The regulation of morality in formal organizations: the case of Iranian oil industry

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Moral regulation
Institutional theory
Critical Management Studies

Questioning the moral foundations and consequences of formal organizations has become a central concern in organization theory. Despite the extensive research in this broad area, organization scholars have not yet adequately investigated the systematic effects of a formal organization on the morality of its own members, particularly from a process perspective. As a result, today little is known about the internal dynamics of organizations as it treats and influences the morality of organizational members. To address this issue, the present study takes a discursive understanding of morality and explores the intra-organizational processes that regulate the moral discourse of organizational members. The theoretical foundation of this research draws on the literatures of institutional theory and critical management studies, and highlights two domains – practice and privilege – as primary sites of moral regulation in organizations. The question that guides the present study is – what are the common patterns of regulating practice and privilege that characterizes the organizational regulation of morality? This work investigates these patterns in the context of the Iranian oil industry, which has been the largest industry and the main source of national income in Iran for the past century. The oil industry is particularly appropriate and interesting for this study because in the face of several radical changes in the broader moral order of the Iranian society, the organizations of this industry have been able to regulate the morality of their members regarding the issues of concern for their business. The findings suggest that organizations in this industry regulate the morality of their members mainly through four processes: Repositioning, restructuring, reframing, and cooperating/not cooperating. The collected data also points to some of the salient institutional characteristics that underlie the organizational regulation of morality. I discuss the insights that these findings provide for organization research on moral phenomena and highlight the various aspects of the active role of organization in regulating morality. I conclude the thesis with a review of the implications for theoretical understanding of morality and propose directions for future research in this area.

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Thomas B. Lawrence
Business Administration: Faculty of Business Administration
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.