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Human Resource Management in a Compartmentalized World: Whither Moral Agency?

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  • Tracy Wilcox

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    Abstract

    This article examines the potential for moral agency in human resource management practice. It draws on an ethnographic study of human resource managers in a global organization to provide a theorized account of situated moral agency. This account suggests that within contemporary organizations, institutional structures—particularly the structures of Anglo-American market capitalism—threaten and constrain the capacity of HR managers to exercise moral agency and hence engage in ethical behaviour. The contextualized explanation of HR management action directly addresses the question of whether HRM is inherently unethical. The discussion draws on MacIntyre’s (Philosophy 74:311–329, 1999 , After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Duckworth, 2000 ) conceptualization of moral agency within contemporary social structures. In practice, HR managers embody roles that may not be wholly compartmentalized. Alternative institutional structures can provide HR managers with a vocabulary of motives for people-centred HRM and widen the scope for the exercising of moral agency, when enacted within reflective relational spaces that provide milieus for critical questioning of logics and values. This article aims to contribute to and extend debate on whether HRM can ever be ethical, and provide a means of reconnecting business ethics with longstanding concerns in critical management studies. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10551-012-1440-1
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Business Ethics.

    Volume (Year): 111 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 1 (November)
    Pages: 85-96

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    Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:1:p:85-96

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    Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100281

    Related research

    Keywords: Moral agency; Relational sociology; Institutional theory; Relational spaces; Human resource management;

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    1. Delbridge, Rick & Edwards, Tim, 2007. "Reflections on developments in institutional theory: Toward a relational approach," Scandinavian Journal of Management, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 191-205, June.
    2. John Dobson, 2009. "Alasdair Macintyre’s Aristotelian Business Ethics: A Critique," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, Springer, vol. 86(1), pages 43-50, April.
    3. Anne Keegan & Paul Boselie, 2006. "The Lack of Impact of Dissensus Inspired Analysis on Developments in the Field of Human Resource Management," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(7), pages 1491-1511, November.
    4. Roberts, John & Sanderson, Paul & Barker, Richard & Hendry, John, 2006. "In the mirror of the market: The disciplinary effects of company/fund manager meetings," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 277-294, April.
    5. Tony J. Watson, 2004. "HRM and Critical Social Science Analysis," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(3), pages 447-467, 05.
    6. Hirschman, Albert O, 1982. "Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive, or Feeble?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 20(4), pages 1463-84, December.
    7. Karan Sonpar & Jay Handelman & Ali Dastmalchian, 2009. "Implementing New Institutional Logics in Pioneering Organizations: The Burden of Justifying Ethical Appropriateness and rustworthiness," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, Springer, vol. 90(3), pages 345-359, December.
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