Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Ethical Discriminations? Representing the Reprehensible

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Ethical Discriminations? Representing the Reprehensible

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper reflects upon the 'goodness' or 'ethics' of Critical Management/ Critical Organisation Studies (COS) research practices. I argue that academic representations of others entail an ethical responsibility to the researched, a responsibility that COS is, as yet, insufficiently exploring. Reflecting upon my own research with those who have colluded in discrimination and Stanley and Wise's (1979) research on obscene telephone callers, I explore the nature and limits of responsibility when researching those who have acted reprehensibly. I end by arguing that COS "owe(s) some responsibility to 'the researched' of all kinds, whether we morally approve of them or not" (Stanley and Wise 1993:177).

INTRODUCTION

This paper1 reflects upon the 'goodness' or 'ethics' of Critical Management/ Critical Organisation Studies (COS) research practices. I consider in particular what responsibilities COS's textual representations of others imply. I do this because I understand the texts that COS produces not just to be isolated epistemological pursuits but to be publicly validated contributions to social knowledge - knowledge that conditions our and others relationships with the researched (Jodelet 1991; Smith 1990; Palmer 1987) and thus implies ethical responsibilities for the author2. As Lincoln writes:

(s)ince the representation of people does indeed act to change their lives, then it is the miter's obligation to ask hard questions about the morality and the ethics of his or her work. Those questions themselves become a part of the methods used to investigate, and therefore a part of the eventual text. (Lincoln 1993:34)

In section one I review the argument that COS may not always be taking its ethical responsibilities to the researched very seriously (parts of this argument have been made previously in Wray-Bliss 2001, 2002a, b). In section two, I reflect upon what 'taking these responsibilities seriously' might mean for COS and its texts. I highlight issues such as reciprocity, not problematising a voiceless researched, sharing the advantages that we accrue from research, and making the methodological basis of our claims to knowledge explicit, as potential markers of developments in our research ethics. In section three, I test the integrity of these arguments by considering whether it applies to relationships with all those whom we research. In particular I consider whether responsibilities may be suspended when researching those who have acted reprehensibly. I then use this question to work through choices I have made in co-authored research on those who have colluded in discrimination. In the conclusion to the paper I use my work-in-progress on discriminators, alongside Stanley and Wise's (1979) feminist research on obscene telephone callers, to provide a context within which to reflect upon the implications of the issues I have voiced for the development of a critical and responsible COS.

SECTION ONE: DISROBING AUTHORITY

Even if perceived "authorities" writing about a group to which they do not belong and/ or over which they wield power, are progressive, caring, and right-on in every way, as long as their authority is constituted by either the absence of the voices of the individuals whose experiences they seek to address, or the dismissal of those voices as unimportant, the subject -object dichotomy is maintained and domination is reinforced. (hooks 1989:43)

Though hooks wrote this primarily as a critique of the academy's and other 'experts' representations of blackness and black people(s), I understand these words to equally apply to Critical Organisation Studies and the researched population it represents. This may initially appear unfounded. COS shows itself to be aware of post-modern and other critiques of positivism and truth, and displays a sophisticated theoretical understanding of methodological and representational debates (see e.g. Alvesson 2003; Geertz 1973, 1983; Jeffcutt 1993, 1994; Knights 1992). …

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