OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
Interview by Madeline Toubiana (Schulich School of Business, York University)
The 2013 OMT Division's Best Paper on Social and Environmental Practices went to Juliane Reinecke (University of Warwick) and Shaz Ansari (University of Cambridge) for their paper “Be Fair or Care? Fairtrade and the Standardization of Ethical Practices.” Congratulations to them both! In this interview they reflect on the paper and winning the award.
The best paper on Social and Environmental Practices is a relatively new addition to the OMT awards highlighting the growing importance of this topic area in OMT. How does the focus of your paper touch on these issues? What was the inspiration for the paper?
There were many inspirations for this paper, but one of them was that at the time of writing I was teaching Business Ethics at Warwick Business School. In the course we examine how different ethical theories can help us understand moral challenges and dilemmas in contemporary business. The course attracts students from business, philosophy, economics, law as well as many exchange students, and we have great debates about advantages and difficulties with each theory. What is ethical or fair differs depending on which lens you take. This was part of the inspiration for the dialogue between Habermasian discourse ethics and Feminist ethics of care that is developed in the paper.
What were some of the challenges you faced during the process of developing this paper? (Can be in data collection, theorizing, writing..)
Making sense of ethnographic data was very challenging, because it is an inductive process requiring a very intense relationship with the data. The process of analyzing it never really stopped and there are so many fascinating puzzles to explore which all seem to be connected to each other. What we focus on in the paper - the question of ethical reasoning and whether it can be seen from an impartial standpoint, or from that of an embedded and inherently partial participant - was a pervasive theme that ran through the data and came up again and again. The challenge was to translate the complexity and richness of being a participant observer into paper format. That was a struggle, but a productive one.
What surprised you most about your findings? What kind of implications do you think your work has for the future of fairtrade practice and/or policy?
A multi-stakeholder setting is typically perceived as a democratic process of consensus building. But if you look at it more closely (as we did in the paper), it is a very contentious process. What is ethical and fair is different for every participant in the process, so consensus is guided by some rules, in our case rules about fair price setting. But the complexity of what is ethical and fair cannot be contained by any 'objective' and 'impartial' rule but requires values-based decisions. Ethics is, to use the words of the pragmatist philosopher James "unfinished, growing in all sorts of places, especially in the places where thinking beings are at work". The practice to certify ethics, made visible through a label, hides many ethical debates and questions. Ethical labels should open up ethical questions, rather than pretending they have solved them.
What were you both doing when you found out you won the award? Could you share a little about what this prize means to the both of you?
It was towards the end of spring term, I was just very busy with teaching. When I saw Candace Jones' email in my inbox I first couldn't believe it! It was unexpected but absolutely amazing. In particular because when I started working on Fairtrade for my PhD research in 2007, some people challenged me for this choice of topic. Since then, a growing community has emerged and many great papers have pushed scholarship on such issues. So this award is an important recognition that research on social and environmental issues is a key area of scholarship in our community.
Do you have any suggestions for other scholars hoping to win this award?
You might need to ask the jury what they are looking for, but a good start would be with the question of how organizational theory can contribute to developing a better understanding of the challenges and solutions to the tremendous social and environmental challenges we are facing.
Tags: awards | Juliane Reinecke | Practices Shaz Ansari
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