For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Conditions of Our Freedom: Foucault, Organization, and Ethics"

by Crane, Andrew; Knights, David; Starkey, Ken (2008)


[The paper examines the contribution of the French philosopher Michel Foucault to the subject of ethics in organizations. The paper combines an analysis of Foucault's work on discipline and control, with an examination of his later work on the ethical subject and technologies of the self. Our paper argues that the work of the later Foucault provides an important contribution to business ethics theory, practice and pedagogy. We discuss how it offers an alternative avenue to traditional normative ethical theory that both converges and diverges with other extant alternatives. By situating ethics as practices of the self, and by demonstrating the conditions under which freedom in organizations can be exercised, Foucault's ethics attempt to connect an understanding and critique of power with a personal project of self. He therefore provides a theory of subjectivity that potentially informs a reshaping of contemporary virtue ethics theory, value-based management, and business ethics teaching.]

Key Passage

 In our view, Foucault's ethics offer some important, though necessarily limited, contributions to the business ethics literature, which deserve our attention. First, he offers some alternative ways of thinking about freedom as a concept relevant to business ethics. Rather than seeing freedom as an entitlement to be acknowledged by managers, he posits freedom as a condition of being human that can never be absolute but can only ever be exercised within a field of discipline and control. As such, we can discern a little more clearly some of the conditions of our freedom in organizations. Foucault's ethics also offer a new alternative to rule-based business ethics. This alternative, which is primarily centered on the idea of "technologies of the self" (Foucault, 1988b), provides some interesting convergences and divergences with extant alternatives to rule-based approaches. Foucault's ethics' main contribution to these alternatives is a richer understanding of how we participate in the formation of our own subjectivity. He offers a way to connect an understanding and critique of power with a personal project of self. By outlining the linkages here with theories of moral imagination, virtue ethics, values-based management, and business ethics pedagogy, we seek to demonstrate how this approach could advance our existing knowledge in novel ways, whilst also making clear some of the challenges that it poses.  (p.300)


Foucault, Business Ethics, Organisation Studies, Discipline, Freedom, Subjectivity, Critique Of Power


On Foucault, Foucault, Critical Management Studies, Organisation and Management Studies

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