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Business Ethics: A European Review Volume 22 Number 1 January 2013

A crisis of leadership: towards an anti-sovereign ethics of organisation


Edward Wray-Bliss
School of Management and Marketing, Deakin University, Australia

A common reaction to crises experienced within or brought about by business is to identify a corollary crisis of leadership and to call for better (stronger, more thoughtful or, indeed, more ethical and responsible) leaders. This paper supports the idea that there is a crisis of leadership but interprets it quite differently. Specically, I argue that the most ethically debilitating crisis is the fact that we look to leadership to solve organisational ethical ills. There is, I argue, a pressing need to conceptualise a business ethics that is not constrained by the straitjacket of ofcial hierarchy a need to denaturalise leadership as the normal or rightful locus of ethical regulation and renewal in business organisation. To this end, I explore a Levinasian ethico-politics of responsibility and proximity as the basis of an alternative, anti-sovereign, ethics of organisation.

Introduction
What seductiveness does leadership hold for those who dominate the writing scene, that they must keep on repeating its name in a constant recycling of a masculine self-image? (Cals & Smircich 1991: 593)

As Cals & Smircich (1991) aver, we inhabit an age when thinking about organisation has become seduced by leadership: when policymakers, critics and management academics struggle to conceive of improvements in the functioning of organisation without thinking leadership or leaders. Leadership, which we may regard as both mystication and intensication of the more prosaic management, dominates the imagination of business academics, policymakers and the public. Writing in the mid-1980s, at a time when neo-liberal privileging of managerial self-regulation and market over state intervention and community participation was barely a few years old, Meindl et al. (1985: 78) already identied obsessions with, and a highly
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romanticized, heroic (79) view of leadership in the US management academy. Leadership had, even by then, come to be a concept that had gained a brilliance that exceeds the limits of normal scientic inquiry. The imagery and mythology typically associated with the concept is evidence of the mystery and near mysticism with which it has been imbued (78). Since then, leadership has both enhanced its near mystical allure and come to occupy a normalised taken-for-granted centrality in thinking about organisation. Writing specically about management and managerialism, but with observations that equally apply to the discourse of leadership, Parker has summarised our current situation nicely:
If we have a difculty, with our jobs, our lives, our government or our world, then the answer is often supposed to be better management. It is increasingly articulated as a universal solution to whatever problem presents itself. Management protects us against chaos and inefciency, management guarantees that organizations, people and machines do

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what they claim to do. Management is both a civilizing process and a new civic religion. Even if we dont share the faith in todays management, we often seem to believe that the answer is better management, and not something else altogether. (Parker 2002: 23)

Viewing organisation as if it is a function of top management, of leadership, may, as Pfeffer (1977) argued over 30 years ago, be understandable as a phenomenological construction. As a discursive resource leadership serves a number of functions: simplifying and containing the confronting complexity of organised life; reassuring the anxious, atomised, organisational subject of the importance of individual action; and legitimating the positions of privilege inscribed within existing organisational hierarchies. Though perhaps understandable, the near-universal privileging of leadership in conceptualisations of organisation nevertheless signals an impoverished sociological (Mills 2000 [1959]) and moral (Werhane 1999) imagination. It is an imagination that seems to have shrunk away from the inexhaustible, epistemological and ontological task of seeking to understand the supra-individual collectivity of organising the irredeemably complex interaction of ideas, history, culture and agency that constitutes human organisation and replaced it with the reductive ction that organisations do, and should, function as an expression of a sovereign individual will. In recent years, the eld of business ethics itself has been charged with reproducing this leadership/ managerialist obsession (Letiche 1998, Kelemen & Peltonen 2001, Roberts 2001, 2003, Parker 2002, Jones 2003, Bevan & Corvellec 2007). According to critics, the eld normally assumes that the business organisation is rightfully and naturally subject to the managerial prerogative, including the prerogative to codify and enforce ethics for the organisation. By starting with such views as a set of core beliefs, Jones et al. (2005), for instance, have argued that the business ethics eld has substantially foreclosed upon a conceptually sophisticated understanding of the nature of power and politics in organisations. It has largely failed to reect upon how problematic power relations are reproduced through rather than despite the normal process of management in hierarchical, bureaucratic organisation. Although the expression

of power may have changed from overt domination and physical coercion in the early factory; through forms of soft domination, including experiments in industrial paternalism; to the formalisation of impersonal, bureaucratic rule; and latterly to the subjectivising power of psychological discourse and enculturation the existence of power, as a systematic attempt by managers and leaders to control the labour of employees, has not wavered. Even the favoured mechanism for ensuring ethical compliance in organisations the managerially dened and enforced code of ethics has been critiqued as an expression of subordinating power (ten Bos 1997, Schwartz 2000). Through the delineation and enforcement of the code, the manager or leader is elevated as principal ethical agent, and the claims of other groups (be they employees, customers or the wider community) to the status of active moral subjects is diminished. Instead of being encouraged to abide by their conscience and evaluate the demands placed on them by their organisation, or to work towards some kind of fragile democratic consensus on the organisational mission, ethics is reduced to a process of obeying predetermined rules and codes. This, for critics, is an impoverished and restrictive understanding of ethics (Kjonstad & Willmott 1995); one that, in effect, substitutes compliance and obedience for ethics (Bauman 1993). Such is our apparent seduction by management, managerialism and leadership, however, that we nd few explicit attempts to legitimise or rationalise managers and managerialism as the privileged inheritors of morality in organisation. Rather, the managerial prerogative over ethics is now largely assumed. It is a taken-for-granted responsibility that seems to fall naturally to the senior manager or leader. Such virtual monopolisation of organisational ethics by leadership/senior management is, however, highly questionable as the above, lightly sketched, critique has begun to show. There is, I argue here, a pressing need to conceptualise an ethics that is not constrained by the straitjacket of the ofcial hierarchy: a need to denaturalise leadership as the normal or rightful locus of ethical regulation and renewal in organisation. My conceptual contribution towards this task here is made in three moves. First, in Leadership Re-examined, I consider the deep-seated cultural appeal of the notion of leader-

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ship. I explore forces historical, ideological, philosophical and psychological that have contributed to bringing us to this place of privileging leaders and leadership as the sovereign locus of ethics in organisation. As part of this intent, I draw upon writings that begin to cast this privileging of leadership as embodying an ethics of imposition: as a relation of domination sanctied. My concern in this rst section is to start to denaturalise leadership as a privileged moral category. I develop these thoughts in the second section Ethics Re-imagined, where I unpack the conceptualisation of ethics and ethical subjectivity that is presupposed when we cast the gure of a leader as the embodiment of ethics. The discursive construction of CEO subjectivity, I suggest, resonates strongly with an enlightenment articulation of the ethical subject autonomous, rational, distant, detached, unemotional. This is, however, a conceptualisation of the ethical subject that has itself been signicantly challenged. I consider the work of Seyla Benhabib and Emmanuel Levinas in this regard. Through these authors work I explore ethics not as something willed and orchestrated by a sovereign subject: something that lends itself to a distanced, hierarchical and rationalistic relationship to the Other. Rather, I consider a conceptualisation of ethics that foregrounds the proximate and corporeal; an ethics in which the vulnerability of, and responsibility to, the Other invades the self, decentres sovereignty and forces the self to respond. Such an ethics foregrounds notions of proximity (Levinas 1998) and responsibility to the concrete (Benhabib 1992 [1987]) other in front of us, but also a profound respect for the heterogeneity of voices and equally compelling ethical appeals that the multitude of other Others make upon us. Such a formulisation of ethics places a very high moral burden on the self one that, as Critchley (2008) has argued, could seem crushing. This leads to my third section, Organising Ethics. Here I heed Agnes Hellers caution that the genius of morality, the saint, the moral hero, cannot serve as a yardstick for human goodness (Heller 1988: 175) but rather that we need to create institutions and structures that support the practice of ethics. I consider the possibilities and problematics of changing organisations not through hierarchical imposition of leadership values but in ways that support a Levinasian concep-

tualisation of responsibility and proximity. I highlight the need for very considerably strengthened civil, community and labour groups to contest the sovereign power of the leader, on the one hand, and a sustained critique and reversal of stark income inequalities, on the other, as essential ethico-political developments that may go some way towards compelling organisational responsibility, engendering moral proximity and reversing the ruinous investiture of business leaders with ethical sovereignty.

Leadership re-examined
If, as Cals & Smircich (1991) have argued, we as scholars, students and subjects of organisation have become seduced by leadership, how has this seduction arisen? What force of character has leadership that it has so captured our imagination? Answers to this question cannot be limited to a claim to the purely rational-performative superiority of hierarchical organisation over other congurations. Nor can the privileging of leadership in the theorising and practice of large scale commercial organisation be fully described as a product of the simple imposition of political power. Rather sounding an echo of Gramscis concept of cultural hegemony we can identify a number of intersecting, long-standing, cultural supports shoring up current constructions of leadership. Necessarily succinct given the connes of this paper, the analysis of such cultural supports that I present here is no seamless counter-narrative of leadership. Rather, I wish merely to signal that the privileged ontological status accorded leadership can be shown to be the product of largely unacknowledged and unreected upon cultural histories and cultural patterning. This opens up the way for reconsideration, in the following sections, of leaderships taken-for-granted status as the locus of ethical authority in organisation. In Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme (1999), Boltanski and Chiapello argue that the successful social reproduction of organisation necessitates the existence of an inspiring ideological corpus that renders the role attractive for current and prospective role holders. An important starting point in rendering management and leadership attractive is the origin story of modern management. Cooke (2003) has identied

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the heroic as a dening aspect of dominant representations of the birth of modern management. A standard account has modern management beginning on the US railroads from the 1840s onwards, a period typically presented as a heroic, frontierextending episode in the history of the United States (Cooke 2003: 1896). Cookes work powerfully contests the adequacy of this representation. He argues that a denied origin of modern management lies in a far less heroic past: namely in the management of slaves in the antebellum plantation economy of the US. By the period when historical orthodoxy presents professional management as just emerging on US railroads, 38,000 managers were already managing four million slaves in industries important to the development of American capitalism. Furthermore, these managers of slaves already understood themselves as professional managers. That is, they had a managerial identity and consciousness; reinforced by their development and systematisation of practices (such as strict time discipline, the division of labour, the formulation of written rules and procedures, and the routinisation of labour) that later came to be known as classical and scientic management; and there was a bourgeoning professional managerial literature, advocating and examining specic managerial practices in areas such as, to cite one such publication, the Moral Management of Negroes (Cooke 2003: 1910). Cookes work raises profound implications for our latter-day privileging of management and by extension top management/ leadership. From Cookes historical research, the taken-for-granted managerial prerogative the presumption of the authority of one class of person in a capitalist enterprise to order the labour and control signicant aspects of the life-world of others can trace its origins to the white-supremacist racism of the slave-worked plantation. By implication, Cooke shows how the discourse of leadership in contemporary organisations is predicated upon assumptions of superiority, which now separated by time, forgetfulness or, indeed, denial from their original racism, may be traced back to an abhorrent belief in the innate superiority of certain types of people. Extending such a point, Zygmunt Bauman (1993) has charted wider processes of ethical subordination to presumed superiors in the history of modernity. For Bauman, monopolisation of power over morality

the right to codify moral standards and enforce these upon others has long been naturalised through discourses that authorise those who have acquired positions at the top of social hierarchies. Whether these are hierarchies of race (as in Cookes analysis of antebellum slavery in the US), sex, class, social status, privilege or, indeed, hierarchies of formal business organisation, those at the top accord themselves the privileged status of rationality and moral autonomy. Drawing upon a variety of discourses and expert knowledge, the rest of the population are cast in various states of deciency and delinquency constructed as, for instance, too emotional, irrational or uneducated to be trusted to manage their own ethics. For some critics, to understand the cultural and political power of leadership in present day organisation, we must reach further back than a discussion of modernity to relationships characterising premodern societies. Jackalls (1988) inuential ethnographic critique of morality in North American corporations, for example, characterises them as patrimonial bureaucracies, essentially feudalist in nature, with the CEO standing as sovereign. For Jackall, the constant attentiveness to currying the favour of the King and the higher Barons saturates lower level managers subjectivity, displacing their own moral judgement. Schwartz (2000), in his heavily cited text, makes a similar critique drawing out disturbing parallels between the top-down management of morality in the corporation and medieval feudalism. Such a pre-modern representation of corporate leadership has more recently been deployed by McDonald & Robinson (2009: 225) in their insiders account of the fall of Lehman Brothers. In this account, CEO Richard Fuld is depicted as an out-of-touch Monarch with absolute authority, to whom only a select band of courtiers were allowed to speak and these only to reect back what the leader wished to hear. The authors regard this situation as central to the eventual collapse of this stalwart Wall Street organisation, a collapse that in turn helped to precipitate the much wider economic crisis. For such writers, the privileging of leadership in modern corporations represents enduring monarchical, patrimonial or feudal forms of power, in which contesting moralities and realities are subjugated to those of the sovereign. This is understood

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to have disastrous effects for the organisation and its subjects. Shifting the analysis from earthly to heavenly kingdoms, Wray-Bliss (2012) has charted myriad intersections in North American society between monotheistic religiosity and the iconic cultural status of the CEO. The work invokes Webers (2001 [1930]) seminal analysis of the religious ethos underpinning North American capitalism but departs from Webers observation that capitalism has separated from its original religious supports. Wray-Bliss documents how evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, liberal free-market economics, and popular and academic representations of business leaders have cohered to prepare the wider populous to accept monopolies of power at the top of contemporary hierarchies. Such religiously inected sanctication of the CEO in North American society is understood to be contributing to the diminishment of the populations capacity for effective questioning of hierarchy at times of crisis. Roberts (2001, 2003) is also highly critical of the contemporary construction of leadership. For Roberts, CEOs attempts to control the ethical conduct of other organisational members from a distance, through for example corporate ethics codes, depends upon the restriction of local moral sensibility, displacing it with incentives to conform with distant interests, even if these now claim to be ethical interests (2003: 259). Whether well intentioned or otherwise, conceiving of ethics as something the leader imposes upon the populace represents a narcissistic desire to recast the moral sensibilities of organisational members so as to reect back the leaders preferred image of the organisation. For such reasons, Roberts concludes that this new regime of ethical business is no ethics at all (2001: 110). Narcissism gures too in Gabriels (1997) psychoanalytical reading of the seductiveness and danger of leadership. For Gabriel, organisational members inevitably project their early patterned childhood experiences of authority onto the leaders of organisations in which they work. Such projections or follower fantasies may centre, for example, upon organisational members narcissistic desire for unconditional (maternal) afrmation or may reincarnate the leader as a father substitute, evoking complex feelings of fear, respect, loyalty, jealousy

and suspicion [see also Sennet (1993) on this point]. Gabriels work shows how the allure and appeal of leadership, its seductiveness again to use that term, may be so well seated in an individuals psyche that the monopolisation of power and resources by the hierarchy is experienced as a natural and inevitable order. Gabriels critique calls to mind the earlier psychoanalytically informed writings of Erich Fromm. Written at a time when the author was acutely attuned to the proximity and dynamic of fascism from which Europe was still seeking to escape, Fromm regarded individuals unconscious subordination to leadership as disastrous for democratic society (Fromm 1994 [1941]). From the above, our obsession with (Meindl et al. 1985) or seduction by (Cals & Smircich 1991) leadership may be understood to be the result of a complex intersection of historical, cultural, political and psychological forces the further examination of which requires us to question the presumed naturalness, normality and benecence of leadership.

Ethics re-imagined
In the context of such varied critiques of leadership, what may we say about ethics? First, although the above implies the need for very considerable caution in bequeathing ethics to leaders, it would be quite wrong to assume that no ethics exists at the level of organisational leadership. I do not wish to characterise (or caricature) management and the CEO as irredeemably immoral or, indeed, amoral. As Max Weber astutely observed over 80 years ago, (c)apitalism cannot make use of . . . the business man who seems absolutely unscrupulous in his dealings with others (Weber 2001 [1930]: 2122). On the contrary, a spirit an ethical spirit of capitalism was always (Weber 2001 [1930]) and still is (Clegg et al. 2006, Boltanski & Chiapello 2007) carried by those who most advance it. And this spirit undeniably carries many virtues, not least those of hard work, dedication to task and temperate self-control. Instead of demonising business leaders as lacking in all ethics or virtue, I wish rather to explore what sort of ethical subjectivity is presupposed by the idea of the business leader.

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To enable this, I will start with a brief, broad sketch, which I trust the reader will recognise, of the ideal of the leader as articulated within contemporary business organisation. The leader is autonomous and, as we have seen above, sovereign. Where other organisational members are cast in roles of varying subordination, the leader is the moral agent; his or her freedom to act upon the organisational realm is represented as necessarily and rightly greater than that of other subjects. To exercise this freedom responsibly, the leader should strive to remain distant from the immediate emotional pull of interpersonal relations and sentiment in favour of more abstract conceptualisations of strategy, the greater organisational good, the long term. Though we may ask of our leaders a certain charismatic or transformative zeal when expressing their ideas, such ideas themselves should be formulated where possible on the basis of cool reason and calm rationality, drawing upon the best available models, education, strategies and information not on whim, emotion or impulse. Through their sovereignty and rationality, the leader has control of their organisation and also of themselves, presenting an impeccable, faultless, condent and contained exterior at all times. Such terms autonomy, sovereignty, distance, rationality, self-control and containment accord strongly with widespread interpretations of enlightenment constructions of ethics. Within such interpretations, ethics has been understood as that which is undertaken by autonomous subjects, based not on their personal, sentimental or intimate relationships with others but on moral reasoning and rationally arrived at principle. In this respect, we might regard the CEO as the organisational enlightenment ethical subject par excellence: they, after all, are discursively and politically constructed as the most autonomous, rational and distant of organisational members. Perhaps, in part, this helps explain why so many writing within the realm of business ethics have found it hard to conceptualise ethical renewal stemming from subjects other than a managerial elite. As Bauman (1993: 7) observes,
When viewed from the top, by those responsible for the common weal, freedom of the individuals must worry the observer; it is suspect from the start, for the sheer unpredictability of its consequences . . . And the view of philosophers and the

rulers could not but be a view from the top the view of those facing the task of legislating order and bridling the chaos.

Such an articulation of ethical subjectivity as distance, rationality, sovereignty and selfcontainment however, is far from uncontested. Gilligan (1997 [1982]), for example, has demonstrated how the privileging of abstract, distanced, legislative ethics in Lawrence Kohlbergs categorisation of moral development elevated masculinity and male gender privilege over more embodied, relational and contextual articulations of ethics those argued by Gilligan to be more typical of womens ethical subjectivity. Building on Gilligans insight, Seyla Benhabib (1992 [1987]) has argued that the privileging of autonomy and abstraction in enlightenment conceptualisations of morality is traceable back to the misogyny of liberal political theory from Hobbes, through Locke and Kant. This misogyny is evidenced, according to Benhabib, in the elevation of interactions in the public realm between independent male heads of households to the status of justice and ethics while relegating interpersonal relations and emotions to the domesticintimate sphere. An entire domain of human activity, writes Benhabib, namely, nurture, reproduction, love and care, which becomes the womans lot in the course of the development of modern bourgeois society is excluded from moral and political considerations, and relegated to the realm of nature (276). The effect of this has been to marginalise women in the history of ethics and to obscure, more generally, the Other: the very point or focus of ethics. Instead of ethics conceived as responsibility towards real individuals in all of their heteronomy and uniqueness, the privileging of the autonomy of the moral subject and the substitution of legal-rational conceptualisations of duty or fairness over those privatised concepts of care, love and compassion requires a distance between the autonomous ethical actor and those for whom their acts may have effects. Instead of the intimacy of knowing and relating to particular others, the Other is generalised. They are not construed as a specic individual with a concrete history, identity and affective-emotional constitution (281); rather, they are fashioned narcissistically by the masculine moral subject on a model of bourgeois, disembodied, ratio-

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nality and independence. Responsibility towards these generalised Others is rendered similarly abstract, subsumed within categories such as the greatest number or the moral law. The distance from real others, which such abstraction and generalisation engenders, is deemed necessary, lest proximity taint the privileged autonomy of the (masculinised) ethical self: misdirecting him from his moral duty and clouding his rationality with sentiment. Thus for Benhabib, under conventional moral philosophy, sovereign, autonomous, man is more ethical the more they can distance and insulate themselves from the particulars of other individuals needs. Ethics is more compelling the more it can be articulated as a rational universal duty or legislative policy and the more real others blur into generalisations, abstraction and homogeneity. For Benhabib, an ethics that denies proximity and the specicity of real individuals while purporting to offer justice for an homogenised all cannot provide an adequate basis for ethical action in a world where everyone is patently not the same and does not have the same needs, histories or hopes. Taken as a critique of the ways that enlightenment ethics have been co-opted and interpreted so as to support political structures and cultures that continue to subordinate the feminine, the emotional and personal, there is much that is compelling about Benhabibs work. Whether such effects can be traced directly back to liberal political theory almost as if patriarchal effects of contemporary political structures and cultures were already there, in embryo form, in certain authors texts is more debatable, not least because of the number of competing readings and interpretations of their work. Taking just one of these writers, Kant, for example, it is very possible to read his writing, as Susan Neimans (1997) excellent study does, in ways that radically contest political subordination of whatever kind, both past and present. Notwithstanding this caution, a central element of Benhabibs critique of enlightenment philosophy nds signicant theoretical support in the works of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1998). For Levinas, the privileging of autonomy, sovereignty and distance constitute the foundational core of enlightenment articulations of ethics a core that has served as no safeguard against inhumanity in the modern

era. The insistence on the primacy of autonomy and sovereignty of the ethical self elevates the self over the Other. It produces a moral ontology that puts oneself before the Other, one in which the self stands in hierarchical relation to the Other. The subject exercises sovereignty by judging what is moral from their privileged position. The Other is subordinate to this act of judgement and subordinate to the selfs rationality, their moral categories, knowledge and values. In Levinass re-conceptualisation, ethics does not stem from the autonomy of the moral self. On the contrary, the individual becomes a self, a unique being, precisely by being beholden to others. Uniqueness arises in the moments of realisation that we are uniquely answerable to the ethical demand that anothers suffering makes on us. The ethical self here, then, is not contained, sovereign, autonomous or sacrosanct. We exist as a moral being a human being precisely by virtue of not being selfcontained, sovereign or independent. To use images favoured by Levinas, the ethical self is naked, exposed to the Other, lets the Others suffering or pain touch and hurt. Ethics is the risky uncovering of oneself, in sincerity, the breaking up of inwardness and the abandon of shelter, exposure to traumas, vulnerability (48). If there is a hierarchical relationship articulated here, it is a reversal of that in previous articulations of ethics. Here, the Other has primacy, and the self is compelled to responsibility. It is not, then, distance and detachment that is the dening relationship of the ethical subject but proximity. Such proximity is understood as the sensorial, embodied experience of the fragility of the one in front of me and, through empathy, my profound appreciation of my ever extending, innite responsibility to the multitude of other Others behind them. Folding the insights of Benhabib and Levinas back into our discussion of the ethical subjectivity of leadership, what may we say about the gure of the business leader? The leader, I have suggested, in business discourse is imagined and constructed as autonomous, distant and self-contained. They are the symbolic head of an organisation that itself is legally constituted as a sovereign entity. They stand at the apex of a hierarchical structure that enshrines them in strict superiority over others. They are mandated to limit the organisations exposure to the demands of internal and external others. Autonomy,

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distance, sovereignty, containment, limit leadership, on this account may embody precisely the wrong kind of ethical subjectivity to effect organisational renewal.

Organising ethics
Ending the last section with Levinas, I have argued that the formal, distanced and detached sovereignty of leadership is an unsound place to look for ethical renewal in business organisations. I wish in this section to consider how business organisations may therefore be redrawn to better embody a Levinasianinspired ethics.1 It must be noted, however, that the nature of a Levinasian ethics offers no privileged organisational subject (such as the ethical leader or even the heroic proletariat for example) who might seem to naturally bear the ethical mantel. Nor do Levinasian ethics offer any easy salvation, straightforward categorical imperative or formulaic utility judgement. As the title of Critchleys (2008) engagement with Levinas suggests, a Levinasian ethics is innitely demanding. Levinass own engagement with organisation in his writings principally the organised atrocity of the Nazi holocaust that forever fuels his exploration of ethics places an unattainably high moral burden on the self. It is as if only the pain of an innite self-persecution of moral responsibility can hope to atone for humanitys proven capacity for indescribable inhumanity. This innite ethical demand risks chronically overloading the self with responsibility (11), placing a burden on the individual that perhaps only the saintly can bear. As Agnes Heller has argued, however, the genius of morality, the saint, the moral hero cannot serve as a yardstick for human goodness; the substantive exception, sublime as it may be, cannot provide the formal norm that everyone should full. What everyone should do must be in principle possible for everyone to do (1988: 175). For Heller, although there are indeed good, perhaps even saintly, as well as wicked people, they are considerably outnumbered by those who are neither good nor wicked but who sometimes act properly and sometimes improperly (17). An implication of this for Heller is that while we may individually strive towards embodying our own innite, personal responsibility to the other, collectively

and publicly we need to look towards making our institutions as good as is humanly possible so that the opportunity for spreading evil would be minimal, and consequently the effects of evil actions would be curtailed (Heller 1988: 174). Ethics in organisations then is envisaged as a political project (McMurray et al. 2010), one concerned with the structures and systems of organisation not solely with individual agency or, indeed, philosophical introspection. As Critchley has argued, in his own linking of a Levinasian ethics to a public politics, (p)olitics is an ethical practice that arises in a situation of injustice which exerts a demand for responsibility (2008: 92). There is, however, a tension here a tension between the innite uncodied ethical responsibility to the singular other and the potentially, and often actually, homogenising and totalising nature of politics (also Chia 1996, Van der Ven 2006): (P)olitics left to itself bears a tyranny within itself; it deforms the I and the other who have given rise to it, for it judges them according to universal rules, and thus as in absentia (Levinas 1998: 300). In the search for collective justice, the singular is too easily and often subsumed. This tension, however, does not mean that a Levinasian ethics is opposed to politics (Critchley 2002, McMurray et al. 2010). Rather, politics is understood as the attempt to articulate responsibility not just to the one in front of me but also to the multitude of others behind them. Levinass writings are a constant exhortation to remember that the quest for justice, for the just polis, or indeed the just organisation, arises from and is saturated with the primary ethical relationship.
Everything I say about justice comes from Greek thought, and Greek politics as well. But what I say, quite simply, is that it is, ultimately, based on the relationship to the other, on the ethics without which I would not have sought justice. Justice is the way in which I respond to the fact that I am not alone in the world with the other. (Levinas 1988: 174 quoted in Bernstein 2002: 254)

The challenge, then, when considering how business organisations may be practically redrawn to better embody a Levinasian ethics, is to articulate organisational processes and practices that may shift us towards greater organisational justice while eschewing those that would seem to tend most readily towards totalisation or domination. Hith-

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erto, I have argued that leadership (encompassing the top-down authority of the formal hierarchy and the imposition of a managerially codied ethical code) is not to be understood as the means of making organisations ethical, embodying as it does precisely such problematic totalisation. What organisational changes and agents might then enact a Levinasianinspired ethico-political renewal? I organise my tentative suggestions here around further consideration of two concepts drawn from Levinass ethics: responsibility and proximity.

Responsibility
In seeking to understand what went so monstrously wrong with our ethical systems that enabled the extermination of six million Jews and millions of others from every faith in acts of inhumanity throughout the twentieth century and in attempting to articulate a philosophical ethics strong enough to stand in the face of such proven potential for inhumanity, Levinas re-examines and ultimately reverses a central tenant of our inherited ethical philosophy. Rather than my being in the world having phenomenological and ontological primacy, a position of self-referential strength from which I chose to acknowledge and respond to others, Levinas (1998) articulates the foundation of ethical subjectivity as otherwise than being. For Levinas, the privileging of the autonomy of the ethical subject upon which the whole edice of enlightenment ethical philosophy was erected paves the way for an ethics that assigns the other a position of distance from me, which subordinates them to my autonomy, my rationality and, ultimately, my survival. This furnishes me with the space and opportunity to rationalise away, to talk myself out of, responsibility to them. Contrary to this, Levinas articulates an ethics that does not originate in autonomy and is not reduced to rationality. Instead he provides the philosophical foundations of an ethics that is sensorial and obsessive one where I feel the pang of responsibility towards the person in front of me before I rationalise it, before I think about limiting my response, before even the other person asks me for help. Ethical responsibility is in this sense not chosen by me, it is a responsibility against my will (11). I am obliged without this obligation having begun in me, as though an order

slipped into my consciousness like a thief (13). Responsibility here deposes me of my sovereignty (59). The face of the other assigns me before I designate him. This is a modality not of a knowing, but an obsession, a shuddering of the human quite different from cognition (87). Responsibility under Levinasian ethics is not the salve of charity or discrete acts of discretionary kindness. Such are the actions of a sovereign, autonomous power towards those it regards, and reproduces, as needy and subordinate. Rather ethical responsibility commands me, it holds me hostage (11). I am compelled to responsibility, and this responsibility is innite. It is innite in the sense that ethics is not a legalistic construct a concern with meeting a previously set limit on my responsibility. Ethical responsibility has no predetermined end. There is always more I can do for the person in front of me, always one more step towards them I can take. Ethical responsibility, thus conceived, is even to take the bread out of ones own mouth, to nourish the hunger of another with ones own fasting (56). Ethics is also innite, however, in that I am compelled to this unbound responsibility not just to the individual in front of me but also to the multitude of others behind them, all of whom confront me with their humanity, none of whom deserve to be excluded from my ethical regard. Drawing upon such a conceptualisation, what political shifts may compel business organisations to responsibility such that they have to respond and are unable to deny or, indeed, choose responsibility as an act of voluntarism and discretion? First, to be compelled or hostage to innite responsibility is not the tax-offset diverting of a fraction of prot to charitable causes. Such carefully calculated voluntaristic benevolence reinforces the power and discretion of the organisation as dominant social actor replicating at an organisational level the sovereign ethical subjects primacy of self over the other. One route towards compulsive rather than discretionary responsibility is legislative. Bakan (2004), in his widely read critique The Corporation, reminds us that following a long history of scurrilous behaviour, the legal regulation of this dominant organisational form used to be far more restrictive in the US up to the 1890s. Businesses could only be incorporated to serve a clearly and explicitly articulated social good; with restrictions stipulating incorporation only for

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predened purposes, for limited durations and in specic locations; with strict controls on mergers and acquisitions; and prohibitions on one company owning shares in another. Although any immediate return to such a legislative arena would appear rather unlikely, Bakan offers a number of thoughtful recommendations for strengthening the regulatory system. Several of these now seem rather prescient given the ongoing unfolding of the nancial crisis and the ideological, even existential, self-doubt that this has precipitated in proponents of deregulation and neo-liberal economics (with perhaps the most striking example of the later encapsulated in Allan Greenspans evidence to the House of Representatives on 23 October 2008). However, although legislative changes do indeed offer an essential route towards compelling business to responsibility, they are not sufcient embodiment of the kind of Levinasian ethics of responsibility I am articulating here. For the law leaves out what is properly moral in morality . . . It substitutes the learnable knowledge of rules for the moral self constituted by responsibility. It places answerability to the legislators and guardians of the code where there had formerly been answerability to the Other and to moral self-conscience (Bauman 1993: 11). An alternate route towards compelling organisation to responsibility is to signicantly rebuild the relative political power of the others to which corporations are responsible. I do not here mean a variant of those forms of stakeholder theory which, while they usefully acknowledge a range of others, still enshrine organisational leadership and hierarchy with the high-privilege of rationing the responsibility it deems is owed to each constituent. Instead, to begin to approximate an organisational equivalence of Levinass compulsion, even hostage, to responsibility would require a political landscape in which the interests of shareholders and the stock markets dominating the managerial mindset are very signicantly contested by other well-mobilised interests. To explore one such interest group, employees, as an illustrative example, a compulsion to responsibility would not be the affectation of a democratic leadership style or the voluntaristic and discretionary managerial choice to allow limited participation in non-strategic decisions when the labour market is tight. As critics have observed, such practices repre-

sent more of an attempt at political incorporation or organisational dressage than they do genuine shifts towards labour within the employment relationship. Rather, for corporations to be compelled to greater responsibility towards employees would require a signicant shifting of, to use Carter Goodrichs (2010 [1921]) classic industrial relations terminology, the frontier of control in the politics of the labour process. This would necessitate reversal of the orchestrated swing in political power to management from labour that has occurred as a consequence of the continual unfolding of neo-liberal economic and legislative policy in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere since the late 1970s. It would require, too, a reversal in related neo-liberal economic and political policy that has enabled multinational capital to exploit global inequalities in labour conditions. For business organisations to be compelled to greater responsibility to local and global labour would necessitate robust and resilient organisations that powerfully represent employees and unemployed persons interests: unions, labour afliations and other such bodies. Such organised representation, however, would need to have particular qualities to advance a political manifestation of a Levinasian ethics of responsibility. The Levinasian notion of innite responsibility an unbound responsibility not just to this person in front of me now, but, without prejudice, to all those others behind them would seem to push against localism and protectionism in labour representation: the latter being a kind of politics of responsibility to these workers but not to those or these employees but not to those who are unemployed. Such localism in labour representation ultimately allows corporations to pitch the demands of a workforce in one locale against another and thereby continue what Klein (2001) evocatively called the race to the bottom in globalised employment conditions. A Levinasian-inspired politics would also push against some form of centrally orchestrated, traditionally led body that comes to stand in for and ultimately stand in front of the faces and heterogeneous needs of actual individuals. As Critchley (2008: 13) has argued, a Levinasian ethics suggests a kind of anarchic rather than centralised politics. It is the cultivation of an anarchic multiplicity, and the continual questioning from below of any attempt to impose

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order from above (13). So envisaged, I suggest that it would be through the intersecting demands and political presence of multiple, well-mobilised employee and community afliations, unions and pressure groups that business organisations may be compelled to meet some of the innite responsibility to the face of the employee. To be sure, such responsibility would not be easily discharged, no one-sizets-all collective agreement is likely to appease, and it is certainly hard to negotiate employment conditions and remuneration when faced with the demands of multiple powerful constituents. However, ethical responsibility as envisaged by Levinas is never a task fullled or certainty achieved. It is instead the vulnerability and plaguing uncertainty of the subject who knows that whatever they do, they could do more. In actuality, such a sense of unfulllable responsibility may be poignantly familiar to business leaders. CEOs are currently compelled to responsibility to the unending and insatiable demands of the stock market. Paradoxically, this may offer something of a model for a wider ethico-political restructuring of contemporary corporate life, highlighting the need for civil society to construct employee, community and other afliations strong enough to engender a gnawing, unending need to respond.

Proximity
I have argued above that the sovereign, autonomous man of enlightenment ethics for Levinas enshrines distance from the focus of ones ethical regard a distance in which rationality and rationalisations can too easily replace or deect ethics. Ethical responsibility for Levinas is not that which is calmly reected upon in the space one carves away from the immediacy of anothers demands. It is more proximate than this. Ethical responsibility, as we have already seen, is conceived of as compulsion. One does not calmly reect upon ones compulsion. One is compelled by it. Ethics enters my being not with the quality of cognition and knowledge of anothers needs. It is experienced more intimately, as sensation. Ethics, for Levinas, is more immediate than a thought about ethics. Like pain, taste or smell, which is sensed before it becomes a thinking about that sense, ethics is rst felt. The visceral pang of responsibility enters me

not through my deliberations of abstract duty but through the face of the neighbour. An ethical encounter has something of the character of a faceto-face encounter, or at least one of a particular type, one in which my guard is not already up, my skin already callous(ed). It is not reducible to face-to-face encounters however. Ethical proximity is far closer than mere physical proximity. It is an exposure of myself to the needs of the other. It is my nakedness, a stripping to the core, a vulnerability. It is the needs of the other getting to the underside of [my] skin (Levinas 1998: 49). From the above, the concept of proximity within Levinass ethics encompasses a subtle range of meanings: from closeness, to pre-cognitive sensibility, to the deposing of the sovereignty of the self now consumed by responsibility to the Other. In each of these iterations, proximity is a concept used to radically contest distance from responsibility to the other. What implications may we draw from this concept of proximity for an ethico-political renewal of organisations? Previously, a number of critics have used concepts of moral proximity and role distancing to raise important questions regarding the functioning of the bureaucratic mode of organising (Arendt 1958, Bauman 1989, Adams & Balfour 1998, Zimbardo 2008). For such critics, bureaucracy enshrines forms of physical, emotional and symbolic distancing that inhibit or displace individual moral accountability and responsibility. However, contemporary post-bureaucratic modes of reorganising and disorganising (atter hierarchies, core/periphery distinctions, outsourcing, subcontracting and offshore production) do not seem to have brokered greater moral proximity either. The outsourcing of manufacturing and assembly labour to overseas sweatshops and the home companys tolerance of and proting from the poor working conditions therein, for example, has been critiqued as an ethically indefensible denial of moral dignity (Arnold & Bowie 2003). This denial is enabled by several forms of moral distancing: sweatshop workers are physically and geographically distant (their conditions of labour are neither seen nor felt); they are legally and institutionally distant (on the very periphery of the organisation, where the home organisations legal responsibility for their conditions of labour is minimal at best); and they are culturally distant

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(Chinese, Asian, African, South American they are Other than the us working in the Head Ofce in the North or West). This cultural, racial or material Otherness serves as it has in the long history of the North and Wests economic and political expansion (Said 1978) to legitimise our differential regard for them. Far more proximate for the home organisation and thereby more demanding of its attention and concern are the faces of the major shareholders, institutional investors and stock analysts. The sweatshop workers conditions of labour remain a distant and marginal concern unless or until they are made more morally proximate for the home organisation. The work of pressure groups such as Oxfam, investigative journalists and organisations such as CorpWatch and Multinational Monitor have succeeded in doing this on occasion. Notwithstanding the above important issue of moral proximity within the global structures of organisation, it is more local issues of proximity that I wish to consider here. Specically, I consider the intersections between the rewards and subjectivities of contemporary leadership and the concept of community. A number of social critics have charted the erosion of community organisation and communal identication in North American society over recent decades (Sennet 1998, Putnam 2001). In American literature, we see the same concerns too. Pulitzer prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, for example, evocatively speaks to the decline of community in both his allegorical (e.g. The Road 2006) and realist (e.g. No Country for Old Men 2005) writings. In the latter, McCarthy has the central character, a sheriff, reecting upon modern life in America.
I read in the papers here a while back some teachers come across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, theyd been lled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back to the same schools. Forty years later.

Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. (McCarthy 2005: 196197)

Drawing upon the concepts of postmodernity, liquidity and uncertainty, Bauman, over the course of a series of texts, has sought to provide a theoretical understanding of related shifts in modern society away from collectivity and community towards an insecure individualism. For an individual negotiating such insecurity, it can seem that there is little to be gained by tying your fate to others and the commitments of time, concern, care or solidarity that community involvement requires. The kind of uncertainty, of dark premonitions and fears of the future that haunt men and women in the uid, perpetually changing social environment . . . does not unite the sufferers: it splits them and sets them apart (Bauman 2001: 48). What seems to make more sense, for those who can, is to pursue an individualised life and to accrue and protect the personal resources that enable one to live separated-off from others, buffered from having to consider or respond to the insecurities that plague them. There has been, argues Bauman (deploying Robert Reichs term), a secession of the successful in contemporary society: an individualised distancing from responsibility to and identication with community and a systematic and deliberate storing-up and protecting of individualised wealth. Such subjects cannot see what staying in and with the community could offer which they have not already secured for themselves or still hope to secure through their own exploits, while they can think of quite a lot of assets which they might lose if they were to abide by the demands of communal solidarity (Bauman 2001: 51). Bauman specically names global business elites as exemplifying a process of secession, and we can see this at work when we consider executive compensation. US government census data recorded median household income as $49,777 in 2009, with a household dened as encompassing slightly over 2.5 people on average. For the same year, Forbes calculated the mean income (salary and stock awards or exercised stock options) of the top 500 US executives to be US$8 million apiece. According to the US Census Bureau 2009, income inequality is increasing in the US overall. In the corporate sector however the picture is particularly graphic. According to

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Business Week (cited in Flanagan 2003), the average US CEO made 42 times the average hourly workers wage in 1980, 85 times by 1990 and 531 times as much by 2000 gures that do not include all lucrative CEO stock options. Whatever moral viewpoints one may have regarding the merit or otherwise of these compensation levels, I wish to focus upon the effects of the above for the issue of proximity. Such income inequality means that senior executives simply do not share the same habitus or habitat as either the non-executive members of the corporation or indeed the overwhelming majority of the North American or worlds populations. Instead of identication with and sharing the fates of proximate others, the organisational and personal lives of the senior corporate executive take the form of a bubble, a landscape of individualised and privatised travel and accommodation, where interactions with those outside of their own elite status consist only of service and exchange relationships (Bauman 2001). Folding such observations back into our discussion of proximity, such social, economic, physical and cultural distance from others has ethical effects. The conclusion to be drawn, I suggest, is not that we should demonise the senior executive as callous, demonic or without virtue (Wray-Bliss 2012). There may well be, as Bauman argues, no question here of denying responsibility to the weak, for the simple reason that there are no weak on this side of the closely guarded gates (Bauman 2001: 61). Rather, the conclusion to be drawn based upon Levinass insistence on the centrality of proximity to ethics is that without the viscerally felt and experienced proximity to the Other, there is not the pain of ethics, the pang of conscience, the suffering in the face of anothers need. Without proximity to the Other, there is, at best, an ethics that arises as an intellectual event, a moment of distanced and disconnected reection or introspection. Such an intellectual ethics is more akin to a gift of time, a charitable moment of choosing to think of the imagined plight of non-local others. For Levinas, such a non-proximate, intellectual and distant ethics simply does not have the power to compel responsibility. This lack of proximity between the executive and others does not, I suggest, sound a call for the manufactured community and false solidarity of a corporate culture. Nor does it call for a (religiously

inected) organisational mission statement or attempts to craft a sense of belonging through manufactured workplace spirituality. Such developments enshrine, indeed strengthen, the power of the hierarchy over the organisational population. Rather the concept of proximity calls for an ethico-political response of critiquing those developments in contemporary corporate life that most strongly push against an experiential and embodied connectivity with others. This necessitates a sustained and continual critique by Business Ethics scholars and others of stark income inequalities inside the corporation and between the corporation and its periphery, as well as a critique of the enlightenment ethical model of autonomous and atomistic subjectivity enshrined in such patterns of remuneration, regard and reward.

Conclusion
A common response to real and perceived crises in the functioning and effects of business organisation is to identify a crisis at the top, to bemoan the leaders we have and to look to other leaders to steer us towards a better future. Although our experiences of Enron, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom and the like tell us that there are, indeed, compelling reasons to critique (and prosecute) particular business leaders, I have contended in this paper that the more ethically debilitating crisis is that we (are exhorted to) defer to leadership to solve organisational ethical ills in the rst place. Works spanning the last four decades of management academia (Pfeffer 1977, Meindl et al. 1985, Cals & Smircich 1991, Parker 2002) have identied an obsession with and seduction by leadership and I charted such a critique by a number of scholars of the business ethics academy itself in these terms (Schwartz 2000, Roberts 2001, 2003, Jones et al. 2005, Bevan & Corvellec 2007). In such a context, the aim of this paper was to consider the rationale and realpolitik for an ethics of business that did not reproduce the problematic ethical sovereignty of the leader. In the section Leadership re-examined, I began this task by embarking on a process of denaturalising leadership as a privileged ontological category of organisation. I examined a number of works that understood contemporary patterns of organisational

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leadership not as a natural or technically superior mode of organising but rather as the unfolding of often unexamined and unreected upon cultural legacies. Included among those I examined were the present-day inection of the presumed superiority of white managers over the slave worked plantations of the American South (Cooke 2003); legacies of superiority and subordination reminiscent of feudalism (Jackall 1988, Schwartz 2000) and (pre)modernity (Bauman 1993); the longer still cultural memory of divine leadership and the moralities of selfsubordination patterned into monotheistic religious cultures (Wray-Bliss 2012); and deep-seated psychological patterns learned from childhood experiences of parental authority (Gabriel 1997). Such accounts of the (unconscious) cultural appeal of leadership opened up the space too for re-examining its often taken-for-granted ethical status and in the section Ethics re-imagined, I argued that contemporary discourses of leadership enshrine and reproduce an ethics of autonomy, rationality, distance and sovereignty. Drawing upon Benhabib (1992 [1987]) and Levinas (1998), I began to show how such an ethics may be signicantly contested as an adequate basis from which to recognise and respond to the needs of the Other. In the section Organising ethics, I identied some of the recongurations of organisation and leadership that could start the process of shifting organisation towards a Levinasian-inspired ethico-politics of responsibility and proximity. Among other processes, I highlighted: (i) the concerted redevelopment of very well mobilised community and labour groups as an essential mechanism for compelling a wider organisational ethical responsibility; and (ii) a sustained critique and agitation against stark income inequalities particularly between those of the leadership and the non-executive employee as necessary to move us towards an experiential and embodied ethical proximity between organisational elites and the rest of the body corporate. To nish, I wish to return briey to the relationship between ethics and politics inscribed in the very idea of organising ethics. Citing Levinas, I have argued that political shifts and concerns (for instance, considering how one should redraw business institutions and organisations in the light of signicant and recurring crises) are not contradic-

tory to matters of ethics, even to an ethics conceived as the uncodiable and innite responsibility to the Other. Rather, political considerations are an essential manifestation of ethics when the intimate party of two the self and the other acknowledges the existence of the third. Though not contradictory, however, there is as an important and undeniable tension here. For politics tends towards totalisation, to subsuming the unique Other within the same and to collapsing innite ethical responsibility to every one within homogenising and generalising rules, categories, policies or procedures. What I have sought to do in this paper is to begin to advance a political response to the crisis that is organisational leadership that remembers that its life-giving core is the primacy of the ethical responsibility to the other. The suggestions for organising ethics that I have advanced are intended not so much as specic normative political goals, inescapable though normative positions are in such discussions, but rather as suggestions for restructuring or reconguring organisation itself so that it may better enable responsiveness to and proximity with those others who constitute and are constituted by it. Even though this is my intent, however, any such political response must acknowledge that it differentially affects different others. Thus, my suggestions and critique in this paper may be seen as harming the current elevated status and material privileges of our business leaders, even while I am seeking to advance moral proximity to other organisational members and wider constituents. In advancing an understanding of organisational justice for the many limitations of the innite responsibility to the one are entailed. This is what differentiates (even a Levinasian-inspired) politics from the innite ethical responsibility within the party of two. Fully acknowledging and being accountable for the particular ethical compromises that my suggestions entail, I nevertheless advance them here as the beginnings of a Levinasian-inspired ethico-political response to the crisis of leadership.

Note
1. One of the reviewers, and the editors, for this paper asked that I acknowledge the performative contradiction in producing a coolly reasoned argument for

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an embodied (Levinasian) ethics. Or, as Critchley (2002: 18) expresses it, how is my ethical exposure to the other to be given a philosophical exposition that does not utterly betray this saying? Critchley identies Levinass thinking but also his richly evocative, almost poetic, style of writing in Otherwise than Being (his performative enactment of an ethical writing which endlessly runs up against the limits of language; Critchley 2002: 19) as an attempt to engage with this contradiction. However, one can only move so far in a static text towards hoping to evoke the embodied ethical: the ethical saying is necessarily betrayed within the ontological said (Critchley 2002: 18). In previous works, I have considered ways that we, as organisational scholars, may shift our research practices from an abstract and espoused to an embodied ethical relationship with those we research (Wray-Bliss 2002a, b). In this present text, I fully acknowledge that these pages (though informed throughout by my sense of responsibility to the marginalised others of contemporary organisation) are at best an attempt to identify, evoke and encourage future organisational conditions that may better enable (Levinasian) ethics to be expressed. This paper itself, however, cannot escape from being a very poor echo of, or incitement to, the immediacy of the ethical experience.

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