Beyond the Manager’s Moral Dilemma: Rethinking the ‘Ideal-Type’ Business Ethics Case

Abstract

Case teaching occupies a central place in the history of business education and in recognition of its significance, the Journal of Business Ethics recently created a new section for cases. Typically, business ethics cases are used to teach moral reasoning by exposing students to real-life situations which puts them in the position of a decision-maker faced with a moral dilemma. Drawing on a critical management studies’ (CMS) critique of mainstream business ethics, this article argues that this ‘ideal-type’ decision-focused case underplays the social, political and economic factors which shape managerial decisions. An alternative ‘dark side’ case approach is presented, which highlights the structural features of capitalism and the role of government in regulating the market. The ‘dark side’ approach is illustrated with the case of a New Zealand woman, dependent on an oxygen machine, who died when her power was disconnected by her State-owned electricity supplier because of an unpaid bill. The case considers the actions of both the company and the industry regulator within the context of a ‘light-handed’ approach to government regulation. The article concludes with a discussion of how this approach to the case method, which moves beyond managers and their moral dilemmas, can provide students with a deeper understanding of the complexity of business ethics.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Alvesson, M., T. Bridgman and H. Willmott (eds.).: (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies (Oxford University Press, Oxford).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (2004). Ethics Education in Business Schools: Report of the Ethics Education Task Force to AACSB International’s Board of Directors. AACSB International.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Banerjee, S. B.: (2008) ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, Critical Sociology, 34(1), 51-79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chapman, J. and G. Duncan. (2007) ‘Is There Now a New New Zealand Model’, Public Management Review, 9(1), 1-25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chibber, K.: 2009, ‘Business Schools Face Test of Faith’, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7941385.stm. Accessed March 19 2009.

  6. Corey, R.: 1998, ‘Case Method Teaching’, Harvard Business School 9-581-058, Rev November 6, 1998.

  7. Danley, J.: (1998) ‘Beyond Managerialism: After the Death of the Corporate Statesperson’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 1, 21-30.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Eaton, D.: 2007, ‘Power-Cut Tragedy: The Facts’, The Press, 6 June 2007.

  9. Economist: 2009, ‘Forswearing Greed’, 4 June 2009, www.economist.com.

  10. Electricity Commission: 2005, ‘Guidelines on Arrangements to Assist Low Income Domestic Consumers’, June 2005, www.electricitycommission.govt.nz.

  11. Electricity Commission: 2007, ‘Guidelines on Arrangements to Assist Low Income Domestic Consumers’, 2nd edition, July 2007, www.electricitycommission.govt.nz.

  12. Falkenberg, L. and J. Woiceshyn.: (2008) ‘Enhancing Business Ethics: Using Cases to Teach Moral Reasoning’, Journal of Business Ethics, 79, 213-217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Ghoshal, S.: (2005) ‘Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(1): 75-91.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gini, A.R.: (1985) ‘The Case Method: A Perspective’, Journal of Business Ethics, 4, 351-352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Gordon, R. and J. Howell.: (1959) Higher Education for Business (Columbia University Press, New York).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Grey Power Federation of New Zealand: 2005, ‘Submission to Electricity Commission on Guidelines to Assist Low Income Domestic Consumers’, www.electricitycommission.govt.nz.

  17. James, A.: 2009, ‘Academies of the Apocalypse?’, The Guardian, Tuesday 7 April 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/apr/07/mba-business-schools-credit-crunch. Accessed 17 April 2009.

  18. Jones, M. T.: 1996, ‘Missing the Forest for the Trees: A Critique of the Social Responsibility Concept and Discourse’, Business and Society, 35(1), 7-41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Jones, C., M. Parker, and R. ten Bos.: (2005) For Business Ethics (Routledge, London).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kallio, T. J. (2007) ‘Taboos in Corporate Social Responsibility Discourse’, Journal of Business Ethics, 74, 165-175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Khurana, R. (2007) From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, Princeton).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Khurana, R. and N. Nohria: 2008, ‘It’s Time to Make Management a True Profession’, Harvard Business Review October, 70–77.

  23. Leenders, M. Maufette-Leenders, L. and Erskine, J.: (2001) Writing Cases, 4th edition (Ivey Publishing, London, Ontario).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lundberg, C.C., P. Rainsford., J. P. Shay, and C.A.Young.: (2001) ‘Case Writing Reconsidered’, Journal of Management Education, 25(4), 450-463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lundberg, C.C. and J. Winn. (2005) ‘The Great Case-Teaching Notes Debate’, Journal of Management Education, 29(2), 268-283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lynn, L.: (1999) Teaching and Learning with Cases: A Guidebook (Chatham House, New York).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Matenga, G.: 2008, ‘Findings of the Inquest into the Death of Folole Muliaga’, Office of the Coroner, 19 Sept 2008.

  28. Mighty River Power: 2005, ‘Submission to Electricity Commission on Guidelines to Assist Low Income Domestic Consumers’, 8 Aug 2005, www.electricitycommission.govt.nz.

  29. Mighty River Power Limited: 2007, ‘Annual Report’, www.mightyriverpower.co.nz.

  30. Ministry of Economic Development: 2006, ‘Light-Handed Regulation of New Zealand’s Electricity and Gas Industries’, 7 June 2006, www.med.govt.nz.

  31. Parker, M.: (2003) ‘Introduction: Ethics, Politics and Organizing’, Organization, 10(2), 187-203.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Parker, M. and G. Pearson.: (2005) ‘Capitalism and its Regulation: A Dialogue on Business and Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics, 60, 91-101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Pierson, F.: (1959) The Education of American Businessmen: A Study of University-Collegiate Programs in Business Education (McGraw-Hill, New York).

    Google Scholar 

  34. Prebble, R.: 2007, ‘Look to Government Over Mercury Culture’, New Zealand Herald, 14 June 2007.

  35. Raufflet, E. and A. J. Mills (eds): (2009) The Dark Side: Critical Cases on the Downside of Business (Greenleaf, Sheffield).

    Google Scholar 

  36. Shugan, S. M.: (2006) ‘Editorial: Save Research – Abandon the Case Method of Teaching’, Marketing Science, 25(2), 109-115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Stonham, P.: 1(995) ‘For and Against the Case Method’, European Management Journal, 13(2), 230-232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Walker, P.: 2009, ‘Who Taught Them Greed is Good?’, The Observer, 8 March 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/mar/08/credit-crunch-mbas. Accessed 20 March 2009.

  39. Waples, E.P., A.L Antes., S.T Murphy., S. Connelly and M.D. Mumford.: (2009) ‘A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Business Ethics Instruction’, Journal of Business Ethics, 87, 133-151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Wray-Bliss, E.: (2009) ‘Ethics’, in M. Alvesson, T. Bridgman and H. Willmott (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies, (Oxford University Press, Oxford), pp. 267-285.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Todd Bridgman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bridgman, T. Beyond the Manager’s Moral Dilemma: Rethinking the ‘Ideal-Type’ Business Ethics Case. J Bus Ethics 94, 311–322 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-0759-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • business ethics
  • case teaching
  • critical management studies
  • management education
  • professionalisation