• Brian

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.