Society under management – Marjolein Quené

This book is about management, but it is not a management book. It describes how the way of thinking and working as a manager has become so dominant in our societies that we don’t even notice this anymore. Management theory is appealing, since it claims to be universal and provides simple tools to deal with any problem. But thinking and behaving as a pragmatic manager not only solves certain problems, it also creates others.

The book explains how, according to management theory, a manager analyses, thinks and behaves. The book describes the historical changes in organizations due to management and how since the 1980s management has become dominant in all spheres of life. Illustrative Dutch and European case studies provide very recognizable examples making the material easy to grasp.

The book is grounded in thorough analyses of not only the work of established economists and management gurus, but also contemporary historians and philosophers. Applying management theory to governments and states changes the relations between government, politicians, civil servants and citizens, and undermines the meaning of democracy. The book states that the dominance of management in our society explains why we are incapable of dealing effectively with current challenges such as expensive yet often ineffective health care, increasing inequality, environmental problems and climate change.

Finally it proposes that issues caused by thinking as a manager cannot be solved by thinking as a manager. With help of authors like Hannah Arendt and Susan Neiman the author shows how you may lead your life, without becoming your own manager. Finally, she makes a call to imagine brighter worlds that are centered around more human values, and she makes a plea for real democracy, as it was once meant to be.

Marjolein Quené reveals connections which you always suspected were there, but weren’t able to see before. She describes a society in which everybody and everyone is managed, almost exclusively on the basis of financial incentives. What values will remain if deep inside humans are only managers? – Stevo Akkerman, Trouw

Please find below an excerpt, translation by Jan Warndorff. This is a test translation, not intended for publication. For contact about international rights: rechten [at]


About the author

Marjolein Quené is educated as a historian and obtained an MBA while working in an energy utility. Later she was trained as a public manager in social security services in a Dutch governmental organization. She has been working for more than 33 years in various kinds of organizations in the Netherlands and abroad. Currently, she works as an independent researcher and consultant. The dominance of management and ‘managerial thought’ and its effects on both professional working situations, daily life, and the public sphere has been a recurring theme in her experiences and thought.

Over  the years she has witnessed the ever-increasing detrimental effects of managerial discourse and actions on private and public organization, and on society as a whole. The Managed Society is the author’s first larger work for a general audience. It has had a long incubation time, and expresses the
ripened view of an insider in the managerial world, by someone who has succeeded to retain also the objective and ironic stance of the critical outsider perspective as well.

Text by Lemniscaat Philosophy, 2018.