The managers' moment in Western politics: The popularization of management and its effects in the 1980s and 1990s

DBR (Ronald) Kroeze, Sjoerd Keulen

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5 Citations (Scopus)


In the 1980s and 1990s, political leaders in Western democracies used management and managerialism to initiate change. The result was privatization, deregulation, public cost-cutting programs and a greater influence of business leaders and managerial principles in politics and public administration. This change was possible because management itself had transformed from a systems approach to a more personal approach, which made the manager the symbolic figurehead of organizational change and success. Management and rock star CEOs became a big hit in popular culture. An in-depth analysis of the Dutch case shows that political leaders explicitly and purposely presented themselves as managers and were perceived as such. These ‘managers in politics’, (prime) ministers and chairmen of political parties transformed their organizations in a managerial way. By focusing on Dutch environmental policy, we establish that this transformation effected the content of environmental policy. Around 2000, the manager steadily lost his/her attractiveness as he/she was held responsible for economic decline and governmental problems. A new political language, influenced by the experiences with management in the 1980s and 1990s, was introduced. Entrepreneurship instead of managerialism, value-driven politics instead of ‘no nonsense’ business talk and ‘emotional’ instead of ‘rational’ management models became popular. This article thus argues that more attention should be paid to the historical change of management in the 1980s and 1990s; that this change should be understood as a linguistic change first that, however, initiated a change of practices; and that concentrating on politics, public administration and popular culture provides a new understanding of the kind of management change that took place. Keywords:: leadership, management in popular culture, managerialism, managers in politics, new public management
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-413
Number of pages29
JournalManagement and Organizational History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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