At some point during the past decade, the line managers began to arrive. Many sociology departments lost their ‘heads’, who then re-appeared under the aforementioned label. This development forms part of the much-discussed corporatisation and commercialisation of British higher education in recent years. To begin with, the advent of the line manager underlines a gradual, still partial shift in universities’ organisational ethos from a deliberative model of collective decision-making, driven by properly academic considerations, to the top-down, military-like chain of command characteristic of the world of business. Second, where heads of department are often senior academics enmeshed in the structures of intellectual exchange and collaborations within their departments, line managers may be full-time administrators without an academic agenda, who see their primary role in the implementation of the corporate strategies defined by more senior managers. They therefore may serve as a conduit between academics and the new class of academic/corporate managers, opening their departments up to increased surveillance, performance monitoring, and top-down control.
Of course, this scenario in many cases may not apply, and line managers may well continue to work along the lines of traditional heads of department. Rather than making undue generalisations, it is my intention to bring to the fore the cultural imagery which the term ‘line manager’ conjures. This imagery might serve as a springboard for a discussion of a number of interesting questions: How, if at all, has the advent of the line manager re-shaped the conditions of intellectual labour in sociology departments? What has its impact been on matters of curriculum design, choices about research areas to be emphasised or discouraged, the balancing of teaching and administrative workloads, and so forth? Has the intrusion of the language of top-down management had significant effects on academic freedom within sociology departments? Given the changes which institutionalised sociology in Britain is certain to face over the coming years, this questions will certainly merit thorough consideration.