An international conference at the John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin

December 8-10, 2016

Deadline for proposals: June 15, 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.

Possible topics for consideration include (but are not limited to):

  • cultures of efficiency and waste management
  • corporate culture and organizational storytelling
  • the relationship between slavery and management
  • race and labor management
  • dis/ability, productivity, and labor
  • social reform and uplift ideologies
  • the probabilistic revolution and risk management
  • the feminization of labor
  • (post)industrial psychology and incentive systems
  • management and problems of scale
  • self-management, self-optimization, and self-help narratives
  • the marginal revolution and the homo economicus
  • biopolitics, necropolitics, eugenics, and population management
  • ‘algorithmic governmentality’ (Rouvroy)
  • processes of standardization
  • cultures of bookkeeping and paperwork
  • managing consumer behavior
  • affect and emotional management

Please send proposals by June 15, 2016 to Proposals should consists of a 250 word abstract and a short bio (around 100 words).

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