of management, De Cock and O’Doherty (2014) argue that business management as a discipline is haunted by aporia and incoherence. In light of this condition, they contend that its disciplinarity, composed as it is of derivative and awkwardly-hybridised social sciences, remains contested in the business school. Management studies, therefore, covers a promiscuous range of subjects. Nevertheless, management is now the most popular subject at university. Indeed, business and management is becoming synonymous with the university, such that everything in education is being constructed in their image. Even courses in theology and arts, for example, must be written in such a way that can they can answer to the question of employability. As a corrective, De Cock and O’Doherty propose that management might be re-mapped and re-situated in an extended ecology of objects and matter more relevant to the era of the Anthropocene.

Much of what afflicts management in becoming an academic discipline might be said to apply to design as an emergent academic discipline or set of disciplines.


De Cock, C. and Doherty, D. (2017) Management as an Academic Discipline?, The Oxford Handbook of Management. Edited by A. Wilkinson, S. J. Armstrong, and M. Lounsbury. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198708612.013.27

McGrath, R. G. (2014) ‘Management’s three eras: a brief history’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: (Accessed: 3 March 2021).

Business management as a theory and practice

Frederick Taylor’s principles of scientific management, which emerged in the late 1880s, are often cited as the first modern school of thought on management practices. In the 1930s, Elton Mayo started to question the principles behind scientific management through the Hawthorne experiments, while in the same decade Kurt Lewin conducted research on organisational development and group dynamics.

After World War II, sociotechnical systems theory became dominant, a framework which encompassed environment subsystem, social subsystem, technical subsystem and organizational design. In 1954, psychologist Abraham Maslow, expanding on his hierarchy of needs, grouped categories of human needs into a pyramid, at whose base was physiological needs, followed by safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and, at the top, needs for self-actualization.

In the 1950s, researchers developed additional theories of human motivation, including those of Peter Drucker and Frederick Herzberg (two-factor theory) while, in the 1960s, Theory X and Theory Y, Action Learning, and the Management Grid became the frontrunners. It was not until 1990 that the concept of the learning organisation emerged, developed byPeter Senge, while the the idea that ethics mattered in management did not come to the fore until 1995.

In the early 2000s, business process management developed a more systematic perspective. Later in the 2000s, the older motivational theories were re-formulated, such as in the work on drives developed by Daniel Pink.

Source: Based on the timeline presented by Maryville University