Ethical subjectivity and politics in organizations: A case of health care tendering

Robert McMurray*, Alison Pullen, Carl Rhodes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the relationship between ethics and politics in organizations with a specific focus on ethical subjectivity-that is, how people at work constitute themselves as subjects in relation to both their conduct and their sense of ethical responsibility to others. To investigate this we consider those ethics that were politically mobilized when five clinical partners tendered to buy out the medical practice in which they worked. We provide a detailed reading of a letter of complaint written by one of the partners and sent to their employer-a letter we consider to be a deliberate, political, ethically motivated and overt act of resistance. Drawing on the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas we argue that the practice of ethics is characterized by a tension where ethical commitments and realpolitik come crashing together. The implication we draw from this is that in organizations the ethical subject is always a political subject; the one who takes action in response to the call of the ethical demand. It is answering the call to political action by the ethical subject-a subject prepared to act in response to the experience of injustice while not resting easy on their own ethical righteousness-that provides an affirmative possibility for researching and theorizing ethics within a critical framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-561
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


  • critical management studies
  • doctor
  • ethics
  • Foucault
  • health care
  • Levinas
  • politics
  • power
  • resistance
  • subjectivity

Cite this