Subversive Functionalism: For a Less Canonical Critique in Critical Management Studies

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Critical management studies (CMS) is increasingly recognized as a distinct and institutionalized field of research within organization and management scholarship. That institutionalization, however, has been a cause for both optimism and concern about what holds the project together and how it might develop in the future. In an effort to provide a constructive direction for further development, Spicer et al. (2009) suggest the orienting concept of ‘critical performativity’ and several tactics for realizing it. I contend that realizing a critically performative agenda is likely to be impeded by the increasingly institutionalized canon of acceptably critical perspectives in CMS, and suggest how it might alternatively be realized by expanding existing canons to include subversive readings of mainstream theory. To this end, I present a set of tactics for this sort of ‘subversive functionalism’ focused on deeper theoretical engagement and exploration of implications, alternatives and integration.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)611-632
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


  • Canon
  • Critical Management Studies
  • Critical Performativity
  • Critique
  • Subversive Functinalism
  • User Innovation

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