Not for turning? Power, institutional ethos and the ethics of irreversibility

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Abstract

Adoption of an ‘ethics of reversibility’ can seem fashionably enlightened, even democratic, but appears less radical when issues of power are opened up. Adopting the motif of keeping, this paper sets its questioning of an on-going individuation of ethics within the context of an insidious reduction of institutional mores to business parlance. Keeping Derrida's ‘philosophy of reversals’ in view, the discussion resists the double bind of attempts to make higher-level decisions ever more ‘irreversible’ on the one hand, while devolving ethical responsibilities for outcomes downwards on the other. In criss-crossing, back and forth, on variations of these themes, the aim of the paper is to contest a division of moral labour in which the more powerful style themselves as ‘not for turning’, while those dispossessed of authority are left to vacillate within the market agendas of flexibility and transparency.

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