Hell on earth

When doing qualitative research, it is quite well-known that the researcher becomes embedded in the world he/she seeks to describe, whereby the border between ‘research life’ and ‘private life’ is rendered problematic. In trying to get to grips with what ethics is about, I have felt this confluence acting out in many, many ways.

It is, however, nice to know that I have yet to go completely native, as witnessed in my devilish laughter this morning. Someone sent out an email to one of the ‘ethical’ mailing lists I subscribe to, looking for a couple of new housemates:

Re: Two Housemates Wanted: Green/Creative share in Cornerville*

How do you like the idea of waking up on a Sunday morning to the aromas of freshly-brewed fair-trade coffee and fried eggs crawling their way up the stairs from the kitchen, the faint sound of self-penned songs dedicated to the perils of modern living coming from downstairs, cherishing the luxurious knowledge that once you’ve struggled out of your semi-slumber you’re just a 14 minute tube ride to London’s thrumming heart?

You would be sharing with a mixture of musical, artistic and green-minded folk (aged 25-29) who offer various communal schemes – collective organic cookery, evenings out – for those who want to join in, within a cosy, laid back, TV free space.

The house itself is a lovely, spacious Victorian behemoth of a thing with a large living room, large kitchen and a back garden patio-ish thing with a regular squirrel. (and bikes, a compost heap, and struggling vegetables).

Yes, I am an evil, reactionary, sad git.

*I made up the name. Out of common decency, of course.

Posted in Ethics, Fieldwork 2 Comments »


Unfortunately, social scientists rarely get to experience “eureka!” moments like those of Archimedes taking a bath or Newton noticing an apple falling from a tree (or maybe we are I am just too thick-headed to pick up on the ‘signs.’)

From time to time, though, I have experienced breakthroughs – as breakthrough as it gets when you are in the business of producing convincing documents – prompted by a good question, an everyday event or, as in most cases, a compelling metaphor.

I thought I wanted to share one such anecdote, falling into the latter category, which gave me a whole lot to think about a year or so back. It was certainly a moment that tied together a lot of loose ends in my thinking, namely about ethics as something that is performed rather than a given in the order of things.

The quote below, which is a telling indicator of Norbert Elias’ ‘process sociology,’ led me to think that ‘ethics’ is always ‘ethicising’ in more or less durable configurations, suggesting that any form of ethicality is always contested, becoming, and in the making – and nothing else.

We then think of wind as a thing that can take days off and not be blowing. But wind only exists as blowing. We would do better to say ‘the wind is blowing’ and better still to do without the noun/verb syntax entirely and only use the gerund, blowing, to recognize that blowing is all there is (Frank 2004).

Ethicising, it makes things so much more, um, complicated. I have since added several more gerunds to understand these processes, in fact, my thesis is built around the sub-themes standardising, materialising and unethicising. And now back to work…

Posted in Academic, Ethics No Comments »

Erhverslivets ansvarlighed

Det siger unægteligt noget om niveauet for dansk CSR-tænkning, nÃ¥r Dansk Erhverv – under den intetsigende tagline ‘Doing well by doing good’ – inviterer til et seminar omkring erhvervslivets ansvarlighed med indlæg af Ulrik Wilbek og manden der kan kan snakke om alt, Tor Nørretranders.

Jeg har stor respekt for begge to, men jeg undrer mig over, hvorfor man har valgt så velkendte travere udi kunsten at underholde virksomhedsledere/forsamlingshuse til et område, der skriger på nytænkning.

Posted in Dansk, Ethics, Futures No Comments »

Fashion at work

The cool kids in the Valley tell me that all the really cool kids quit their jobs and switched from eBay to Google. Then, a year ago, all the really, really cool kids quit their jobs at Google and started working for Facebook. I wonder where the really, really, really cool kids will go next?

I think it is just a matter of time before an ‘online’ service with some sort of ethical/sustainable component to it will sweep users off the feet worldwide. Budding entrepreneurs should probably pay attention to Actics to learn how not to do it.

Posted in Berkeley, Ethics, Futures No Comments »

Oxford CSR

Finally, I got around to setting up something that I have wanted to set up for a year or two.

What has been missing in my world is an international community that links together people with an interest in corporate social responsibility and related areas.

There are, of course, tonnes of mailing lists, news sites, and blogs readily available, but I prefer to work with people who have faces and bodies.

Say hello to my new darling, Oxford CSR, and join in, if you wish, on Facebook.

Here is the sales pitch:

**OK, it all sounds so bloody grand, but I am quite keen on setting up a platform like this for people who are interested in these areas**

It is now broadly recognised that companies have a key responsibility in setting the societal agenda beyond the financial bottom line and traditional philanthropy.

Considering Bhopal, Exxon Valdez and the Enron bankruptcy, while many a scandal has shown that companies cause environmental and social problems, it is beyond doubt that the key challenges facing humanity in the 21st century cannot be met without business and businesses forming part of the solution.

Notions such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), business ethics, sustainability, social entrepreneurship and environmental performance have emerged as vital signifiers of contemporary business conduct. Risk and opportunity thus go hand in hand.

The Oxford University CSR Society is for anyone who wishes to understand these developments better, whether in a professional or private capacity, and regardless of their level of experience and background.

While it is a poor start, it is, nevertheless, a start.

Posted in Ethics No Comments »

Ethics and innovation; or why ethics is the new black

The science and technology research group at SBS, which I form part of, recently hosted a group of EMBA students from the Technical University of Denmark for a one-day seminar on innovation.

The aim was not to deliver Porter-esque, but rather to provide a set of disruptive tools and empirical tales for thinking differently about ‘normal’ practices and things.

It is always tricky to work around conventions, but it is a rewarding task, nevertheless. (more…)

Posted in Academic, Design, Ethics, Technology No Comments »

Spare a penny, please

I am running the Berlin Marathon – my longest run ever – on 30 September, along with family and friends. (more…)

Posted in Ethics No Comments »

Plagiarism Inc. 2 (Oxbridge Essays)

A while back I reported about my dislike for the company Plagiarism Inc./Oxbridge Essays (Try Googling the term).

It has been rewarding to learn that I am not the only one finding this sort of enterprise utterly despicable: The Facebook group, Oxbridge Students Against ‘Oxbridge Essays’, has grown steadily and reached more than 800 members.

In the meantime, based on hearsay, it seems that Plagiarism Inc./Oxbridge Essays have intensified their recruitment efforts, at least within the Business School.

It strikes me how the company, despite claims of being a legitimate enterprise, has not been able to deliver one reasonable counter-argument, which is, perhaps, why they choose to hide behind a veil of anonymity.

Surely, a company whose website does not feature a single name, whose employees and ‘clients’ are guaranteed anonymity, and whose self-proclaimed ‘credibility’ is unverifiable is calling into question, if not seriously doubting, its own legitimacy.

For example, by not disclosing data of any sort, it becomes impossible to check whether Plagiarism Inc. really “employs 1000+ Oxford University and Cambridge University educated writers”. Also, what exactly counts as an ‘educated writer'; a first-year undergraduate student? Well, it is impossible to check.

So, Kate Jones (, are you really incapable of defending what you do for a living?

Posted in Ethics 3 Comments »

On ‘ethical’ expertise

In my attempts to push ethics from the domain of philosophy and into that of sociology, I am preparing a paper for the annual European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium in Vienna under subtheme 19, Reflexivity in Organizational Research. The title of my presentation is ‘Becoming Mr Ethical: Notes on the Reflexive Study of Ethics’. Possibly, you will know why if you read the excerpt below.

So what does ‘ethical becoming’ mean in this particular context? Well, when friends start referring to you as ‘Mr Ethical’ or the ‘Ethical Oracle’ (jokingly, of course), when acquaintances pull you aside at social events in order to ask you a question about ‘ethics’, be it about the acquisition of garden furniture or recent political scandals; when random conversations end with the question ‘what do you think, is that ethical?’; when peers point you towards issues that should be ‘exposed’ because ‘organisation x is clearly not ethical!’; when your inbox is full of invitations to join panels, seminars or working groups on ‘ethics’; when the walk home from the pub turns into an ‘ethical’ discussion; or when you realise that your name comes up high on Google when performing ‘ethics’-related searches.

To begin with you blush or shy away from delivering value judgements, however, as time progresses, you become adept in delivering answers that sound credible; you use particular phrases and ‘scientific’ wordings that provide your statements with what is apparently credibility, integrity and some form of consistency. And the loop goes on, the locomotive of recursivity is picking up speed – could this possibly be considered expertise?

Well, it is expertise in the making because gradually you find yourself quite knowledgeable, perhaps even daring, when it comes to ‘ethical’ issues: it becomes almost an instinctive reaction to read any article, listen, I did not say eavesdropping, extra carefully to any radio show or conversation, and watch any TV broadcast that have the word ‘ethics’ in it. You start using the same words, facing the same dilemmas and recognising the same problems as those experienced by the tribe members under study; you build up vocabularies and rationales that make sense in different settings, although these may, in theory at least, be irreconcilable; you know the difference between de-ontological, utilitarian, and other philosophical schools; you remember the dictionary definition of ethics and moral(s) by heart; you have an informed opinion about the leading academic ‘ethics’ journals; you become fluent in the most urgent ‘ethical’ issues pertaining to businesses, the environment and technology; you find yourself on mailing lists and in the same networks as other ‘experts’; you teach ‘ethics’ and write it on your CV; you start composting, measuring your carbon footprint and looking for local, organic, fairtrade produce; you can no longer remember the exact details of how it got to this stage; in short, you become Mr Ethical.

Posted in Academic, Ethics, Fieldwork No Comments »