R:ETRO seminars - Reputation: Ethics, Trust, and Relationships at Oxford

Information about upcoming R:ETRO seminars, abstracts from past seminars, and links to complete videos of those that have been organised online, can be found on this page. For further information or to be added to the mailing list, please email reputation@sbs.ox.ac.uk.

Hilary Term 2022

Wednesday, 26 January, 16.00-17.00 (GMT) – Being relational: what identity-work can and cannot do for us in diversity and inclusion programmes 

With Mollie Painter, Professor of Ethics and Organisation, Department of Management, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University 

Abstract: Why is it that so many organisations across the world struggle to run successful diversity and inclusion programmes? In this talk, I argue that the notion of ‘identity' that underpins the organisation of such programmes, may be exacerbating the problem. I hope to illustrate how the notion of ‘identity’ functions as a double-edged sword. Though an essentialist view of ‘identity’ often lies at the heart of institutional injustice and paralyses, it also allows us to name injustice, and to connect with an intensity that mobilses. Both being mislabelled, and the experience of belonging to a threatened group, let the blood flow (and boil!). But herein lies the problem, identifying the ‘other,’ and experiencing ourselves as ‘othered,’ often leaves us marooned.  

The alternative may lie in studying the process of identifying relationally across time and space. But this also has its price. In this talk, we will be exploring the unsettling fluidity of identity that many experience, and which may complicate the ‘management’ of diversity and inclusion. Two distinct examples will be used to argue the case. Firstly, the way in which the leadership literature employ gender stereotypes in arguing for diversity and inclusion, while paradoxically undermining it in the process. Secondly, by sharing my experience running a large research project on Gender-based Violence (GBV) in South Africa, I explore what concepts like ‘intersectionality’ can and cannot do for us. My conclusion, drawing on both examples, is that identity-constructs aim to locate and manage problems, disabling the cooperation, innovation and sustainability that participating intensely in life’s experiments may allow. I end the talk by exploring some alternative avenues in thinking about relational identification as correspondence (also drawing on the work of Tim Ingold).

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Wednesday, 9 February, 16.00-17.00 (GMT) – Why the market failures approach (MFA) needs virtue 

With Caleb Bernacchio, Assistant Professor, School of Business, California State University Monterey Bay 

Abstract: The MFA aims to provide a succinct account of business ethics comprising a set of "efficiency imperatives." This chapter outlines two roles for the virtues that are essential to well-functioning markets but which have been ignored by proponents of the MFA. The first role concerns practical wisdom or the capacity for good judgment. To illustrate this, I reconsider the theorem of the second-best, noting the inadequacies of Heath's response to this problem and identifying several counterexamples that follow from a straightforward application of particular efficiency imperatives, including, for example, the imperatives to minimize negative externalities and reduce information asymmetries. I argue that it is impossible to refine these imperatives to avoid further counterexamples in a manner that is sufficient to provide guidance to agents engaged in exchange. As such, these limitations can only be addressed by appealing to a notion of practical wisdom as a capacity to recognize salient reasons within specific contexts, reasons related, for instance, to virtues such as justice and honesty. Second, proponents of the MFA have focused solely on the negative role of ethical rules in mitigating market failures, but the virtues also have a positive role to play in enhancing efficiency in exchange. Virtues such as justice or honesty may prevent market failures when they enable individuals to refrain from imposing costs on others or misleading them about the qualities of goods or services. But other virtues such as respect, trustworthiness, fraternity, and perceptiveness facilitate opportunities for exchange that would be otherwise impossible and/or enhance the value created within existing exchanges. Thus, absent an account of the virtues, the MFA's efficiency imperatives fail to provide sufficient guidance to individuals within economic contexts and fail to facilitate important opportunities for value creation in exchange, resulting in less efficient outcomes. 

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Wednesday, 23 February, 16.00-17.00 (GMT) – The utility of trust: interpersonal, institutional, and technological 

With Tobey Scharding, Assistant Professor of Management & Global Business, Rutgers Business School 

Abstract: Building on research establishing the value of trust in business, including interpersonal and institutional trust, I evaluate a new conceptualization of trust, technological trust, associated with technologies like blockchain. The point of doing so is to contribute to understanding what role such technologies should play in business, ethically speaking. I focus on the business of executing and authenticating financial transactions. Scholars have shown that technological trust does not fulfill certain, foundational functions associated with traditional conceptualizations of trust, such as motivating people to form transacting relationships in the first place. I consider the extent to which such characteristics affect technological trust’s overall utility. After conducting utilitarian evaluations of interpersonal, institutional, and technological trust via a series of novel thought experiments, I argue that institutional trust creates greater overall utility than interpersonal trust and technological trust has the potential to create greater overall utility than institutional trust. As long as certain conditions are met regarding the foundations of trust, then, businesses need not entrench in strategies related to interpersonal or institutional trust, ethically speaking; rather, they may invest resources to develop business strategies related to technological trust. 

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Wednesday, 9 March, 16.00-17.00 (GMT) – A structural injustice approach to business ethics 

With Harry van Buren III, Koch Endowed Chair of Business Ethics, Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas 

Abstract: Scholarly work in business ethics generally focuses on the voluntary actions of businesses and their culpability for harms resulting from those actions. However, businesses operate in contexts that are in part exogenous to them and generally include background conditions that advantage some while disadvantaging others who experience domination or deprivation. As a result, many of those who experience harm – while others receive concurrent benefit – do so not due to intent or direction by a business, but rather because of pre-existing structural injustices built into law, institutional processes, and social norms and customs. Business culpability and complicity for stakeholder harm, therefore, is broader than organizational policy and practice, and potential solutions are more wide-ranging than changing those decisions and strategies that are directly within their control. In this presentation, I draw on Iris Marion Young’s analysis of structural injustice to develop an approach to business ethics that addresses the culpability for business participation in systems and structures that they do not control but nevertheless benefit from, as well as the nature of their responsibility to act in ways that ameliorate domination and deprivation. 

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Past seminars

Michaelmas Term 2021

Empirical and philosophical reflections on trust in groups (with Jonathan Tallant) 

Sareh Pouryousefi, Assistant Professor, Department of Law & Business, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University


Abstract: A dominant claim in the philosophical literature on trust is that we should stop thinking in terms of group trustworthiness or appropriate trust in groups. In this paper we push back against this claim by arguing that philosophical work on trust would benefit from being brought into closer contact with empirical work on the nature of trust. We consider data on reactive attitudes and moral responsibility to adjudicate on different positions in the philosophical literature on trust. An implication of our argument is that the distinction between different kinds of groups – mere groups versus institutional groups – deserves more attention than is currently recognized in the philosophical literature on trust. 

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The power of story in a world on fire: Reflections on the transformational power of narratives 

Guido Palazzo, Professor of Business Ethics, HEC Lausanne, University of Lausanne


Abstract: How do societies change? While this question might have been interesting only for historians in the past, the ecological crisis has made it one of the most urgent questions to answer. In fact, it might be that the survival of humankind as such depends on finding the right answers. The Enlightenment had established the firm belief that humanity advances through an individual (Kant) or societal (Hegel) learning process based on reason. At the beginning of the 21st century, this belief turns out to be overly optimistic. Reason is under pressure on various frontlines: postmodern philosophy has deconstructed the idea of truth and the climate emergency has demonstrated the motivational limits of abstract reason(s). Scientists pile up study over study on the emergency of climate action and assume that people (and societies in general) react to these new environmental conditions and adapt their behaviour and processes. However, most people simply don’t care. Established routines of production and consumption do not only not change, they even keep accelerating the crisis: half of the CO2 that humankind ever produced was emitted after Al Gore’s first book on the environmental crisis over only the last 30 years. How do societies change? How can we actively transform them towards economic practices that are better aligned with the limits of the planet? I will investigate one path that since Plato already has been systematically devaluated: societies follow narratives, not reason. Those narratives include the values and beliefs that guide behaviour unconsciously. If we want to transform society, we have to understand our current (eroding) narrative and examine, how we can create a new vison based on a new set of values and beliefs. Going back to the work of Alexander von Humboldt on nature and Wilhelm von Humboldt’s work on language, I will propose a potential direction for a new narrative. 

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Algorithmic Bias and Corporate Responsibility: How companies hide behind the false veil of the technological imperative

Kirsten Martin, William P. and Hazel B. White Center Professor of Technology Ethics, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame

Abstract: In this chapter, I argue that acknowledging the value-laden biases of algorithms as inscribed in design allows us to identify the associated responsibility of corporations that design, develop, and deploy algorithms. Put another way, claiming algorithms are neutral or that the design decisions of computer scientists are neutral obscures the morally important decisions of computer and data scientists. I focus on the implications of making technological imperative arguments: framing algorithms as evolving under their own inertia, as providing more efficient, accurate decisions, and as outside the realm of any critical examination or moral evaluation. I argue specifically that judging AI on efficiency and pretending algorithms are inscrutable produces a veil of the technological imperative which shields corporations from being held accountable for the value-laden decisions made in the design, development and deployment of algorithms. While there is always more to be researched and understood, we know quite a lot about testing algorithms. I then outline how the development of algorithms should be critically examined to elucidate the value-laden biases encoded in design and development. The moral examination of AI pierces the (false) veil of the technological imperative.

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Care in Management

Denis G. Arnold, Surtman Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics, The Belk College of Business, UNC Charlotte

Abstract: Care has become an increasingly important area in management research. However, an ethic of care is a normative theory that was developed in reference to intimate relationships (e.g., mother and child) and it is unclear if it is an appropriate normative standard in the workplace. We address the questions of if and how care should operate as a normative value in the workplace. We review the areas in which care has been studied in management across micro, meso, and macro domains. In doing so, we integrate what has been a previously scattered, yet substantial, body of research on care. We provide an account of care ethics to bridge the social scientific study of care with philosophical understandings of care and provide a theoretical justification for care as a managerial value. 

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