Sub-theme 54: Bridging Pragmatist Problem-solving and Continental Critique [merged with sub-theme 44]


Call for Papers

As an 'applied' area of philosophy/ethics, business/organizational ethics can be expected to offer an 'action perspective'. It must resolve James' 'casuistic' question, but in its mainstream incarnation it seems hardly able to do so. We believe that a constructive conversation between pragmatism and continental philosophical traditions could offer new ideas and resources towards developing an ethics-as-practice. While there are important nuances that distinguish pragmatism and continental philosophical traditions as well as the various strands within each, we believe that highlighting their overlaps and complementarities is helpful in exploring new avenues for business/organizational ethics.

Several CMS scholars have drawn on the broad tradition of continental philosophy to critique the ways in which business ethicists use philosophy to address practical business challenges. Other scholars have started to explore pragmatist alternatives to mainstream business ethics. Yet, there has not been much of a conversation between them, nor have their ideas taken solid root in the writings and teachings of business/organizational ethicists. As a result, the question of what business ethics as practice might look like, remains unresolved.

Continental philosophy and pragmatism are both committed to grappling with the particularities of human existence in specific contexts. Both steer clear of universalist claims and transcendental presumptions, thus departing from typical Enlightenment presuppositions around agency, epistemology and ethics. To both, 'truth' emerges from processes and engagements and 'values' are emergent beliefs, not abstract rational principles. Human agents are seen as embodied sense-makers, relationally constituted, and embedded and shaped in particular socio-political contexts.

The question that emerges in the wake of these theoretical commitments is how they should operate in practice. It is in this respect that the two traditions seem to part ways. For example, poststructuralists are often critics of the status quo, whereas pragmatists commit to creating value for communities by reforming institutions and finding ways to negotiate difference. Pragmatists would argue that poststructuralist criticisms tend to participate in business discourses as spectators. The rebuttal might be that pragmatic business ethicists'' singular focus on solving ethical problems has blunted their capacity to critically interrogate broader systemic issues around political economy, issues of power and identity-politics that plague organizations. Multiple misunderstandings and misinterpretations have emerged in the wake of these simplistic accusations, and we hope that this track encourages representatives of either tradition to move beyond them.

The challenge is how one may conceive of a business ethics-as-practice that is informed by the insights of both traditions. We welcome contributors that speak to this challenge. Without pretending to be exhaustive, submissions could address the following themes:

  • the interface between systemic issues and everyday business practice;
  • the nature of critique, the position of the critic, the goal of criticism;
  • the challenges that pragmatists and continental philosophers pose to core elements of business/organizational ethics: values, attitude, habit, decision-making;
  • the relevance and viability of pragmatist inspired solutions to continental challenges: aporia, the Other, parrhesia, irony, deconstruction, liminality, becoming;
  • the potential of pragmatism and continental philosophy to foster interdisciplinary perspectives on organizational problems; exploring what ethics-as-practice informed by both traditions might look like;
  • both traditions' responses to societal challenges and the role of firms in them: globalization, financial capitalism, cross-border labor migration, security crises, gender inequality, identity politics;
  • implications for teaching business ethics and for systemic change within business schools and universities;
  • philosophically informed business ethics consultancy, management approaches, and systemic change.




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