Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 427–440 | Cite as

A Meta-Ethical Perspective on Organizational Identity

  • David Oliver
  • Matthew Statler
  • Johan Roos


Although much of the growing literature on organizational identity implicitly recognizes the normative nature of identity, the ethical implications of organizational identity work and talk have not yet been explored in depth. Working from a meta-ethical perspective, we claim that the dynamic, processual, and temporal activities recently associated with organizational identity always have an ethical dimension, whether “good” or “bad.” In order to describe the ethical dimensions of organizational identity, we introduce the balance theory of practical wisdom as a theoretical framework, and connect this theory to existing organizational identity concepts. We present an empirical case focused on an international paint company to illustrate the relevance of this theory for empirical organizational identity research. Our intention is to expand existing theory by bringing an aspect of organizational identity that has been tangentially acknowledged to the forefront, and by identifying it as a fruitful avenue for future theory development as well as empirical research.


organizational identity practical wisdom metaethics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Albert S. and Whetten, D.: 1985, ‘Organizational Identity’, in L.L. Cummings & B.M. Staw (Eds) Research in Organizational Behavior (Vol. 7) 263-295. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle: 1962, Nicomachean Ethics, (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill).Google Scholar
  3. Ashforth, B. and F. Mael: 1989, ‘Social Identity Theory and the Organization’, Academy of Management Review, 14, 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, A.: 2006, ‘A narrative approach to collective identities’, Journal of Management Studies, 43(4), 731-753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, A. and Humphreys, M.: 2006, ‘Organizational identity and place: A discursive exploration of hegemony and resistance’, Journal of Management Studies, 43(2): 231-257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buenstorf, G. and Murmann, J.: 2005, ‘Ernst Abbe’s scientific management: Theoretical insights from a nineteenth-century dynamic capabilities approach’, Industrial and Corporate Change, 14, 543-578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butler, R.: 1997, ‘Stories and experiments in social inquiry’, Organization Studies, 18(6): 927-948.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clegg, S., Kornberger, M., and Rhodes, C.: 2005, ‘Learning/becoming/doing’, Organization, 12(2), 147-167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clegg, S., Rhodes, C. and Kornberger, M.: 2007, ‘Desperately seeking legitimacy: Organizational identity and emerging industries’, Organization Studies, 28(4): 495-513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clegg, S. and Ross-Smith, A.: 2003, ‘Revisiting the boundaries: Management education and learning in a post-positivist world’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2(1): 85-98.Google Scholar
  11. Cornelissen, J., Haslam, A. and Balmer, J.: 2007, ‘Social identity, organizational identity and corporate identity: Towards an integrated understanding of processes, patternings and products’, British Journal of Management, 18, S1-S16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coupland, C. and A. Brown: 2004, ‘Constructing Organizational Identities on the Web: A Case Study of Royal Dutch/Shell’, Journal of Management Studies, 41, 1325–1347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Czarniawska, B.: 1997, Narrating the organization: Dramas of institutional identity, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dukerich, J., Golden, B., and Shortell, S.: 2002, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: The impact of organizational identification, identity, and image on the cooperative behaviors of physicians’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, 507-533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dutton, J. and Dukerich, J.: 1991, ‘Keeping an eye on the mirror: Image and identity in organizational adaptation’, Academy of Management Journal, 34, 517-554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dutton, J., J. Dukerich and C. Harquail: 1994, ‘Organizational images and member identification’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 39, 239–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Elsbach, K. and Kramer, R.: 1996, ‘Members’ responses to organizational identity threats: Encountering and countering the Business Week rankings’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, 442-476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fiol, C. M.: 2002, ‘Capitalizing on Paradox: The Role of Language in Transforming Organizational Identities’, Organization Science, 13(6), 653–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gioia, D., Schultz, M., and Corley, K.: 2000, ‘Organizational identity, image and adaptive instability’, Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 63-81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Glynn, M.: 2000, ‘When cymbals become symbols: Conflict over organizational identity within a symphony orchestra’, Organization Science, 11(3), 285-298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hardy, C., Lawrence, T., and Grant, D.: 2005, ‘Discourse and collaboration: The role of conversations and collective identity’, Academy of Management Review, 30(1): 58-77.Google Scholar
  22. Hartman E.M.: 2008, ‘Socratic Questions and Aristotelian Answers: A Virtue-Based Approach to Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics, 78: 313–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hatch, M. and Schultz, M.: 2002, ‘The dynamics of organizational identity’, Human Relations, 55(8): 989-1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holliday, G., Statler, M. & Flanders, M.: 2007, ‘Developing practically wise leaders through Serious Play’, Consulting Psychology Journal, 59(2): 126-134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Humphreys, M. and Brown, A.: 2002, ‘Narratives of organizational identity and identification: A case study of hegemony and resistance’, Organization Studies, 23(3), 421-447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kärreman, D. and A. Rylander: 2008, ‘Managing Meaning through Branding - the Case of a Consulting Firm’, Organization Studies, 29, 103–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kimberly, J.: 1987, ‘The study of organization: Toward a biographical perspective’, in J. Lorsch (ed.) Handbook of organizational behavior (pp. 223-237). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  28. Koehn, D.: 1995, ‘A role for virtue ethics in the analysis of business practice’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 5(3): 533-539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Koehn, D.: 1998, ‘Virtue ethics, the firm and moral psychology’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 8(3): 497-513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miner, M. & Petocz, A.: 2003, ‘Moral theory in ethical decision making: Problems, clarifications and recommendations from a psychological perspective’, Journal of Business Ethics, 42:11-25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Moberg, D.: 2000, Role models and moral exemplars: how do employees acquire virtues by observing others? Business Ethics Quarterly, 10(3): 675-696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moore, G.: 2002, ‘On the implications of the practice-institution distinction: Macintyre and the application of modern virtue ethics to business’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 12(1): 19-32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Moshman, D. 1998, Identity as a theory of oneself. The Genetic Epistemologist, 26(3) 1–9.Google Scholar
  34. O’Fallon, M. & Butterfield, K.: 2005, ‘A review of the ethical decision-making literature: 1996-2003’, Journal of Business Ethics, 59: 375-413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oliver, D. and Roos, J.: 2007, ‘Beyond text: Constructing organizational identity mulitmodally’, British Journal of Management, 18, 342-358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pratt, M. and Foreman, P.: 2000, ‘Classifying managerial response to multiple organizational identity’, Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 18-42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pratt, M and Rafaeli, A.: 1997, ‘Organizational dress as a symbol of multilayered social identities’, Academy of Management Journal, 40(4) 862-898.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Randall, G & Martin, P.: 2003, ‘Developing and using stories or narratives to transmit values and legacy’, Organization Development Journal, 21 (3), 44-50.Google Scholar
  39. Reger, R., J. Barney, J. Bunderson, P. Foreman, L. Gustafson, A. Huff, L. Martins, Y. Sarason and J. Stimpert: 1998, ‘A strategy conversation on the topic of organizational identity’, in D. Whetten and P. Godfrey (eds.) Identity in organizations: Building theory through conversations (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications), pp. 99–169.Google Scholar
  40. Roos, J. and Victor, B.: 1999, ‘Towards a model of strategy making as serious play’, European Management Journal, 17(4): 348-355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Roos, J.,Victor, B. and Statler, M.: 2004, ‘Playing seriously with strategy’, Long-Range Planning, 37: 549-568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Scott, S. and Lane, V.: 2000, ‘A stakeholder approach to organizational identity’, Academy of Management Review, 25, 43-62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Solomon, R.: 1992, ‘Corporate roles, personal virtues: An Aristotelian approach to business ethics’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 2: 326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Solomon, R.: 2000, ‘Business with virtue? Maybe next year’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 10(1): 339-341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Solomon, R.: 2003, ‘Victims of circumstances? A defense of virtue ethics in business’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 13(1): 43-62.Google Scholar
  46. Statler, M. & Oliver, D.: 2008, ‘Facilitating serious play’, in Hodgkinson, G. and Starbuck, W. (eds) The Oxford Handbook on Organizational Decision-Making, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 475-494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Statler, M. & Roos, J.: 2006, ‘Re-framing strategic preparedness: An essay on practical wisdom’, International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy, 2(2): 99-117.Google Scholar
  48. Statler, M., C. Jacobs and J. Roos: 2008, ‘Performing Strategy: Analogical Reasoning as Strategic Practice’, Scandinavian Journal of Management, 24: 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sternberg, R.: 1998, ‘A balance theory of wisdom’, Review of General Psychology, 2:347-365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sternberg, R.: 2001, ‘Why schools should teach for wisdom: The balance theory of wisdom in education’, Educational Psychologist, 36(4): 227-245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sternberg, R.: 2004, ‘Words to the wise about wisdom?’, Human Development, 47, 286-289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sveningsson, S. and Alvesson, M.: 2003, ‘Managing managerial identities: Organizational fragmentation, discourse and identity struggle’, Human Relations, 56(10): 1163-1193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.: 1985, ‘The social identity theory of intergroup behavior’, in Worchel, S. and W. Austen (Eds). Psychology of Intergroup Relations (2nd edition). Chicago: Nelson-Hall, pp.7-24.Google Scholar
  54. Trevino, L.: 1985, ‘Ethical decision making in organizations: A person-situation interactionist model’, Academy of Management Review, 11(3): 601-617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tsoukas, H. and Cummings, S.: 1997, ‘Marginalization and recovery: The emergence of Aristotelian themes in organization studies’, Organization Studies, 18(4): 655-683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Van Riel, C. and J. Balmer: 1997, ‘Corporate Identity: The Concept, its Measurement and Management, European Journal of Marketing, 31 (5/6), 340–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Voss, Z., Cable, D. and Voss, G.: 2006, ‘Organizational identity and firm performance: What happens when leaders disagree about “who we are”?’ Organization Science, 17(6), 741-755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Whetten, D. and Mackey, A.: 2002, ‘A social actor conception of organizational identity and its implications for the study of organizational reputation’, Business & Society, 41(4): 393-414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wilson, D. C. & Jarzabkowski, P.: 2004, ‘Thinking and acting strategically: New challenges for interrogating strategy’, European Management Review, 1, 14-20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HEC MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.NYU Stern School of BusinessNew YorkU.S.A.
  3. 3.Copenhagen Business SchoolCopenhagenDenmark

Personalised recommendations