Sub-theme 40: The Moral of the Story: Aesthetics and Ethics in Organizations

Matt Statler
NYU Stern School of Business, USA
Wendelin M. Küpers
Karlshochschule International University, Germany
Pierre Guillet de Monthoux
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

The particular relationship between narrative and wisdom provides a first illustration of the range of possible connections between aesthetics and ethics in organizations. Organizational scholars have recently focused on the concept of practical wisdom as a form of human understanding that is particularly relevant in times of crisis and uncertainty. Drawing on philosophy, psychology, and even theology and spirituality, organizational theorists have presented a variety of conference streams, books, and articles establishing wisdom as relevant to leadership, management, decision making and many other facets of organizational life.
The psychologists who established part of the theoretical basis for the contemporary study of practical wisdom in organizations began by focusing on the “folk conceptions of wisdom” that appear in narratives. It seems that most cultures possess narratives that inform and teach about how to make sense of the world and how to respond to challenges with wise thoughts and deeds. These rich and diverse narrative sources include various forms ranging from adages, idioms, parables and poems to fables, myths, koans and other so called implicit theories of wisdom. They provide a foundation for character or group development, educational formation as well as decision-making about what should be done in ambiguous and uncertain circumstances. Indeed, the protagonists of such folktales offer exemplary illustrations of virtue and vice and of unintended consequences and decision-making as well as moral and practical implications that follow from each. Accordingly, these stories portray what it means to be a good person and do the right thing across many cultures and eras in human history and organizations.
In turn, narrative and storytelling in organizations have been extensively explored by scholars. And in contemporary organizational life, the relatively narrow genre of the ‘folk tale’ can be expanded to include everything from CEO hagiographies, blog or pod-casts via intranet and usages of social media to visual brand strategies and employee recognition programs. These various forms of narrative appear to have significant implications in the context of transformational change, for the construction of gender, and for collaboration and creation among other phenomena. Of course, these implications are not uniformly positive – critical scholars have also emphasized the use and abuse of storytelling in shaping different tales of the future. Narratives would also appear to have a dark side that relates not to wisdom but instead to foolishness and stupidity in organizations.
Yet, the specific relationship between narrative and wisdom provides a gateway to a much broader discussion of the relationship between aesthetics and ethics. How does art enable us to appreciate the singularity of human experience and the alterity of others in organizations? How might art also work as a form of social control by establishing what is socially appropriate and what will be judged inappropriate, or function to preserve social groups by reinforcing the validity of moral values and norms? How might art allow people in organizations to engage with each other in ways that extend well beyond the issuing of instructions and the stipulation of ends? What difference, if any, does the medium make?
Our intention in convening this sub-theme is to build on this existing interest in narratives and wisdom and expand it broadly to include other conceptualizations of ethics and normativity as well as creative forms of artistic expression and aesthetic experiences or events. The scope of potential sub-topics includes, but is not limited to: affect, intuition, and emotion; implicit knowledge; authenticity, integrity and virtue; psycho-social development and learning in organizations. Furthermore, possible themes include: negotiations, decision-making and judgment; creativity, and artful practices; rhetoric, persuasion and communication; knowledge-, risk- and crisis management; stakeholder approaches to management; and sustainability.
We are particularly interested in various forms of artistic and aesthetic expressions and practices that deal with intense socio-material transformations currently underway. These include, for example, geo-political conflicts, economic and ecological crises, the accelerated flows of global capital, and the power dynamics and cultural diversity. Exemplary illustrations of coping, creative inventions, and innovative or sustainable solutions to problems are especially welcomed.
We also invite participants to consider practical implications of the connection between aesthetics and ethics for management education. In this regard, we call for contributions that integrate narrative and other forms of contemporary visual and performing art into education. If certain forms of artistic expression can help us become more wise, then we should experience them and discuss how they might be integrated across the fields of research, teaching and academic service. In this sense, the stream format will provide a kind of critical and dialogical ‘story-place’, allowing participants to explore avenues for new theory development as well as practical engagement in new and wiser forms of organization. We anticipate developing possibilities for the publication of the stream contributions, including journal special issues or an edited book volume.

Matt Statler is the Richman Family Director of Business Ethics and Social Impact Programming and a Clinical Associate Professor of Business and Society at NYU Stern School of Business, USA. Previously, Matt served NYU’s Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response as the Director of Research and as Associate Director of the International Center for Enterprise Preparedness. He worked as the Director of Research at the Imagination Lab Foundation in Lausanne, Switzerland, following several years as a management consultant in New York City. He completed a PhD in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University, spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Heidelberg, and obtained Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Philosophy from the University of Missouri. His research on ethics, leadership and strategy has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.
Wendelin M. Küpers is Professor of Leadership and Organization Studies at Karlshochschule International University in Karlsruhe, Germany. Combining a phenomenological and cross-disciplinary orientation, his research focuses on embodied, emotional and creative, respectively transformational dimensions in relation to more responsible, and wise forms of organising and managing. Furthermore, his research focuses on integrating artful and aesthetic dimensions of practical wisdom into leadership and organization theory and practice. Subsequent to his study and PhD at Witten/Herdecke University (Germany) and post-doctoral studies at St. Gallen University (Switzerland), he has been affiliated with various universities in Europe and New Zealand.
Pierre Guillet de Monthoux is Professor in the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy and Director of the CBS Arts Initiative at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His first field of research was strangely enough industrial markets after which he shifted to the study of enterprise and action in classical political economy. Then he was fascinated by the tension between freedom and norms and its relevance to understanding the emergence of the industrial institution of standardization. It seemed that industrial economy could be regarded as an aesthetic affair and that such a perspective might be informed by Kantian philosophy, especially the third “Critique of Judgment”. It then appeared rather obvious that art might provide an illustrative shortcut to grasping what creative management might be about and how leadership in industry and successful artists have traits in common. His proposition for both research and teaching goes; art is a way to come closer to creativity in organizations and aesthetics is the philosophical approach best suited to articulate how it works!