Development management as a practice borrows extensively and uncritically from management theories developed in the private sector, which are based on ideas of predictability and control, and systemic ‘whole’ change. In contemporary management discourse, we are always rushing towards an idealised tomorrow. This article sets out an alternative theory of management, which the author calls post-foundational management, drawing on concepts of emergence. This privileges the local and the contextual, and argues that generalised plans and strategies are always taken up in particular contexts with particular actors engaged in political contestation about how to go on together. The future, then, is always provisional, even if idealised and will arise from the interweaving of many intentions. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.