Critical Business Ethics: From Corporate Self-interest to the Glorification of the Sovereign Pater

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Journal Article
International Journal of Management Reviews, 2018, 20 (2), pp. 483 - 499
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© 2017 British Academy of Management and John Wiley & Sons Ltd Research in critical business ethics has demonstrated how economic self-interest is the primary reason that businesses adopt nominally ethical practices. After reviewing this body of research, the authors propose that it can be further developed by questioning its conception of self-interest, by exploring its non-economic dimensions and by reconsidering the meaning of the ‘self’ that is said to have such interests. Drawing insights from feminist theory and political theology, the paper interrogates corporate business ethics as a public glorification of corporate power based on a patriarchal conception of the corporation. Genealogically rooted in early Christian ceremonial practices used to glorify God the Father, this is a glorification for the sake of glory rather than just for the sake of commercial ends. The authors further argue that corporate business ethics is rendered as the feminized servant of the sovereign corporate patriarch, always at hand to glorify the master. The meaning of corporate business ethics is hence one where the feminine is not absent, but rather is servile to a masculinity conceived in relation to domination, greatness and sovereignty. Collectively, this shows how the power wielded and desired by corporate business ethics far exceeds the pursuit of financial self-interest; it is also related to modelling the corporation on a male God. The paper concludes by considering how research in critical business ethics can be extended through forms of inquiry that destabilize the ethical glorification of the corporation, and displace its masculinist privilege.
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