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Module 1: Technocracy and Managerialism

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Technocracy and Managerialism – Lesson Summary

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Technocracy means rule by the experts. The Greek word techno means a craft or an art. One result of the existence of technical expertise is the relation between the technical expert and the wider polity, the wider society, or the wider political system. Technical experts are of course members of the wider polity, but the relationship between them in the light of their technical expertise is a very difficult one to characterize.

Technocracy encounters many problems. One of them is that of whether political and social issues are problems of the same kind as technical problems. Another problem with technocracy is: they who possess technical knowledge or expertise are also people brought up and living in human societies and cultures.

Unless we, as citizens, engage seriously with the experts, our entire societies run at least three major risks:
• Unquestioning acceptance of technical expertise
• Subordination of the political space
• Science and technology themselves come to constitute what has been called a new legitimating ideology in its own right.

The role of the technocrat in modern societies makes them, the technocrat, less of a ruler than a figure to shield political elites from public pressure.

The main principle of managerialism in its widest form is that a training in management enables anyone to manage anything without any substantive knowledge of the activity they are managing. People can be trained to manage without being practitioners of the activities they are managing. Managerialism raises serious questions about its own scope and ambitions, and about its own claims to being a body of knowledge at all.

Managerialism is significantly different from public-sector, or public-service bureaucracy, even though managerialism and public service bureaucracies often show similarities. For its very existence and survival, managerialism has to claim a special kind of knowledge, which puts it beyond accountability, except as defined by itself.

Efficiency is a central idea in managerialism. For instance, one of the concerns of managerialism is maximal output from minimal input in the least possible time. In practice, efficiency is expressed in economic or financial terms.


Managerialism requires its own index or indices of effectiveness. And most commonly, the index of effectiveness is a single figure in the form of an output or sales target or earnings, or examination pass rates, and so on. This often reduces very complex activities to single indicators or indices; it is thoroughly reductivist. In addition, it has to be imposed on the practitioners concerned and it reduces their knowledge, and their judgment, to an irrelevance.

Furthermore, expressing managerialism in economic or financial terms alone relies on the assumption that these are the only ways to evaluate any activity. That is one problem with targets, and anyone who has worked in target-driven systems will be well aware of those.

Two papers allow to explicitly delve deeper into technocracy and managerialism. The first paper, written by B. Subha Sri, a very experienced doctor, is about the kind of training she went through and the kind of practices she saw when she started working. Drawing upon her own personal experiences, that paper includes the reflections on the way the medical profession looks at the woman and her body.

The paper highlights the fact that the technocrat, such as a doctor, undoubtedly has their expertise. But, we need to be able to see in what ways their conduct towards us can be justified by their technical expertise. Unless we take some kind of interest both in the moral, political and social presuppositions, and in the technicalities, we are going to be at the mercy of the technocrats and their imported social, moral and political attitudes that permeate their own thinking.

The second paper, written by Abhijit and Rita Kothari and published in the Economic and Political Weekly, is on management training in India. That paper shows that the claim to generalizability and predictive power made about managerialism in general is ultimately, drawing from the philosophy of the social sciences, incoherent. Managerialism has not an iota of genuine knowledge on which to base its claims as generalizable and predictive.