Ethics and power in business schools and organizations

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Power, 2010, 3 (2), pp. 227 - 242
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The history of the business school as an institution stretches back 127 years to its foundations in the Wharton School in Philadelphia. Initially, it was an explicitly ethical project, centred on an ethic of professionalism, an ethics that was never stabilized and settled. Instead, a managerial ethic of the organization man was established in the USA during the post-war ascendancy and mimesis of the institution. From the 1980s onwards, in a response to the emergence of neo-liberal governmental projects, two strong and antithetical tendencies emerged. On the one hand, there was an enormous growth in economic rationalism organized around market fundamentalism. On the other hand, there was a growth of critical management, initially Marxist in derivation but increasingly Foucauldian. Just as labour process analysis seemed to run out of steam with endless empirical accounts of resistance so the Foucault effect seems to have become fixated with the gaze of surveillance and the panopticon. What next, after the ethic of the organization man and the administered society, the ethic of disinterest of science, the ethic of the survival of the fittest of neo-liberalism and the ethic of resistance characterizing critical management? The paper outlines some ideas from the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos to suggest a possible ‘fifth way’ of building more positive power relations in the business school and thus rekindling an ethical spark. © 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
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