Decision making

Between reason and the ethico-political moment

Authored by: Peter Edward , Hugh Willmott

The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415821261
eBook ISBN: 9780203566848
Adobe ISBN: 9781136746246


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In his classic study The Functions of the Executive (1938) Chester Barnard identified decision making as one of the four key features of organizations. 1 Later luminaries of management similarly locate decision making at the core of management (Simon, 1957). Indeed, it has been proposed as possibly the most important of all managerial activities (Mintzberg, 1989). It might therefore be expected that the ethical and political basis for decision making – as contrasted with the ethics and politics of decision making – would have received some extensive consideration in the literature on management and organizations. To the contrary, writers who focus on ethics are typically concerned to identify normative perspectives, or benchmarks, that can provide guidance for action (by managers, other stakeholders, etc.) in situations of uncertainty. Consideration of politics (power and contestation in socially constructed environments) is avoided as it risks intro ducing a contingent and relativist dimension that would destabilize the seemingly universal normativity upon which an appeal to an ‘ethics’ benchmark relies (codes of ethics exemplify this logic). In contrast, for those who are attentive to the politics of organizational decision making, talk of ethics is largely avoided as it risks introducing a dubious normativity that diverts attention from the primacy ascribed to power in the formation of decisions and decision contexts. In sum, theorization of decision making in organizations lacks a perspective in which the interplay of the ethical and the political is placed at the centre.

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