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The social embedding of management control in knowledge‐intensive firms

Mats Edenius (Department of Information Technology, Swedish IT‐User Centre, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)
Alexander Styhre (Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Journal of Human Resource Costing & Accounting

ISSN: 1401-338X

Article publication date: 23 February 2009




The management and the control of knowledge‐intensive organizations have recently been subject to empirical studies. Much of the literature suggests that management control, defined and operationalized in a variety of ways and examined within different traditions, in essence affects co‐workers negatively. On the other hand, proponents of management control practices such as consultants stress the positive and productive aspects of such practices. Contrary to these skeptical and overtly rosy views, this paper seeks to contribute with a different perspective on the uses of total quality management (TQM) in organizations.


This paper presents a study of the Swedish insurance company Agria employing a number of TQM methods and tools to monitor, control and evaluate the performance of the activities from a social embeddedness perspective.


Seeking to encourage accounts within such an affirmative view, the paper calls for more research into the knowledge workers' purposive action embedded in concrete, ongoing systems of social relations. That is, management control mechanisms are neither imposed from above, nor are they procedures that can be individually selected and enacted. Instead, management control practices are embedded in social relations including norms, values, and preexisting standard operating procedures.

Practical implications

By conceiving of management control practices as being socially embedded, the Scylla and Charybdis of under‐ and oversocialized theories of management control can be avoided. That is, TQM practices may be regarded as “technologies of the self” that knowledge workers may use as part of their day‐to‐day work.


The paper presents an affirmative view of TQM and shows how TQM practices are used in a Swedish insurance company.



Edenius, M. and Styhre, A. (2009), "The social embedding of management control in knowledge‐intensive firms", Journal of Human Resource Costing & Accounting, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 9-28.



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