Playing with the Pieces: Deconstruction and the Loss of Moral Culture



This paper investigates the assumptions and implications of the notion of deconstruction as they are found in writers concerned with organization theory and organization ethnography. Deconstruction, and postmodernism generally, is shown to be a continuation of modernity’s attack on cultural authority and its celebration of the ideology of individualism with its concomitant of endless criticism. Deconstruction posits the oppositional nature of language and symbolism as a ‘violent hierarchy’ and seeks to overturn this hierarchy to achieve human freedom. This reading of the repressive aspects of culture is shown to undermine the essential dynamic of culture, which is a recurrent splitting of what is from what is not in the process of forming meaning.

By opening up structures of meaning to expose their repressed contents, deconstruction aspires to question all authority. This is particularly threatening to the ethical aspects of organizational culture, because it suggests a continuous attempt to question the boundary between right and wrong. Indeed, orders of right and wrong are seen by deconstruction as mere political attempts at controlling an organization. Ethics is reduced to politics; authority is confused with power.

I argue here, instead, that stable structures of meaning are needed over time to found a traditional and thus legitimate base for business ethics. Contrary to deconstruction’s goal of opening meaning to its repressed opposite, I assert that memory should be seen as a moral decision based on past experience. Business ethics requires stable moral standards and, no less, the capacity to believe in them.