Management Ethics in Research
Edward Wray-Bliss
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0022


When compared to a number of other areas of the social sciences—sociology and anthropology being perhaps the best examples—discussions and debates around research ethics in the field of management are quite limited, both in number and scope. This is likely the consequence of a number of interrelated factors. It may speak to issues of the constitution of management faculty, the frequent separation of the business school from other parts of the university, or the historic construction of what is considered to be the role of the business school and management research in society. For whatever other reasons it has occurred, one of the factors must be the relatively homogenous nature of the field of management and organization studies—a field dominated by positivist research and a broadly functionalist, managerial orientation. In any field of inquiry largely constituted by conventional epistemological and ontological approaches, assumptions about “normal science” emerge and the impetus to question and debate, or indeed to defend, the ethics of normalized research practices is diminished. For many, the field of research ethics in management remains a formal process of compliance, requiring little discussion or reflection; it is a process of following a predefined code and satisfying the ethical review committee or institutional review board of one’s institution. Understood thus, ethics in management research is seen as something akin to a hurdle to be overcome by requisite form filling at the start of a research project. This is a limited—and limiting—understanding of ethical issues in management research. As the contributions cited in this bibliography attest, issues of ethics span the entire research process—from conception, through execution, to publication, and beyond. Assumptions regarding the purpose and value of research constitute an ethical warrant, legitimizing the very conduct of research in the first place. Additionally, the constitution of the management academy itself and its process of publication, citation, and review raises a number of ethical issues and concerns. Finally, management scholarship that draws on explicitly critical theoretical traditions and nonpositivist or antipositivist research approaches has heightened the questioning of conventional research practices and assumptions—generating critiques and some defenses of research ethics in management. This article maps out a significant proportion of the work and resources in the management academy that engage with such issues and debates.

General Overviews

Most discussions of ethics in management research are limited in scope and length, treating ethics as a minimal compliance issue. The items cited in this section provide a fuller overview of the issues at stake. Written for a nonspecialist audience, Bell and Wray-Bliss 2009 provides a critical review of the history, status, and treatment of—and problems with—organization and management scholars’ engagement with research ethics. Brewis and Wray-Bliss 2008 reviews and critiques management and critical management scholars’ engagement with research ethics and provides a useful framework for a broader reconceptualization. Payne 2000 provides a useful overview of myriad critical accounts of the ethics and morality of conventional research practice in management, business, and the applied social sciences.

  • Bell, Emma, and Edward Wray-Bliss. “Research Ethics: Regulations and Responsibilities.” In The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Research Methods. Edited by David A. Buchanan and Alan Bryman, 78–92. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009.

    Reviews the field and argues against a limited, compliance-based approach to research ethics in favor of a deeper conceptualization of ethics as central to both the process and purpose of management and organizational research. Suitable for both students and scholars of management.

  • Brewis, Joanna, and Edward Wray-Bliss. “Re-searching Ethics: Towards a More Reflexive Critical Management Studies.” Organization Studies 29.12 (2008): 1521–1540.

    DOI: 10.1177/0170840607096385

    Arguing that the field has engaged with ethical issues in the research process in a limited and restrictive manner, the work draws upon the wider social sciences to reconceptualize research ethics for management and organization studies. Although principally written for a readership engaged with nonpositivist methodologies and a critical, political orientation to management research, the work should still be of interest and use for other management scholars. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Payne, Stephen L. “Challenges for Research Ethics and Moral Knowledge Construction in the Applied Social Sciences.” Journal of Business Ethics 26.4 (2000): 307–318.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1006173106143

    As with each of the texts in this overview section, this work highlights the foundational and encompassing nature of ethical/moral issues in research: issues which extend far beyond the terms of most formal research codes, institutional review bodies, or received understandings of normal research practice. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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