Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ethics And/or Success in Conducting Organization Studies: A Habermasian Account

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ethics And/or Success in Conducting Organization Studies: A Habermasian Account

Article excerpt

In profit organizations most of all, the critical organizational research has faced problematic conditions. In general, one of the biggest problems in the broad field of organizational research is the difficulty of accessing data from an organization and even of entry (Bell, 1999). In part, this difficulty occurs because managers may fear that the research data will be used against the organization and its members. They often see organizational researchers as a threat.

In this sense, organizational research is hard to undertake, because the members of an organization are often afraid that the claims made by researchers will be disturbing (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000). They are afraid of what researchers will do with the collected data, or what they may request in their interaction with the organization. For this reason, it is very common for staff to ignore information, hide important data, or in some other way make the research project unfeasible.

This is partly because organizational researchers are nowadays more and more concerned with ethics in particular. In the broad field of management research, the ethical theme seems to be growing into one of the most important study subjects developed in recent years, partly in consequence of the reflexivity and criticism surrounding the role of management and the influence of the dominant corporate interest in the results of managers' actions (Parker, 1998). In critical organization studies, business ethics is a central theme, in particular, as a subject of criticism for its anti-foundationalist ethical approach (Collins & Wray-Bliss, 2005).

This paper deals with this problem by seeking to clarify how ethics is considered by organization researchers when engaged in fieldwork. To reach this point, it adopts Habermas' view of discursive ethics, concentrating on his conception of strategic action. For Habermas, this kind of social action is the opposite of communicative action, an act of speech free of constraint, which is also concerned with ethical commitment. In this sense, strategic action lacks ethical claims because it is an action oriented to performative and utilitarian interests. This argument is demonstrated by presenting three different research examples, which reveal how strategic action emerges in critical research enterprises and how ethical claims are disregarded in this situation. In the end, I explore my own research experience, telling a confessional story, which shows an example of strategic action in critical organizational research.

This paper is structured in five parts. First, it discusses the locus of ethics in organization studies, which is not only an important subject for criticism, but also a subject for serious consideration in research practice. Then, it discusses Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action, introducing his theoretical framework of discursive ethics. Next, it moves to discussing how strategic action appears in critical organizational research. Following this, I give a confessional example from my fieldwork experience. Finally, the conclusion is reached that many critical researchers adopts opportunistic behaviour in response to academic pressures, which are exerted to guarantee the productivity claim of capitalist interests, in the same way as any other job in our society.

The locus of ethics in organization studies

Organization researchers usually deal with ethics in the sense of reporting the ideological orientation of such management practices as imply unethical behaviour (for example, Banerjee, 2008; Shrivastava, 1986). In this sense, the unethical orientation of managers has been seen as something masked by a manipulative discourse, which has built the false impression that management practices are ethically oriented. This means that organization researchers often see as problematic the way in which managers and corporations build a false sense of morality around their recent work on social programmes; for example, those for corporate social responsibility and employees' health (Collins & Wray-Bliss, 2005; Haunschild, 2003; Parker, 1998; Roberts, 2003). …

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