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The Politics of Standards in Modern Management: Making ‘The Project’ a Reality


Damian Hodgson, Manchester Business School, Booth Street West, Manchester M15 6PB, UK (


abstract  In this paper, we explore the standardization of contemporary management knowledge, focusing in particular upon the role of ‘standards’ in creating and reifying ‘organizational objects’, with powerful consequences and with often unrecognized ethical implications. It is our argument that modernist beliefs in ‘general, abstract and timeless ideas’ (Brunsson et al., 2000, p. 173), enshrined in a universal and abstract rationality, results in the marginalization of more reflexive forms of rationality and the suppression of autonomy, creativity and discretion in organizations. To investigate the consequences of standardization, we take as the focus of our analysis a specific management model which has a significant and growing impact on many sectors of contemporary industry; that of project management. Drawing on the work of Timmermans and Berg (1997), Bowker and Star (1999) and Brunsson et al. (2000), we draw attention to the reification of the object of management; in this case, the project itself, as a transhistorical, ‘real world’ object. By tracing efforts to establish and institutionalize ‘standards’ in this and other fields of management, in particular through the creation and dissemination of a universal ‘body of knowledge’ for this field, we draw attention to the political and moral significance of the ‘blackboxing’ of knowledge. It is our broader intention here to help to denaturalize this organizational object, to legitimize other modes of knowledge and practice in the field, and thereby to reopen debate in this and other arenas of standardization.