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Manufacturing Morals

9780226092478Michel Anteby’s Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in a Business School Education explores the pedagogy behind corporate accountability—from within the closed doors of Harvard Business School, where Anteby, an associate professor, offers an unprecedented take as to how silence, ambiguity, and open-ended directives play key roles in generating a model of learning that leaves wiggle room for moral complexity.

Anteby riffed on this topic in a recent op-ed for the Guardian, where he observed that, “While business schools’ relative silence on moral issues like inequality might have worked in the past, the situation today has dramatically changed.”

He goes on to consider the grounds for this ideological shift:

These business schools’ inclusive historical DNA allowed them to train thousands of students, but also left a lasting imprint on many institutions’ moral outlook. A diverse membership required flexibility on moral issues. To be sure, teaching about increasing productivity, ensuring sufficient margins, and maintaining workers’ satisfaction assumed an implicit moral stand: one that offered legitimacy to profit-making ventures.

Yet, the broader aspirations of these ventures often remained elusive. An idea of higher ethical goals prevailed (such as “setting higher business standards” and conducting business “decently”), but their content was vague: the diverse new elite required some moral wiggle-room to accommodate its varied “values” concerns.

That is not to say that questions of morality were absent from business schools’ curriculums, but the specific values were mostly left to members’ imaginations.

Anteby ends the op-ed by calling for b-school executives to take a formal stand on inequality, both within the institution and society at large, which presents a strong case for situating those organizational silences omnipresent in Manufacturing Morals as integral to understanding the moral decision-making of today’s business leaders.

Read Anteby’s op-ed in full here.