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Popular Culture, Moral Narratives and Organizational Portrayals: A Multimodal Reflexive Analysis of a Reality Television Show


This paper contributes to the Business Ethics literature by unpacking the multimodal construction of moral narratives in popular culture and its portrayals of organizations and organizational roles. Understanding such portrayals and their construction is crucial to Business Ethics scholarship because they shape organizational imaginaries, influencing understandings and expectations of the ethical/moral responsibilities of organizations and the actors within them. In particular, we study the construction of moral narratives within a reality TV show that focuses on immigration and border control at an airport. We find that the immigration officers are depicted as rational and heroic figures whilst the travellers are presented as emotional and potentially dangerous characters. Our analysis highlights how this is achieved via five multimodal editing dimensions—the structure of interactional scenes, the ability to address the camera, the narrator’s comments, the visual and music effects—that are key in constructing clearly defined personae. We show how, through the intersubjective construction of clear-cut characters, the show downplays the moral complexity of its content. Portraying immigration officers as heroic, while presenting travellers as potentially dangerous, allows for a silencing of any ethical questioning of immigration officers’ organizational practices.

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We are deeply grateful to Section Editor Gazi Islam and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments throughout the review process. This paper benefited greatly from their constructive feedback. We are also grateful to the EMLYON OCE Research Center where the very first draft of this paper was presented and Ruthanne Huising for her thoughtful suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Carine Farias.

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Carine Farias declares that she has no conflict of interest. Tapiwa Seremani declares that he has no conflict of interest. Pablo D. Fernández declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Farias, C., Seremani, T. & Fernández, P.D. Popular Culture, Moral Narratives and Organizational Portrayals: A Multimodal Reflexive Analysis of a Reality Television Show. J Bus Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04460-1

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  • Narrative ethics
  • Popular culture
  • Moral order
  • Multimodality
  • Organizational imaginaries