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Agonism and the Possibilities of Ethics for HRM


  • Carl Rhodes


  • Geraint Harvey



This paper provides a critique and re-evaluation of the way that ethics is understood and promoted within mainstream Human Resource Management (HRM) discourse. We argue that the ethics located within this discourse focuses on bolstering the relevance of HRM as a key contributor to organizational strategy, enhancing an organization’s sense of moral legitimacy and augmenting organizational control over employee behaviour and subjectivity. We question this discourse in that it subordinates the ethics of the employment relationship to managerial prerogative. In response, we suggest a different model of the relationship between ethics and HRM—one that finds the possibility of ethics in the contestation and destabilization of HRM. Such ethics arises through resistance to moral normalization and the constraint of freedom and difference. The contribution of our paper is in theorising the possibilities of a relationship between ethics and HRM that does not place HRM at its centre, as chief intermediary of the ethics of the employment relationship, but rather sees HRM as being a powerful player in a set of what Mouffe calls ‘agonistic’ socio-ethical relations. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Carl Rhodes & Geraint Harvey, 2012. "Agonism and the Possibilities of Ethics for HRM," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(1), pages 49-59, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:1:p:49-59
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1441-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alex Bryson, 2008. "From Industrial Relations to Human Resource Management: The Changing Role of the Personnel Function," National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) Discussion Papers 315, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
    2. Tom Keenoy, 1999. "HRM as Hologram: A Polemic," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(1), pages 1-23, January.
    3. Nancy J Adler & Susan Bartholomew, 1992. "Academic and Professional Communities of Discourse: Generating Knowledge on Transnational Human Resource Management," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 23(3), pages 551-569, September.
    4. Maddy Janssens & Chris Steyaert, 2009. "HRM and Performance: A Plea for Reflexivity in HRM Studies," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 143-155, January.
    5. Jackie Ford & Nancy Harding, 2003. "Invoking Satan or the Ethics of the Employment Contract," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(5), pages 1131-1150, July.
    6. Alexander Styhre, 2001. "Kaizen, Ethics, and Care of the Operations: Management After Empowerment," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(6), pages 795-810, September.
    7. Harvie Ramsay & Dora Scholarios & Bill Harley, 2000. "Employees and High-Performance Work Systems: Testing inside the Black Box," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 38(4), pages 501-531, December.
    8. Tom Keenoy, 1997. "HRMism and the Languages of Re-presentation," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(5), pages 825-841, September.
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    1. repec:bla:indrel:v:48:y:2017:i:1:p:42-55 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:kap:jbuset:v:142:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s10551-016-3084-z is not listed on IDEAS


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