|Gonin M., Palazzo G. (Dir.) (2007). The social disembedding of business theory and practice. A (neo-)institutional analysis of the homo economicus and corporate social responsibility, and the inherent responsibility of business scholars. Université de Lausanne, Faculté des hautes études commerciales. [abstract]|
Aim Structure of the Thesis
In the first article, I focus on the context in which the Homo Economicus was constructed - i.e., the conception of economic actors as fully rational, informed, egocentric, and profit-maximizing. I argue that the Homo Economicus theory was developed in a specific societal context with specific (partly tacit) values and norms. These norms have implicitly influenced the behavior of economic actors and have framed the interpretation of the Homo Economicus. Different factors however have weakened this implicit influence of the broader societal values and norms on economic actors. The result is an unbridled interpretation and application of the values and norms of the Homo Economicus in the business environment, and perhaps also in the broader society.
In the second article, I show that the morality of many economic actors relies on isomorphism, i.e., the attempt to fit into the group by adopting the moral norms surrounding them. In consequence, if the norms prevailing in a specific group or context (such as a specific region or a specific industry) change, it can be expected that actors with an 'isomorphism morality' will also adapt their ethical thinking and their behavior -for the 'better' or for the 'worse'. The article further describes the process through which corporations could emancipate from the ethical norms prevailing in the broader society, and therefore develop an institution with specific norms and values. These norms mainly rely on mainstream business theories praising the economic actor's self-interest and neglecting moral reasoning. Moreover, because of isomorphism morality, many economic actors have changed their perception of ethics, and have abandoned the values prevailing in the broader society in order to adopt those of the economic theory. Finally, isomorphism morality also implies that these economic actors will change their morality again if the institutional context changes.
The third article highlights the role and responsibility of business scholars in promoting a systematic reflection and self-critique of the business system and develops alternative models to fill the moral void of the business institution and its inherent legitimacy crisis. Indeed, the current business institution relies on assumptions such as scientific neutrality and specialization, which seem at least partly challenged by two factors. First, self-fulfilling prophecy provides scholars with an important (even if sometimes undesired) normative influence over practical life. Second, the increasing complexity of today's (socio-political) world and interactions between the different elements constituting our society question the strong specialization of science. For instance, economic theories are not unrelated to psychology or sociology, and economic actors influence socio-political structures and processes, e.g., through lobbying (Dobbs, 2006; Rondinelli, 2002), or through marketing which changes not only the way we consume, but more generally tries to instill a specific lifestyle (Cova, 2004; M. K. Hogg & Michell, 1996; McCracken, 1988; Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001). In consequence, business scholars are key actors in shaping both tomorrow's economic world and its broader context. A greater awareness of this influence might be a first step toward an increased feeling of civic responsibility and accountability for the models and theories developed or taught in business schools.