Organizational wrongdoing, boundary work, and systems of exclusion: The case of the Volkswagen emissions scandal

Laura Fey, John Amis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal was one of the largest examples of organizational wrongdoing in corporate history, costing the firm immense damage to its reputation and over $33 billion in fines, penalties, financial settlements, and buyback costs. In this paper, we draw on the concept of boundary work to provide insight into the causes of wrongdoing at VW. Supplementing other work on the scandal, we show how the ways in which boundaries became established in the organization resulted in an internal context that defined “in” and “out” groups, normalized certain behaviors, and limited communication across intraorganizational boundaries. This allowed wrongdoing to not only become established but also to go unchallenged. We provide contributions to broader understandings of organizational wrongdoing and to the temporal unfolding of boundary work by theorizing how a combination of cognitive, horizontal, and vertical boundaries can create an infrastructure of organizational design that permits organizational wrongdoing, prevents it being challenged, and ultimately normalizes it in everyday activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-192
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • wrongdoing
  • boundary work
  • cognitive boundaries
  • organizational design
  • Volkswagen scandal
  • dieselgate


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