Friday, July 27, 2012

Economic Inequality and Management Scholars: The Challenge Awaits


By Dr. Suhaib Riaz (for BEIF).

An interesting sub-theme on “Institutional Work and the Institutionalization of Inequality” was held at this year’s EGOS (European Group for Organizational Studies) conference in Helsinki. The conveners, Tom Lawrence, John Amis and Kamal Munir, brought together scholars interested in various types of inequalities, with a focus on how these inequalities become institutionalized.

Aalto University, Helsinki.
Venue of EGOS conference
The excellent initiative served to highlight the challenges in the field. At the outset, inequality often remains an add-on issue for management scholars, rather than the core of the investigation, per se. Further, while several types of inequalities are looked at, such as social class, emotional capital, and environmental issues, the burning issue of today, economic inequality in society, receives less attention from management scholars. These observations reflect the wider pattern in the literature.

Within current socio-economic systems, given the primacy of economic resources in providing access to most other resources, such as education, status, environmental resources, etc., it is perhaps no surprise that public attention is focused on where the money is.

Economists and philosophers, in contrast to management scholars, have given more thought to the topic. From John Rawl’s focus on primary goods (sometimes including ‘money’), Amartaya Sen’s highlighting of people’s capabilities, Richard Arneson’s push for opportunities, the field has much debate on what should be equalized, within the broad issue of economic inequality.

This challenge for management scholars is also an opportunity.

The aspects of economic inequalities studied by economists have moved more into the social realm that involves deeper understanding of people, their interactions, and society, as opposed to the earlier focus on more objective commodities. Further, the business organization angle, which is perhaps the most important part of this public issue today, is expectedly missing from the debates. Management scholars are already engaged with social and organizational issues, and are thus in a unique position to bridge the gap.

The conversation and the challenge await.

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This blog post is cross-posted with the Business and Economic Inequality Forum blog

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