Sub-theme 11: Are Good Organizations Caring Places?

Marianna Fotaki
Warwick Business School, United Kingdom
Gazi Islam
Grenoble Ecole de Management, France
Anne Antoni
Warwick Business School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Business ethics scholars have for some time researched the ethical aspects of organizations towards their external constituents (SAGE Publications, 2012), but organizational ethics vis a vis internal actors such as workers and colleagues are much less explored. We rarely ask the following questions: what conditions make an organization an environment in which ethical human relations flourish? And what is the role of care, if any, in such an organization? And does care contribute to the ethicality of organizations, and if so, how? Examining such questions is practical, because it concerns issues or groups of people long excluded from consideration, and theoretically interesting, because it focuses on the internal, relational factors promoting or inhibiting care flourishing in the workplace. This Call is an invitation to open up a discussion of what constitutes the good organization where people inside the organization are good to each other.
The quality of how we relate to each other is possibly, but not exclusively, defined by care. Care has been distinguished in feminist theory as the capacity to consider the needs of a particular other, in specific circumstances, through dialogue (Liedtka, 1996). Instead of emphasizing separateness as the mark of adulthood, moral development leads women to recognize interdependence between the self and others (Gilligan, 1982). This view of morality stems from a feminine perspective and has the potential to benefit traditional business ethics approaches (Derry, 2002; Liedtka, 1996). We build on an ethics of care perspective to open up an ontology of possibility in organizations (Lawrence & Maitlis, 2012), and propose to look at organizations in a different way. We do so by raising the question of how caring relations in the workplace can contribute to making organizations a better place.
One of the impediments to developing caring relationships involves the bracketing of the day-to-day morality in the work context (Jackall, 1988). This happens, for instance, when the individual is recognized only as a worker, contributing to the organization’s instrumental goals, rather than as a whole human being. Indeed it has been argued that the cultural practices and beliefs at play in work organizations tend to overshadow the recognition of people as human beings beyond their productive function (Islam, 2013). Such recognition reflects a position of respect and dignity towards workers. For Judith Butler, a poststructuralist philosopher, the need for recognition by others constitutes us as subjects (Butler, 1990; 1993). Stressing the importance of relationality, Butler argues that we are, as social beings, necessarily embedded in affective relations with each other (Fotaki, 2014). This places an emphasis on the holistic nature of people, since the human being supersedes and overflows any one particular role or category (Butler, 1997). According to this perspective, defining employees purely around their work role involves misrecognizing the fullness of the person, and sets up the possibility for injustices at work. Care in this case would involve the recognition of both the importance of and the limitations of work as key aspects of personal and social identity. This would also imply an appreciation of interdependency and relationality as foundational aspects of organizational and social life (Fotaki & Prasad, 2015). Such notions of care also exceed the sphere of individual intimacy and suggest the necessity for building caring institutions through a political process that considers the needs, contributions, and prospects of many different actors (Tronto, 2010).
This sub-theme invites contributions and critical reflections on the ethicality of the organization as originating in the micro-level relationships between people at work. Such relationships are socially situated in specific organizational conditions and reflect socio-political dynamics and processes. Potential but not exclusive questions and topics that could be addressed include:

  • How is the quality of people’s relationships linked to the overall benevolence of the organization?
  • How is an ethic of care possible within the overall goals and purposes of the organization?
  • How do people make sense of what is the good way to relate to each other at work?
  • How would a relational perspective shed a new light on traditional issues of organizational identity, leadership dynamics, resistance, diversity and inequality handled in organization studies?
  • How would research on business ethics benefit from a focus on ethicality in relationships at work?
  • What are the conditions for the enactment of care in workplaces?



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  • Tronto, J.C. (2010): “Creating caring institutions: Politics, plurality, and purpose.Ethics and Social Welfare, 4 (2), 158–171.
Marianna Fotaki holds degrees in medicine, health economics, and a PhD in public policy from London School of Economics and Political Science. Before joining academia in 2003 she has worked as a medical doctor in Greece, China, and the UK, as a volunteer and manager for humanitarian organizations Médecins du Monde and Médecins sans Frontiers in Iraq and Albania, and as the EU senior resident adviser to governments in transition (in Russia, Georgia and Armenia). Marianna is at present a Senior Editor for ‘Organization Studies’, and co-directs pro bono an online think tank ‘Centre for Health and the Public Interest’ a charity that aims to disseminate research informing the public and policy makers ( Marianna is a Network Fellow at the Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University in 2014-2015.
Gazi Islam is Associate Professor of People, Organizations and Society at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France. He has served as faculty at Insper, Tulane University, and the University of New Orleans, USA. His current research interests include the organizational antecedents and consequences of identity, and the relations between identity, group dynamics and the production of group and organizational cultures.
Anne Antoni holds a degree in Management from ESSEC and a Master in Social Psychology from University Paris. Before joining Warwick Business School as a PhD student, she worked for 10 years in different industries and functions, including marketing, change management, corporate research and professional training. Her PhD thesis focuses on the quality of relationships at work and how it is shaped by the organizational context. Her research interest includes ethics in organizations, sensemaking, and research methodology.