Management: an epistemology of the term.

Author:Sherony, Bruce C.

    While researchers have taught us that the practices encompassed in management are as old as mankind, the term is itself, relatively recent. Peter Drucker, the well known managerial philosopher, had this to say about the word management:

    The word "management" is a singularly difficult one. It is, in the first place, specifically American and can hardly be translated into any other language, not even into British English. It denotes a function but also the people who discharge it. It denotes a social position and rank but also a discipline and field of study. But even within the American usage, management is not adequate as a term, for institutions other than business do not speak of management or managers, as a rule. Universities or government agencies have administrators as have hospitals, Armed services have commanders. Other institutions speak of executives and so on (Drucker, 1974).

    Although the word management is universally applied in our society, it is a term that is not easy to reconstruct. Consider the following:

    Despite its importance, however, management is one of the most nebulous and at the same time most ubiquitous functions in societies, being found in the homes, churches, governments, and economic undertakings of all peoples. It is and always has been the strong right hand of all leaders. In fact, all the truly great leaders of history were managers--managing countries, managing explorations, managing wars, managing other men's efforts (George, 1968).

    George's reference to the "strong right hand" should be especially interesting to the reader in light of the following derivation of this enigmatic term, "management."


    The Latin word manus refers to the hand. Maneuver was to work with the hand. Mano in Italian means hand, to give one's hand. Consider the phrase MANo a MANo. Its literal meaning is "hand to hand." In Italian, it means "little by little," and "as we go along." (Moore & Moore, 1997). The importance of the human hand is emphasized repeatedly by those studying what it means to be human.

    Most physical anthropologists even argue the development of an opposable thumb made the human hand capable of both powerful and sensitive delicate work. This, in turn, has been argued to have been an essential stimulus to the development of the large human brain. Whether we do or do not accept this version of human evolution, it is certain that humans have always relied heavily upon their hands for survival. Food, shelter, and clothing have been obtained by, and through, the use of tools. Our hands allowed us to lose powerful teeth while adding such varied foods as roots and meat and to take more control over food production through varied processes of cultivation.

    Human families gathered into tribes, and later on, assembled into larger social units. Today we reside in very sophisticated political and organizational units (Matteson & Ivancevich, 1977). Development and coordination of these social systems was accomplished through the use of management processes and procedures originally begun by "the human hand." What follows in this essay is an attempt to trace, synthesize and underscore the importance of the hand and its incorporation, both literally and figuratively, into managerial work.

    At least four fundamental innovations were required for what we call management to develop. Roughly between 3500 and 1775 BC, writing and writing instruments were invented. Further, weights and measurements were worked out. Elementary mathematics and the quadratic equation were developed. The legal code of law was issued by King Hammurabi. Later on, calendars, sundials and compasses were developed (Green, 2004). The calendar, the wheel, writing and writing instruments and elementary mathematics made possible the large scale activities to which the term "management" has been applied.

    Now, for a look...

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