British Association for American Studies


Fictions of Management (John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin)

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Fictions of Management (John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin)

December 8, 2016 - December 10, 2016

Fictions of Management

John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin, December 8-10, 2016


The theory and practice of modern business management arose in the late nineteenth century in the United States as a response to unstable markets, labor unrest, and organizational challenges in the new massive industrial corporations of the Gilded Age. As a system of efficiency and control, management soon became a generalized principle for dealing with everything from health, housework, and educational reform to imperial expansion, mass immigration, and related processes of racialization and naturalization. Taking a long view, management could also be regarded as integral to American society and culture from the beginning: from Puritan self-rationalization to the quantified self, from the management of slave plantations to technologies of social control, from the first national census in 1790 to the big data revolution, from the human relations movement to happiness engineers in the workplace today. Particularly since the crisis of Taylorism in the 1970s, the theory and practice of management has undergone significant changes, often replacing the hierarchical bureaucratic structures that emerged during the industrial revolution with more flexible and intimate forms of management that have challenged the separation of work and leisure. Against the backdrop of such changes, as well as in light of what some refer to as a ‘second gilded age’ of celebrated CEOs and technological solutionism, a critical reexamination of our managerial past and present is as urgent as ever.

This conference invites scholars to (re)think the relationship between American literature and culture and the various forms of management that have shaped the United States throughout its history. ‘Fictions of management’ both refers to the narratives underlying different management ideologies and to the cultural views and products that participate in their emergence and transformation. By using this term, the conference seeks to bring ‘fiction’ and ‘management’ broadly conceived into a productive dialogue. What are the fictions underlying corporate culture and managerial responses to society today and in the past? How have different management paradigms been promoted or challenged in American literature and culture? Do different management styles have their own aesthetics, and might we identify managerial aesthetics in cultural productions? Addressing such questions, we especially encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the relationship between fiction and management.

Conference organizers: James Dorson (Freie Universität Berlin), Florian Gabriel (Freie Universität Berlin), and Jasper Verlinden (Freie Universität Berlin).

The conference is organized by the by the Dahlem International Network Junior Research Group “Fictions of Management: American Naturalism and Managerial Culture, 1875-1925.”

For more on the conference, including keynote speakers, please visit our conference website at www.fictionsofmanagement2016.com


December 8, 2016
December 10, 2016
Event Category:


John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin
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