Much of the interest in ‘post-bureaucracy’ in both managerialist and critical circles resides in its perceived potential to break with the traditions of bureaucratic, hierarchical control in work organizations. In response to the challenges of the post-bureaucratic form, project management has been put forward by many as a ‘tried-and-tested’ package of techniques able to cope with discontinuous work, expert labour and continuous and unpredictable change while delivering the levels of reliability and control of the traditional bureaucracy. In this article I explore some of the contradictions and tensions within a department where such a ‘hybrid’ mode of control is implemented, embodying both bureaucratic and post-bureaucratic logics. In particular, I focus upon the discursive tactics employed to sell ‘rebureaucratization’ as ‘debureaucratization’, and the complex employee responses to this initiative. I argue that the tensions evident here cast significant doubt on the feasibility of a seamless integration of bureaucracy and the postbureaucratic. Key words. control; discourse; post-bureaucracy; project management; resistance
The rhetoric of the ‘post-bureaucratic’ organization (Heckscher and
Donnellon, 1994) has recently flourished, adapting themes from early
discussions of ‘flexibility’ and ‘flexible specialization’, and encompassing
the numerous recent debates over ‘enterprise culture’, the ‘network
organization’, the ‘virtual organization’ and the ‘knowledge economy’.
The ‘fact’ that there has been a fundamental transformation in the nature
Volume 11(1): 81–100
Copyright © 2004 SAGE
(London, Thousand Oaks, CA
and New Delhi)
DOI: 10.1177/1350508404039659 www.sagepublications.com
of work in developed economies over the last two decades is now all but
taken for granted in popular and political discourse. For aficionados of
the ‘New Economy’, this constitutes no less than a paradigm shift in the
nature of 21st-century organizations.