Organizational ethics, decision making, undecidability

Stewart Clegg*, Martin Kornberger, Carl Rhodes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper we develop a conceptualisation of organizational decision-making as a practice that is, necessarily, ethical. The paper starts with a discussion of the notion of decision-making as it relates to organizational rationality and the relationship between management and control. Drawing on Derrida's discussions of undecidability and responsibility, we suggest that as well as being able to consider organizational decision-making as an instance of (albeit bounded) rationality or calculability, it can also be regarded as a process of choice amongst heterogenous possibilities. On that basis, we follow Derrida in arguing that for a decision to be considered an instance of responsible action it must be made with neither recourse to knowledge of its outcome nor to the application of pre-ordained rules. Illustrating our argument with a discussion of Eichmann's 'I was just following orders' defence, we suggest that rules for ethical decision making, rather than ensuring ethical outcomes, can work to insulate organizations from moral responsibility. We conclude with a discussion of ethics and democracy in relation to responsible decision making in organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-409
Number of pages17
JournalSociological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2007


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