When ‘I’ becomes ‘we’:An ethnographic study of power and responsibility in a large food retail cooperative

Huber, G. and Knights, D. (2022) When ‘I’ becomes ‘we’:An ethnographic study of power and responsibility in a large food retail cooperative. Human Relations. ISSN 0018-7267

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Based on ethnographic research of a large food retail cooperative in New York (the Co-op), this article raises the research question of whether organizations can cultivate an ethic of responsibility to others and, if so, how this can be secured in everyday working practices? It draws principally on the work of Foucault and especially his later writings on the care of the self and ethics but seeks to link these deliberations to Levinas in identifying responsibility to the Other as prior to identity. Indeed, one message that we seek to convey is that attachments to identities are frequently a stumbling block for developing ethically responsible relations and organizations and this may necessitate some normative control. While recognizing that normative control can easily become oppressive and there were occasional signs of this where staff were watching one another and demanding compliance, our research provides a platform for exploring conversations about alternative forms of organization. We explore how relations of power can produce ethically progressive relations, through generative norms that give space to, and nurture, care and responsibility for others to constitute morally engaging organizational life.

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Journal Article
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Human Relations
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20 May 2022 10:05
Last Modified:
22 Nov 2022 11:28