The Myth of Modern Management: Roman and Antebellum Management Ideology in Comparative Perspective


Conference Paper

Drawing on archival materials from the Roman Republic and U.S. antebellum South, this paper questions narratives that place the origins of administrative theory in late 19th or early 20th century industrial society. Agrarian societies based on chattel slavery relied on an extensive corps of supervisors and devoted considerable effort to discourse surrounding the management of unfree labor. Following Bendix, we seek to understand management theories in these societies as ideologies, rooted in ideas that justify the authority of landowners and defend their organizations against legitimacy crises. Based on a systematic review of documents from Roman and Southern writers, we argue that the distinctive political challenges in each historical case led to divergent management ideologies, despite a common economic basis in agricultural enterprise employing gang-system slave labor. In the late Roman Republic and early empire, management ideology confronted challenges to large-scale landownership and absentee landlords. In the antebellum South following the Nat Turner revolt, management thinkers staved off threats from abolitionism and Northern political activists. We conclude by asking why the managerial belief systems in these agrarian societies have largely been ignored by subsequent organizational scholars, including research on the history of management.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ruef, M; Harness, A

Published Date

  • 2007

Published In

  • Academy of Management 2007 Annual Meeting: Doing Well by Doing Good, Aom 2007