The Denial of Slavery in Management Studies


Bill Cooke, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Analysis, Manchester School of Management, UMIST, PO Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD, UK (


abstract American slavery has been wrongfully excluded from histories of management. By 1860, when the historical orthodoxy has modern management emerging on the railroads, 38,000 managers were managing the 4 million slaves working in the US economy. Given slaves’ worth, slaveholders could literally claim ‘our people are our greatest asset.’ Yet a review of histories of management shows ante-bellum slavery excluded from managerial modernity as pre-capitalist, unsophisticated in practice, and without non-owner managers identified as such. These grounds for exclusion are challenged. First, it is shown slavery is included within capitalism by many historians, who also see plantations as a site of the emergence of industrial discipline. Second, ante-bellum slavery is demonstrated to have been managed according to classical management and Taylorian principles. Third, those doing the managing are shown to have been employed at the time as ‘managers’. In the idea of the manager, and of scientific and classical management slavery has therefore left an ongoing imprint in management practice and thought. A strong argument is made for not just for postcolonialist accounts of management, but for management histories in which anti-African-American racism is a continuing strand. The fundamental significance of the article however is its identification of slavery as of intrinsic, but hitherto denied, relevance to management studies.