Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 96, Issue 1, pp 135–147 | Cite as

The Exercise of Moral Imagination in Stigmatized Work Groups



This study introduces the concept of moral imagination in a work context to provide an ethical approach to the controversial relationships between dirty work and dirty workers. Moral imagination is assessed as an essential faculty to overcome the stigma associated with dirty work and facilitate the daily work lives of workers. The exercise of moral imagination helps dirty workers to face the moral conflicts inherent in their tasks and to build a personal stance toward their occupation. Finally, we argue that organizations with dirty work groups should actively adopt measures to encourage their employees’ exercise of moral imagination. This study investigates how organizations might create conditions that inspire moral imagination, particularly with regard to the importance of organizational culture as a means to enhance workers’ moral sensitivity. Furthermore, this investigation analyzes different company practices that may derive from a culture committed to moral imagination.

Key words

moral imagination dirty work moral conflicts stigma work groups 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



I would like to thank the editor of this journal and the anonymous reviewers and Prof. Mark Seabright for helpful and constructive comments. I acknowledge the financial support of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (ECO2009-08308) and the Fundacio´n Ramo´n Areces. All the errors are author’s responsibility.


  1. Albert, S., Ashforth, B. and Dutton, J.: 2000. Organizational identity and identification: Charting new waters and building new bridges. Academy Management Review, 25, 13.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, T.: 1993. John Dewey and the moral imagination: Beyond Putman and Rorty towards a postmodern ethics, Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society 29(2), 369-400.Google Scholar
  3. Aquino, K.F. and Reed, A.: 2002. The self importance of moral identity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1432-1440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aquino, K.F. and Reed, A.: 2003. Moral identity and the circle of moral regard towards out-groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1270-1286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ashforth, B.: 2001. Role transitions in organizational life: An identity-based perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  6. Ashforth, B. and Kreiner, G.: 1999. How can you do it? Dirty work and the challenge of constructing a positive identity. Academy Management Review, 24, 413-434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ashforth, B., Kreiner, G., Clark, M., and Fugate, M.: 2007. Normalizing dirty works: Managerial tactics for countering occupational taint. Academy Management Journal, 50, 149-174.Google Scholar
  8. Aviram, R. and Rosenfeld, M.: 2002. Application of social identity theory in group therapy with stigmatized adults. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 52, 121-130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bach, S., Kessler, I., and Heron, P.: 2007. The consequences of assistant roles in the public services: Degradation or empowerment. Human Relations, 60, 1267-1293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blasi, A.L.: 1980. Bridging moral cognition and moral action: A critical review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 1-45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bolton, S.: 2005. Women’s work, dirty work: The gynecology nurse as ‘other’. Gender, Work and Organization, 12, 169-186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brosseau, K.: 1985. Towards a dynamic model of job-person relationships: Findings, research questions, and implications for work system design. Academy Management Review, 8, 33-45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Caldwell, D. and Moberg, D.: 2006. An exploratory investigation of the effect of ethical culture in activating moral imagination. Journal of Business Ethics, 73, 193-204.Google Scholar
  14. Chaiken, S., Giner-Sorolla, R., and Chen, S.: 1996. Beyond accuracy: Defense and impression motives in heuristic and systematic information processing. In P.M. Gollwitzer, & J.A. Bargh (Eds.), The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior: 553-578. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  15. Chen, A., Sawyers, R., and Williams, P.: 1997. Reinforcing ethical decision making through corporate culture, Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 855-865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coles, R.: 1987. Story tellers’ ethics, Harvard Business Review, 65, 8-14.Google Scholar
  17. Coles, R.: 1989. The Call of Stories. Boston: Houghton Mills.Google Scholar
  18. Collier, J.: 2006. The art of moral imagination: Ethics in the practice of architecture. Journal of Business Ethics, 66, 307-317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dick, P.: 2005. Dirty work designations: How police officers account for their use of coercive force. Human Relations, 58, 1363-1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dutton, J., G. Debebe and A. Wrzesniewski: 1996, The Revaluing of Devalued Work: The Importance of Relationship for Hospital Clinic Staff. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Cincinnati, OH.Google Scholar
  21. Fesmier, S.: 1999. Morality as art: Dewy, metaphor and moral imagination, Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society 35, 527-550.Google Scholar
  22. Festinger, L.: 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Friedman, J.: 2004. Modern Science versus the stigma of obesity. Nature Medicine, 10, 563-569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gentry, C.: 1987. Social distance regarding male and female homosexuals. Journal of Social Psychology, 127, 199-208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goffman, E.L 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon & SchusterGoogle Scholar
  26. Hackman, J.R. and Oldman, G. 1980. Work Redesign. Reading MA: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  27. Hartman, E.: 2006. Can we teach character? An Aristotelian answer, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 5, 68-81.Google Scholar
  28. Hartman, L., Wilson, F., and Arnold, D.: 2006. Positive ethical deviance inspired by moral imagination: The entrepreneur as deviant. Journal for Business, Economics and Ethics, 6, 343-358.Google Scholar
  29. Hinshaw, S.: 2007. The mark of shame. Stigma of mental illness and an agenda for change. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hughes, E.: 1951. Work and the self. In J. H. Rohrer & M. Sherif (Eds.), Social Psychology at the Crossroads: 312-323. New York: Harper & Brothers.Google Scholar
  31. Hughes, E.: 1962. Good people and dirty work. Social Problems, 10, 3-11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jacobs, J.: 1991. Moral imagination, objectivity and practical wisdom. International Philosophical Quarterly, 31, 23-37.Google Scholar
  33. Johnson, M.: 1993. Moral Imagination. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Kekes, J.: 1991. Moral imagination, freedom and the humanities, American Philosophical Quarterly, 28(2), 101-111.Google Scholar
  35. Khazzoom, A.: 2003. The great chain of orientalism: Jewish identity, stigma management and ethnic exclusion in Israel. American Sociological Review, 68, 481-510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kohlberg, L.: 1969. Stage and sequence: The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. In D.A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research: 347-480. Chicago, IL: Rand-McNally.Google Scholar
  37. Kroska, A. and Harkness, S.: 2006. Stigma, sentiments and self-meanings: Exploring the modified labeling theory of mental illness. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 325-348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lan, G., Gowing, M., McMahon, S., Rieger, F., and King, N.: 2008. A study of the relationship between personal values and moral reasoning of undergraduate business students. Journal of Business Ethics, 78, 121-139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Larmore, C.: 1981. Moral judgment. Review of Metaphysics, 35, 275- 296.Google Scholar
  40. Link, B. and Phelan, J.L.: 2001. Conceptualizing stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 363-385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Loury, G.: 2003. Racial stigma: Towards a new paradigm for discrimination theory. American Economic Review, 93, 334-337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Markus, H. and Nurius, P.: 1986. Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954-969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McAdams, T. and Koppensteiner, R.: 2004. The managers seeking virtue: Lessons from literature. Journal of Business Ethics, 11, 627-634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McCullough, T.: 1991. The Moral Imagination and Public Life: Raising the Ethical Question. NJ: Chatman House.Google Scholar
  45. McGregor, I. and Holmes, J.: 1999. How storytelling shapes memory and impressions of relationship events over time, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 403-419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McKenna, B., Rooney, D., and Ten Bos, R.: 2007. Wisdom in management. Special issue of Social Epistemology, 21, 83-86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Moberg, D. and Seabright, M.: 2000. The development of moral imagination. Business Ethics Quarterly, 10, 845-884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Murphy, J.: 1993. The Moral Economy of Labor. Aristotelian Themes in Economic Theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Nussbaum, C.: 1990. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Nwachukwu, S. and Vitell, S. J.: 1997. The influence of corporate culture on managerial ethical judgments. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 757-776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. O’Reilly, C., Chatman, J., and Caldwell, D.: 1991. People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 487-516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Oermann, M. and Sperling, S.: 1999. Stress and challenge of psychiatric nursing clinical experiences. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 13, 74-79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Opotow, S.: 1990. Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 1-20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Paetzold, R. Dipboye, R., and Elsbach, K.: 2008. A new look at stigmatization in and of organizations. Academy of Management Review, 33, 186-193.Google Scholar
  55. Pardales, M.J.: 2002. So how did you arrive at that decision? Connecting moral imagination and moral judgment. Journal of Moral Education, 31, 423-437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Piaget, J.: 1932. The Moral Development of the Child. London: Kegan, Paul.Google Scholar
  57. Pratt, M.: 1998. To be or not to be? Central questions in organizational identification. In D.A. Whetten and P.C. Godfrey (Eds.), Identity in Organizations: Building Theory through Conversations, 171-207. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  58. Roca, E.: 2007. Intuitive practical wisdom in organizational life. Social Epistemology, 21, 195-207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Roca, E.: 2008. Introducing practical wisdom in business schools. Journal of Business Ethics, 82, 607-620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ruskin, J.: 2008. Stones of Venice. New York: Da Capo.Google Scholar
  61. Schwalbe, M.: 1991. Role taking, self-monitoring, and the alignment of conduct with others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 51-57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Seabright, M. and Schminke, J.: 2002. Immoral imagination and revenge in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 38, 19-31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sheehan, E., Lennon, R., and Mc Dermitt, T.: 1989. Reactions to AIDS and other illnesses: Reported interactions in the workplace. Journal of Psychology, 123, 525-536.Google Scholar
  64. Stuber, J., Galea, S., and Link, B.: 2008. Smoking and the emergence of stigmatized social status. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 420-430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tivnan, E.: 1995. The Moral Imagination. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  66. Tracy, S.: 2004. The construction of correctional officers: Layers of emotionality behind bars. Qualitative Inquiry, 10, 509-533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Treiman, D.: 1977. Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  68. Treviño, L.: 1986. Ethical decision-making in organizations: A person-situation interactionist model. Academy of Management Review, 11, 601-617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Treviño, L., Butterfield, K., and McCabe, D.: 1998. The ethical context on organizations: Influences on employee attitudes and behaviors, Business Ethics Quarterly, 8, 447-476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Treviño, L. and Weaver, G.: 2001. Organizational justice and ethics program ‘Follow-through’: Influences on employees’ harmful and helpful behavior, Business Ethics Quarterly, 11, 651-669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vidaver-Cohen, D.: 1997. Moral imagination in organizational problem-solving: An institutional perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly, 7, 1-26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wells, J.S., Ryan, D., and McElwee, C.N.: 2000. “I don’t want to be a psychiatric nurse”: An exploration of factors inhibiting recruitment to psychiatric nursing in Ireland. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 7, 79-87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Werhane, P. H.: 1998, ‘Moral Imagination and the Search for Ethical Decision-Making in Management’, Business Ethics Quarterly, Special issue 1, 75–98.Google Scholar
  74. Werhane, P.H.: 1999. Moral Imagination and Management Decision-Making, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Williams, O.: 1997. The Moral Imagination: How Literature and Films Can Stimulate Ethical Reflection in the Business World. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidad Carlos III MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations