Ethics as Practice:A Descriptive Sociology of Morality in the Indian Organizational Context

D'souza, Sylvia (2022) Ethics as Practice:A Descriptive Sociology of Morality in the Indian Organizational Context. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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There is a general tendency in management and organization studies to treat ethics in universalist or prescriptivist terms. An alternative approach has emerged against this dominant tradition. This approach challenges the idea that ethics may be located in universal rules or norms or that following these rules or norms constitutes ethics or that institutional efforts to prescribe, manage or regulate conduct can actually deliver ethics. This emerging area broadly identified as ‘ethics as practice’ rests on the contention that ethics is not to be found in the universal or in general prescripts but in what people actually do when they grapple with ethics in the local, contextual, and particular. Paradoxically, despite the overriding concern for practice expressed in this tradition, most of the literature appears to be theoretically oriented. In other words, there is very little empirical work in this area and the theoretical thrust is largely bent towards ‘telling’ what ethics might look like (from certain philosophical points of view) rather than ‘showing’, in line with its stated promise, what it actually looks like for people who enact it every day in the groundedness of practice and its situational constraints. This research aims to fulfill the latent promise of ethics as practice empirically as well as theoretically. It takes a specific local site into consideration and supplies a descriptive sociology that (1) shows how ethics is manifested within the relational and contextual dynamics of practice in this context in all of its complexity, ambiguity, irregularity, and particularity, and (2) traces the social genesis of the principle of moral or ethical action in this context, thereby advancing the possibility of reclaiming ethics from its universalist or prescriptivist perch. The descriptive sociology reveals how socio-cultural and historical processes are implicated in particular constructions of morality or ethics, how organizational conditions interact with, modify or reinforce moral consciousness, how the predisposition to particular constructions of morality or ethics orients one to constitute moral or ethical problems in organizations, how motivational content drawn from socio-cultural resources informs strategies for ethical action, and so on. In short, this sociological analysis gives a nuanced sense of how various relational forces, at the macro and micro level, intersect, enmesh, interrelate, and interweave in the shaping of tentative expressions of ethics in practice. To show what ethics looks like in practice from the point of view of those who enact it in socio-culturally inscribed, institutionally and organizationally determined, and motivationally predisposed ways, a qualitative case study approach, incorporating multiple layers of context, is adopted. The socio-cultural layer is located in the Indian context, the institutional in the financial services sector, the organizational in three organizations in this sector, and the dispositional in participants in these three organizations. The analysis is strongly guided by a theoretical framework integrating Aristotle’s virtue ethics (interpreted sociologically) and Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Specifically, the descriptive sociology draws attention to how the Indian moral consciousness informed by a matrix of historically developed spiritual ideas contained in dharma, karma, and moksha interacts with rationalized and instrumentalized organizational conditions in the modern market economy, generating the experience of ethical and moral tensions or undecidabilities in practice. It also brings to light how a sort of relational intuition akin to Aristotelian practical wisdom, termed atmastuti in this thesis, is accessed by the habitus to manifest a local form of ethics. In bringing forward these insights, this account goes much further than simply standing against universalist or prescriptivist ethics. It creates a space for an alternative way of seeing or doing ethics, and in this sense shifts the ground away from privileged or dominant modes of thought that are generally accepted as the only way or the right way. It also opens up this space to diverse other local possibilities.

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Thesis (PhD)
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26 Apr 2022 08:45
Last Modified:
19 Sep 2023 03:11