Rethinking Responsible Agency in Corporations: Perspectives from Deleuze and Guattari

Abstract

The notion of “responsibility” can be understood in a number of different ways, namely as being accountable for one’s actions, as a personal trait, or as a task or duty that results from one’s role. In this article we will challenge the assumptions that underpin each of these employments of the word “responsibility” and seek to redefine the concept as such. The main thrust of the argument is that we need to critically interrogate the idea of “identity” and deliberate decision-making that inform the use of all three of these notions of “responsibility”. By drawing on selected concepts emanating from the oeuvre of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, our understanding of agency moves away from “identity” towards “multiplicity”. In fact, it will be argued that our sense of “agency” is a side-product of our own desiring-production as it operates in and through our interactions with other human beings and organizational structures. The article therefore contends that “responsible management” requires ongoing re-articulations of moral responsiveness.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Deleuze and Guattari’s oeuvre spans a wide variety of texts, and includes a large array of new concepts, all of which is impossible to deal with in this article. A selection has therefore been made based purely on my contention that some of these concepts offer productive challenges to our understanding of agency and responsibility. It is indeed the case that some of their other concepts can be very helpful as well, as I try to illustrate in my ongoing research.

  2. 2.

    The Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ seven steps include (1) formulating compliance standards and procedures such as a code of conduct or ethics; (2) assigning high-level personnel to provide oversight (e.g., a compliance or ethics officer); (3) taking care when delegating authority; (4) effective communication of standards and procedures (e.g., training); (5) auditing/monitoring systems and reporting mechanisms, whistle-blowing; (6) enforcement of disciplinary mechanisms; and (7) appropriate response after detection.

  3. 3.

    The concept “agencement” stems from the Latin “agens” which means “to direct” or “to put into motion”.

  4. 4.

    This possibility finds further support in the kind of responsibility suggested by Emmanuel Levinas and Zygmunt Bauman.

  5. 5.

    Comment found on: http://james-pwc-rlp.blogspot.com/. Downloaded on April 1, 2011.

  6. 6.

    See in this regard the PhD research of Ryan Burg, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers, as well as the editors of this Special issue, for their generous comments and suggestions, which allowed a much clearer argument to emerge. I would also like to thank Rene ten Bos for encouraging me to be brave enough to draw on Deleuze and Guattari’s oeuvre in my business ethics research.

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Correspondence to Mollie Painter-Morland.

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Painter-Morland, M. Rethinking Responsible Agency in Corporations: Perspectives from Deleuze and Guattari. J Bus Ethics 101, 83–95 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1175-4

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Keywords

  • Agency
  • Responsibility
  • Deleuze and Guattari