I gave a paper on Saturday at the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics’ annual conference at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. The conference theme was the Ideology of Managerialism in Church, State and Politics. My paper was entitled In Praise of Managerialism. What a very peculiar experience. I found it all rather perplexing. I think these intelligent people may well be slightly confused. I suspect their issue is more with capitalism than management, and that they may be killing the messenger by mistake.
There certainly are serious issues arising from the wholesale transfer of management practices from one realm to another, be it private to public, or to the voluntary sector, the professions or the churches. However, to address these issues to me requires clarity over what management actually is, and how it is changing. It also requires a theology of management which addresses human teleology as well as work and vocation. Ideally, it also needs an economic theology, but these others will do. What worried me most was the lack of discipline in this discipline. With some notable and impressive exceptions, many of the contributions were rather thinly veiled complaints about how difficult life is in academia and the church. One such exception was the contribution by Bernd Wannenwetch, who very usefully flagged the dangerously self-referential nature of managerialism, and the loss of the externality of the Word when the Church is seduced into responding to ‘needs.’ Tim Harle also introduced the notion of complexity thinking in management circles. While this is also rather self-referential, it is suggestive of a Quaker spirituality that may offer insight.
My paper argued that management is necessary but not sufficient. A particular insufficiency is that it does not adequately address the ethics of the mangerial relationship, and this is one area where Christian Ethicists could usefully add value. A further insufficiency is the tendency of management to use proxies to measure intangibles to create an illusion of control. This particular charge is a brilliant summary of this conference. The proxy of managerialism was itself debated through proxies, and I remain unsure that any useful conclusions were thereby generated. I do hope these fine minds will abandon this debate for one with more merit, or engage with it rather more seriously: the genuine charges against it are indeed potentially devastating, particularly when management practices are inappropriately applied in a setting such as the Church.