Character and Organization

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:10
Oral Presentation
Paul DU GAY, CBS Copenhagen, Denmark
Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth LOPDRUP, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Kirstine PEDERSEN, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Anne ROELSGAARD OBLING, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
In recent years, questions of 'character' have become increasingly prominent in a range of policy contexts, from education to social welfare, and from business to healthcare. They have also appeared in the field of organization studies, broadly defined, from Richard Sennett's critique of the 'corrosion of character' manifested in contemporary management and organizational cultures, through the invocation of the development of 'character' as an antidote to the wave of corporate scandals unfolding since the beginning of the millennium, up to and including the representation of 'character' as the 'critical success factor' in leadership development and a core dimension of an organization's 'talent acquisition strategy' . What unites the various contemporary paens is an assumption that building 'character' is a crucial component of ethics and that it holds the key to establishing and maintaining virtuous conduct; moreover, that the cultivation of 'character' is at best under-valued and at worst actively undermined and denigrated in any number of contemporary organizational practices. In this paper, we seek to interrogate key aspects of this 'turn' to character as it has been articulated in recent and on-going debates about the reform of organizational life. We argue that this 'turn' suffers precisely from an abstraction and lack of specificity - not simply in relation to questions of 'character formation', but also crucially in relation to questions of organization, and indeed of the relation of the one to the other - that severely curtails both its ethical reach and explanatory power.