Current political events have called to mind the Cold War Era and the effect that it had on the history of the Western World. But what kind of effect did it have on management theory? Authors Jason Foster, Jean Helms Mills and Albert J. Mills took a closer look at textbooks to find the answer in their article “Shades of Red: Cold War Influences on Canadian and U.S. Business Textbooks” from Journal of Management Education.
Textbooks are an important element in teaching management in higher education because of their assumed ability to disseminate key theories and debates in a seemingly objective fashion. However, a number of studies have questioned not only the scientific character of the textbook but also of management theory itself. More recent studies suggest that dominant notions of management theory in North America were shaped by the Cold War context. In this article, we examine the influence of sociopolitical context on the development of management textbooks in North America. In seeking a more nuanced approach to sociopolitical context that takes into account cross-cultural differences, we undertook a critical hermeneutic analysis on two sets of Cold War–era textbooks, one from the United States and another from Canada. We looked for important differences in how Cold War narratives are reproduced. Canadian textbooks were more likely to legitimize noncapitalist forms of organization, to allow for a more positive role for government, and to discuss communism and socialism more seriously and thoroughly. We argue that these differences are attributable to the divergent political context found in Canada during the Cold War era. The significance of this article is to recognize that discourses change geographically on a scale much smaller than anticipated.
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