Hierarchies, Power Inequalities, and Organizational Corruption

Journal of Business Ethics 111 (2):237-251 (2012)
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Abstract

This article uses social dominance theory (SDT) to explore the dynamic and systemic nature of the initiation and maintenance of organizational corruption. Rooted in the definition of organizational corruption as misuse of power or position for personal or organizational gain, this work suggests that organizational corruption is driven by the individual and institutional tendency to structure societies as group-based social hierarchies. SDT describes a series of factors and processes across multiple levels of analysis that systemically contribute to the initiation and maintenance of social hierarchies and associated power inequalities, favoritism, and discrimination. I posit that the same factors and processes also contribute to individuals’ lower awareness of the misuse of power and position within the social hierarchies, leading to the initiation and maintenance of organizational corruption. Specifically, individuals high in social dominance orientation, believing that they belong to superior groups, are likely to be less aware of corruption because of their feeling of entitlement to greater power and their desire to maintain dominance even if that requires exploiting others. Members of subordinate groups are also likely to have lower awareness of corruption if they show more favoritism toward dominant group members to enhance their sense of worth and preserve social order. Institutions contribute to lower awareness of corruption by developing and enforcing structures, norms, and practices that promote informational ambiguity and maximize focus on dominance and promotion. Dynamic coordination among individuals and institutions is ensured through the processes of person-environment fit and legitimizing beliefs, ideologies, or rationalizations.

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Author's Profile

Valerie Rosenblatt
San Francisco State University