Sub-theme 40: Living the Critical Life: Unreason, Nonreflection and Irresponsibility

Garance Marechal
University of Liverpool, UK
Peter Fleming
City University London, UK
Bent Meier Sørensen
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

In 'The Act of Killing' (2012), a documentary on the mass killing of more than a million suspected communists in Indonesia during the 1965–66 period, Joshua Oppenheimer follows several former members of death squads, gangsters who were never punished for their crimes and are now considered as local heroes, as they proudly and openly talk about their slaughter. The film examines the reality of politically organized and legitimized mass-murder as well as the re-enactment of the killings as the killers stage their crimes in front of the camera. Unrepentant, laughing and boasting about the efficiency of their methods of slaughter, they are comfortable in being protected by the paramilitary organization that emerged from the death squads to influence government ministers. The film progressively documents their slowly shifting perception as they come to realize through these reenacting and then watching back the gory scenes that they have inspired, the possible fissures in their fantasized system of self-justification.

Although for Socrates the unexamined life was not worth living, this wasn't the case for the killers. But we have no way of knowing whether their changing awareness was authentic, or a tactical performance – or whether reflexivity was possible at all, because their experiences were so mediated and refracted, politically and institutionally. Many other institutionalized power systems can foreclose the possibility of evaluation, by hindering any initiatives of critical reflection, as attempts to intervene by reframing knowledge are resisted, and even suppressed. Consequently, otherwise ethical actors may find themselves engaged in dubious activities.

This sub-theme aims to interrogate the possibilities of critical reason and reflexivity leading to genuine organizational and institutional change – and even its potential for achieving self-awareness and emancipation. We invite contributions that consider the limitations of critical (self-)examination and reflexivity in contemporary organizations, where such processes are often performed from a predetermined or specific position, maintained by structures of domination, framed by institutional formations, embedded in power/knowledge relations, or articulated in terms of conformance to pre-given criteria.

We wish to subvert three core concepts: reason, reflexivity and responsibility. Rather than taking them as virtues to be assumed, we ask how are they actively fostered in organizations and how might they be deployed to create a progressive institutional agenda? What are the conditions of possibility – or the realizations of impossibility – of reason, reflexivity and responsibility? Might progressive ethical outcomes be gained by pursuing paralogical strategies of unreason, nonreflection and irresponsibility?

We seek contributions that attempt to understand how:

  • Mobilizing the concept of unreason (or non-reason and irrationality) can invite us to extend the limits of reason, moving away rationality towards imagination;
  • Engaging in non-reflection can challenge the process of mirroring the gaze of ongoing power relations that perpetuate existing forms of accountability and discipline. The destabilizing concept of refraction can subvert and resist the assumptions of clear accountability;
  • Embracing irresponsibility confronts the idea that (social) responsibility remains conservative in exercise and possibly a tool of power, rarely reflecting mutuality in relations with the other. Revising (ir)responsibility questions ethics, morality, emancipation, justice and creativity in intra and extra organizational contexts.

We are also interested in attracting papers that:

  • draw attention to the absurdities of the existing [theo]logical functioning of organizations and corporations, engage with (rational) power as (ecstatic) drug, or examine rationalistic corporate rhetorics that unintentionally expose the dark underbelly of capitalism;
  • challenge the illusions of conscious capitalism (Filke & Buzzanell, 2013), and consciousness in capitalism, by reflecting its essentially monstrous nature (McNally, 2011);
  • engage with Zizek and Lacanian critiques of the unacknowledged operations of fantasy behind masks of rationality;
  • promote acts of minor dissent, such as those by comedian Mark Thomas and the Yes Men playing on the absurd to expose the ills and excesses of corporations;
  • take up Parker's (2003) argument that neither critical theory nor business ethics can escape the historical conditions of their possibility;
  • unravel the 'cultural grammar' of reflexivity (Ailen, 2011), and its embeddedness in power relations.




  • The Act of Killing (2012): Documentary. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous & Christine Glynn. Det Danske Filminstitut (Denmark), DogWood Pictures (UK) & Drafthouse Films (USA).
  • Ailen, G. (2011): "Mapping the cultural grammar of reflexivity: the case of the Enron scandal." Economy and Society, 40 (1), 141–166.
  • Fike, J.P., Buzzanell, P.M. (2013): "The ethics of conscious capitalism: Wicked problems in leading change and changing leaders." Human Relations, 66 (12), 1619–1643.
  • McNally, D. (2011): Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism. Chicago: Haymarket.
  • Parker, M. (2003): "Business, ethics and business ethics: Critical theory and negative dialectics." In: M. Alvesson & H. Willmott (eds.): Studying Management Critically. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 197–219.


Garance Marechal is Lecturer in Strategic Management at the School of Management, University of Liverpool, UK. Her research interests include reflexivity, philosophy of science, sensuous methodologies and critical approaches to strategy.
Peter Fleming is Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, City University, UK. His research focuses on the changing relationship between business and society, corporate social responsibility, business ethics and resistance in everyday working lives.
Bent Meier Sørensen is Professor of Organizational Philosophy at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His research interests include philosophy and aesthetics, Deleuze, ethics and the moral foundations of management.