Moral Accounting by Organizations

Our article in the Journal of Management InquiryMoral Accounting by Organizations: A Process Study of the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — was published today. The article was part of a special issue on corruption guest edited by Stelios Zyglidopoulos, Paul Hirsch, Pablo Martin de Holan, and Nelson Phillips. Co-authored with two fellow Penn State alumni, Chad Murphy and Shubha Patvardhan, in the article we take an inductive approach to understanding the aftermath of crises, namely, the process by which organizations come to be viewed as morally accountable (or not) for such events. 

We studied the transcripts of the 2009 Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) that investigated the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. Our findings revealed a dynamic we call moral accounting, a process whereby supposed wrongdoers encounter narrative and situational constraints that make it difficult, if not impossible, to fully account for the (im)morality of their actions, a position that often induces moments of disorientation that only reinforce the perception of wrongdoing. To push back against such perceptions, supposed wrongdoers use rhetorical strategies and sentence-level linguistic tactics, which can likewise reinforce the perception of wrongdoing. Overall, our model suggests that organizational moral accountability is not simply assigned, accepted, or denied—rather, it is negotiated via an iterative, discursive process.

The paper is available through ResearchGate.