Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ewan Mackenzie
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The UK public sector has been subject to a succession of economic and market reforms since the early 1980s through the introduction of public choice philosophies and with the adoption of strategic business practices. This study undertakes an ethnographic mode of inquiry to investigate a period of organisational transformation in a UK local authority following the UK coalition government’s emergency budget and subsequent spending review in 2010. The focus is upon project management, an increasingly significant form of organisational knowledge and practice in the empirical context of this study and in regard to the economic management of the UK public sector more generally. Drawing from empirical material gathered over a two year period involving senior managers, freelance consultants and local government workers, the purpose is to examine project management as a technology of power in this context. The thesis draws on work building on Michel Foucault’s later theoretical insights on ‘government’ and ‘governmentality’. Within this theoretical framework project management and its associated rationalities are problematised as those which are intended to facilitate economic government ‘at a distance’. This thesis demonstrates that project management is playing a pivotal role in determining new configurations of ‘freedom’ and accountability in the context at hand. By subtly aligning personal projects with more centralised political ambitions, project management depoliticises strategic reforms by extending the effects of managerialism into new areas. Through exploring the discursive strategies of participants both in conversation and through the enactment of their work, the thesis argues that project management encourages modes of ‘personalised government’ and constitutes both freelance consultants and public servants as upholders of their own demarcated and individualised interests. Nevertheless, at the same time project management creates spaces of discretion from within which practices of resistance emerge. In these instances it provides the means by which local government workers seek to protect themselves and their departments from further budget and staff cuts by becoming ‘empowered’ with devolved managerial and budgetary responsibility. In this sense power is seen to produce, albeit at times ambivalently, new identities and positive experiences while simultaneously constraining other identities and ‘freedoms’ in this context. This thesis advances a ‘Foucauldian’ perspective on project management and seeks to assess the costs involved in a particular technology of power in the context of the UK public sector. It contributes to ‘Foucauldianism’ in organisation and management studies by demonstrating the relevance of studies of governmentality to situated organisational analysis. The study also shows that the perspective of governmentality can provide a platform from which agency and resistance can be adequately theorised from a broadly ‘Foucauldian’ perspective. A contribution is also made to studies of governmentality by going beyond the ‘programmer’s perspective’ in order to address ‘real agents’ of government amidst contested social relations.
Author(s): Mackenzie E
Publication type: Online Publication
Publication status: Published
Description: PhD Thesis
Acceptance date: 23/01/2015
Publisher: Newcastle University