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Books by Ben Agger. Articles have been selected for this virtual special issue that highlight the insights provided by the long tradition of sociological theorizing, which focus upon enduring social problems and which deal with particularly twenty-first century issues. Whilst this selection of material is prefaced with some editorial comments explaining the significance of each individual article and how they might be thought to offer a relatively coherent approach to sociology and business ethics—thereby giving a strong flavour of what JBE regards as important work in this area—these articles are by no means exhaustive in their topic coverage.
The structure of the discipline of sociology, deeply embedded within universities across the world, has produced approaches with specific audiences, theoretical and methodological frameworks, and organizational dynamics that often do not sit well with an interest in business ethics. Intensive work at the specific tasks of specialization and boundary maintenance mean that schools of management and departments of sociology seldom consider issues of common interest. Yet this boundary spanning, interdisciplinary work does exist, and this section is meant to appeal to and provide space for such publications.
Are there sociological concerns, of either a conventional or a more critical bent, which business ethicists should take more seriously? Can business ethics illuminate the interconnected worlds of consumption, production and reproduction, where these meet in individual behaviours, group dynamics, organizational life and state practices? Do the sociological classics and subsequent social science writers of the twenty and twenty-first centuries illuminate ethical issues in ways which other disciplines do not?
The Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology (21st Century Sociology)
It should be noted that in the UK at least, there has been a disappearance of the sociology of work and of organizations from University Sociology Departments. Instead this material is predominantly taught in Schools of Management and Business Schools. There is no room in an introduction such as this to unravel the complexities of this linguistic distinction between types of school; suffice it to say, Schools of Management tend to look at management in action across all organizational forms whether in the voluntary sector, the commercial sector or located in the State.
Business Schools offer less coverage and, as the name suggests, look only to management in the industrial, service and post-industrial sectors of the capitalist economy. This tension between breadth of coverage and depth of analysis may be over-egged, but for some of us it is a real distinction with real consequences. In the case of Management Schools and Business Schools, this is in fact not the case. Indeed, it is the reverse. These need not be antithetical to a concern for ethics and moral issues, but in action they do seem to foster much more concern for pragmatic, unencumbered perspectives to making money.
When it comes to Sociology Departments in this triangle of possibilities, it is our view that JBE would be a good home for sociological work on Business Ethics originating in Sociology Departments. So in order to widen the appeal of Business Ethics in general, and JBE in particular, to authors in Business Schools on one hand and those in Sociology Departments on the other, we have undertaken a judicious selection of articles to whet the appetite.
In this selection of previously published work in JBE, there has been an attempt to highlight pieces that are sociological in orientation and which bring to the readership insights generated from within that disciplinary field. Some articles re-published here originally dealt with sociological theory, some with classic issues within contemporary sociology such as the home, the family and work, and some with issues that have come to the fore in the twenty-first century such as the nature of the body and of globalization.
The first three pieces deal with different approaches to Sociological Theory. John Hendry deals with that theorist of morality under industrialization par excellence—Emile Durkheim. Economic contracts and egoistic self-interest had replaced those moral codes previously governing the upper middle classes. There must be moral discipline in place of individual appetites argued Durkheim.
Today, says Hendry, the marketization of so many aspects of economic and social life has made these pressures to worship individual appetites rather than codes of morality even stronger. He asks three research questions which still pertain. Are there different moral codes inside and outside business? What is the nature of their relationship? And what would a society or an organization look like that was totally driven by self-interest and totally neglectful of seeking a shared moral order?
Shaw in his article entitled Marxism, Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility looks at that other sociological great of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and at his relevance for today. These two great sociologists, both originating from close to the Rhineland, are often seen as offering very distinct approaches to society and its moral fabric. Whilst both identified the massive socio-economic shifts that were occurring in their worlds and the ruptures with the past that these changes entailed, the nature of the diagnosis and prognosis each offered was very different.
By this one means that ethnomethodology was concerned with how the sociologist did her or his work and what their relationship was with their subject matter—often at the cost of neglecting the subject matter itself. To be an ethnomethodologist at one time was seen as heretical by those sociologists committed to more traditional positivistic methods. Everyday life involves a significant practical accomplishment by the human being, and a constant process of engaging in reflexivity is necessary. Traditional sociology had missed this crucial set of tasks in establishing a moral order by which we understand our place in the world.
ISBN 13: 9780631216490
All three of these pieces, on Durkheim, on Marx and on ethnomethodology, reflect the importance of theory and on what theoretical object we seek to engage with, for illuminating issues at the heart of business ethics. In the second section of selected items, the focus is upon those perennial concerns of mainstream Sociology—work, home and the media.
Colin Boyd in his The Debate over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace looks at the literature on sex and sexuality in the workplace where ethical issues present HR managers with many problems. It is widely recognized that many of us meet our partners in the work sphere so this is not a minor issue of gossip. But the very fact that it is such a major topic of discourse in organizational settings does reflect on its importance to human interests and understanding. Susanne Tietze et al. This relates to the huge Western problem of the collapse of a previous separation since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution between work and home, work and leisure.
And tied in with the electronic envelopes which most Westerners have decided to carry around them, cocooning them in a digital world, Boone and MacDonald piece on Broadcasting Operation Iraqi Freedom: The People behind Cable News Ethics, Decisions and Gender shows that the home media we possess and our digital platforms in general have ethical issues running right through them.
Today, Sociology has become really good at understanding these forms of mass communication, and as a topic, the ways in which we are led to understand the world in a variety of controlled and heavily structured ways have become a central disciplinary concern. In the final section of this Virtual Special Issue, we look briefly at two twenty-first century concerns that Sociology brings to the fore.
These may be thought of as the micro and the macro respectively that are today highly intertwined and are moved between much faster than we might imagine. For example, the human body of the individual is now a target for pharmaceutical companies, health clubs, and a whole host of goods and services around fitness and wellbeing. Our bodies are also the focus of State regimes in which our health, and the costs it represents to the tax payer, is an issue of national concern.
And perhaps, it is in this area in particular that much more research needs to be done by Business Ethics scholars to include those parts of humanity who are entering market relations for the first time and are forced to abandon traditional means of understanding their moral existence. This has huge implications for all human beings which are being increasingly recognized. It reminds us that many of our assumptions are laden with values of which we may well be unaware.
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