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Herzog, Lisa. Reclaiming the System: Moral Responsibility, Divided Labour, and the Role of Organizations in Society
2018, Oxford University Press
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas
Publisher’s Note: The world of wage labour seems to have become a soulless machine, an engine of social and environmental destruction. Employees seem to be nothing but ‘cogs’ in this system—but is this true? Located at the intersection of political theory, moral philosophy, and business ethics, this book questions the picture of the world of work as a ‘system’. Hierarchical organizations, both in the public and in the private sphere, have specific features of their own. This does not mean, however, that they cannot leave room for moral responsibility, and maybe even human flourishing. Drawing on detailed empirical case studies, Lisa Herzog analyses the nature of organizations from a normative perspective: their rule-bound character, the ways in which they deal with divided knowledge, and organizational cultures and their relation to morality. She asks how individual agency and organizational structures would have to mesh to avoid common moral pitfalls. She develops the notion of ‘transformational agency’, which refers to a critical, creative way of engaging with one’s organizational role while remaining committed to basic moral norms. The last part zooms out to the political and institutional changes that would be required to re-embed organizations into a just society. Whether we submit to ‘the system’ or try to reclaim it, Herzog argues, is a question of eminent political importance in our globalized world.

Comment (from this Blueprint): This text, an introduction to a longer work on organisational ethics, proposes and discusses novel arguments about the nature of organisations, and organisational spaces, as moral entities. By challenging long held common sense assumptions that corporate organisations are 'amoral' or outside the scope of human morality, Herzog offers an alternate view. It is therefore useful as a way to examine and discuss alternate visions of organisational structure and the role that human beings play as moral agents within those structures.

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