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Narrative Change Management in American Studies

A Pragmatic Reading


Silke Schmidt

Management means getting things done. How can research on the theory and practice of management help American Studies move forward? This book offers a pragmatic approach to bridging the gap between the humanities and business studies. Based on a critical reading of the disciplinary cultures of American Studies and Business School education, the book analyses narratives of U.S. management theorists and practitioners, including Peter F. Drucker, Mary Cunningham, and John P. Kotter. The stories help readers acquire effective management and leadership tools for application-oriented humanities in the digital age.

"With her outsider perspective on the discourse in management research and application, Schmidt proposes interesting questions that can turn into fruitful research issues in Business Studies and its interdisciplinary exchange with American Studies. I hope this book falls on open ears." – Evelyn Korn

"Schmidt did pioneering work by taking the risk of entering novel terrain to show new paths for the further development of American Studies." – Carmen Birkle

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9 Managing Strategy in Mary Cunningham’s Powerplay (1984)


“Before There Was #MeToo, There Was Mary Cunningham”


There are stories that get written down and are soon forgotten. And then there are stories that are almost forgotten but then rediscovered because they repeat themselves. The above-mentioned headline is from a 2018 New York Times article in which Mary Cunningham recalls her experiences as one of the first women ever in a top-level executive position of a Fortune 100 company. This was almost 40 years before #MeToo136 started but the rules of the game that women are nowadays seeking to change were not much different in the past than they are now. And Cunningham’s Powerplay reveals the details of this game. She published her memoir in 1984, almost four decades after Drucker had produced his path-breaking contribution to the study of organizations at the early stage of the Behavioral Management era. Beginning in the 1980s, business theory was well into systems and contingency thinking (Lussier 42; Chapter 6). Different from Drucker who never worked as a corporate executive, Cunningham writes about her experience as a manager. As the subtitle “What Really Happened at Bendix” suggests, the book is not an objective study of corporate structures but a confessional memoir. While this personal story of powerplay obviously frames the story, I will read Cunningham’s book as another example of a practice narrative that reveals key concepts of management as a liberal art to the reader. She provides deep insights into the perspective shifts management thinking and...

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