My research situates inside Critical Management Studies (CMS), a growing subfield of Management and Organizational Behavior (OB). CMS is probably best defined by Adler, Forbes and Wilmott (2007: 1) as “[offering] a range of alternatives to mainstream management theory with a view to radically transforming management practice.” Parker and Parker (2018) suggest the “role” of CMS inside broader management studies is to, “[explore] alternative forms of organization and management,” and that this is the “proper task of a discipline that wishes to engage with the present and remain ‘critical’.”

My dissertation, operating inside CMS, considers anarchism as a source of management reform. In its engagement with capitalism, do we gain insight into a more socially and environmentally aware management? Defining “anarchism” is challenging. My working definition rejects its violent history and anti-state assertion, and instead focuses on what Paul Goodman (Ward, 2017: 23) described as, “[not a] substitution of a new order for an old order; [rather an] extension of spheres of free action until they make up the most of social life.” In this, anarchism and CMS operate together and illustrate how the modern workplace is largely undemocratic and even socially oppressive, and should seek improvement in order to realize a range of better organizational outcomes. At the heart of this research project is whether the business school has an ethical mandate to address these concerns; CMS scholars certainly argue it should.

Methodologically, I am a trained ethnographer (Fetterman, 2019; Madison, 2011) drawing on qualitative tools. For my dissertation research, I built two case studies (Yin, 2017) to explore the degrees of anarchism present, and gauge its effects. The first was Zappos, the progressive e-commerce outlet claiming a neo-management approach, and the second was my own Marine Corps headquarters (I have been a Marine infantry officer for over 18 years). For Zappos, I conducted a variety of interviews and online/social media research. For my Marine Corps HQ, I was able to draw on my 8 year participation to build an autoethnography (Chang, 2016). I found both organizations to have ample theoretical anarchism, ranging from Zappos’ insistence on “no managers” and the use of AI software to assist in “self-management,” to the Marine Corps’ “Mission Type Orders” which allows a “unit to perform a mission without specifying how it is to be accomplished" (US Marine Corps, 2007).

Unexpectedly, I found more extant anarchism inside my Marine Corps HQ than at Zappos. At Zappos, the hyper-culture, and the religious-like regard for the CEO/founder, created a strange suppression of freedom and liberation at work, both of which harmed morale and productivity. At the Marine Corps HQ, a variety of micro, team and even departmental expressions of autonomy existed inside the hyper machismo culture and rank structure. Implications of the research suggest “woke” forms of neo-management, like what we see in tech firms such as Zappos, may not be as free and liberating as they claim, and “stronger” bureaucracies and cultures like the Marines may in fact lead to micro and local liberation. Organizations embracing “alternative” organization structures should consider the findings.

My future research goals are to expand the discussion of anarchism as a source of knowledge and analysis for management theory, and to advocate for CMS expansion. A tenure-track role at a major university business school is absolutely my professional goal, one that synergizes well with my consulting practice and continued reserve affiliation in the Marine Corps as as strategic planner and design specialist (I presently work at the Pentagon on the Joint Staff). Current projects are reworking my dissertation into a series of articles, and to write in book form about my ethnographic experience in the Marine Corps.


Adler, P. S., Forbes, L. C., & Willmott, H. (2007). 3 Critical management studies. The academy of management annals, 1(1), 119-179.

Chang, H. (2016). Autoethnography as method (Vol. 1). Routledge.

Fetterman, D. M. (2019). Ethnography: Step-by-step (Vol. 17). SAGE Publications, Incorporated.

Madison, D. S. (2011). Critical ethnography: Method, ethics, and performance. Sage publications.

Parker, S., & Parker, M. (2017). Antagonism, accommodation and agonism in critical management studies: Alternative organizations as allies. Human Relations, 70(11), 1366-1387.

US Marine Corps (2007). Warfighting. Cosimo, Inc.

Ward, C. (2017). Anarchy in action. Pm Press.

Yin, R. K. (2017). Case study research and applications: Design and methods. Sage publications.

My teaching focus is helping students think critically about the topic at hand, and its relationship with their personal and professional growth. Helping students become more self-aware is central. This approach is informed by the Critical Pedagogy of Paulo Friere (1970) and Erich Fromm’s discussion on alienation inside capitalism (1961).

In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Friere suggests the conventional approach to teaching often communicates knowledge as codified expertise, and sets the instructor apart from students through a highly stratified classroom. Friere calls this situation the “banking concept of education.” “In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry” (1970: 58). From Friere’s perspective, the typical classroom is adversarial rather than cooperative, and leaves the student alienated from the instructor, other students, and their own learning. At best, the student may memorize knowledge given to them, but its context and use in their own lives remains abstract.

At Westminster College, I have supported the Management and Leadership faculty for over five years teaching MBA students “Executive Development” and “Senior Leadership.” There are generally two approaches to these courses. The first, essentially in line with Friere’s “banking concept,” presents management topics as a set of normalized knowledge akin to natural science. This sense is heightened by the generally positivist approach in the business school, where the best practices of successful leaders are distilled into generalizable factors. This implies that this knowledge is scientific, codified, and replicable with exposure and practice.

The second approach, which I employ, asks first what the student seeks to gain from their studies, second, in what contexts might the student use this new knowledge, and third, to what end does the student seek to learn more about leadership and management. This context provides a richer foundation for learning than the banking model, and anchors their learning in their own desired outcomes. It is more concrete. Importantly, the students and I are a team; we approach the material jointly. Self-awareness is central to the process. It provides the context required for enriched learning, but is also a mainstream argument seen, for example, in Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (Goleman and Boyatzis, 2017) and Rosenbach’s, “leadership starts with self-awareness” (2018).

This second method also honors the diverse interests in the classroom. While MBA students can broadly be assumed to use the new knowledge in corporate life, the reality is often very different. This is often missed in the “banking” model. Many students are looking for a career or lifestyle change, and as Fromm detailed in his 1961 discussion of alienation inside capitalism, many are deeply cut off from their own lives and work. If a student does not learn and begin to address this alienation, they are not likely to benefit from their MBA. The instructor’s role is the drawing out of such insight, from which the adult learner gains greater liberation, the purpose of education. The point echoes what Friere referred to as, “conscientization,” or an emphasis on aligning learning through self-awareness and goals with the topic at hand.

Friere’s project was socially driven, and he viewed the main function of education as liberatory. In business education, usually employing the banking model in order to move students through curricula at scale, this can be challenging. Martin Parker (2018), a noted CMS scholar who teaches at Bristol in the UK, suggests the business school must ask itself if its purpose is to reify capitalism by teaching students to be “simply” better capitalists, or if the purpose is broader, perhaps involving Friere’s project. Parker’s question could help business schools have a greater hand in social and environmental improvement above organizational performance -- things often claimed in recruiting and motivational materials -- and provide a liberating experience for many involved. This perspective on business education notes that management scholars have a central hand in student awakening beyond their development into more efficient and effective managers.

Like most critical theory, the confrontational tone and rhetoric can be difficult. Surely a mainstream business school is not simply uncritical promoter of capitalism’s lesser features, or so intent on scale that it rejects higher student learning. The utility of critical theory in this context however is to audit and take stock in a dialectical manner. That is, if mainstream notions of teaching Leadership and Management represent a general thesis, how might Friere’s “banking concept” critique yield a productive and innovative synthesis? One that could even be purposed into a business school’s value proposition and differentiated from other schools? Critical Pedagogy can produce this exchange.

I have found that this type of reflection inside and outside the classroom is invigorating for students and colleagues. It is also useful for consulting in industry. In my experience, most business students, scholars and practitioners do not set out to enhance capitalism’s exploitative features, however, we do naturally act in accordance with knowledge presented as normalized and scientifically justified. This heightens the call for Leadership, Management and Organizational Behavior specialists to take utmost care in the presentation of their field, and to marshal tools to critique and refine their offering. This clarion call, combined with a focus on increasing student conscientiousness, represents my teaching philosophy.


Adler, P. S., Forbes, L. C., & Willmott, H. (2007). 3 Critical management studies. The academy of management annals, 1(1), 119-179.

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing, USA.

Fromm, E. (1962). Alienation under capitalism. Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, eds. New York: Dell Publishing Company, Inc.

Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R. (2017). Emotional intelligence has 12 elements. Which do you need to work on. Harvard Business Review, 84(2), 1-5.

Parker, M. (2018). Shut down the business school. Pluto Press,.

Rosenbach, W. E. (2018). Contemporary issues in leadership. Routledge.

Excited that these finally popped:

// Anarchism, Organization and Management found here

// Book review on "DIY Capitalism" found here


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