Management consulting and post-Mao visions of transformation and expertise
May 16, 2019 - 10:00-11:30
Open seminar with Kimberley Chong, Department of Anthropology, University College London (UCL). Based on 16 months fieldwork inside the China arm of a leading global management consultancy, this seminar examines the conceptualization and performance of management consulting expertise. A central figure of financialization, management consultants are often depicted as experts who preach the standardization of organizational practice, as exemplified by the trope of ‘best practice’. Seeking to unpack this now ubiquitous term, I show how management consultancy also entails the development of a vernacular ethics of expertise. Chinese management consultants tasked with improving corporate efficiency in the name of creating shareholder value see themselves as stewards tasked with making China into a “paradise” (tiantang), a term which evokes not only the specter of economic development, but also past indictments to contribute to the collective and the nation. I argue, furthermore, that the inclusion of post-Mao tropes of modernity is not just a cynical attempt to localize consultancy, but rather intrinsic to the explication and performance of consulting expertise.