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Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers Paperback – 1 Dec 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Updated Edition edition (1 Dec. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199729883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199729883
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 2.3 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Some books have the rare fortune to become ever more relevant, more useful, and more interesting twenty years after they were written. This books fortune involves a kind of misfortune, because the phenomena that Moral Mazes analyzes are deplorable, and we would wish that the book were no longer relevant. Originally published in 1989, Moral Mazes has been supplemented for this second edition with a long analysis of how the 'organized irresponsibility' Jackall analyzed in the 1980s has become the key to understanding our current Great Recession. ... I can think of no single book that has more opened up my sense of how to do philosophy in the last year."--Philosophical Practice"An interesting, unorthodox, and provocative book.... Better than any other I have seen, [Jackall's] study reveals the normative reality of the manager's world."-Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr., Yale Journal on Regulation"Reformers who want to change the corporation, first must understand it. Robert Jackall's carefully researched analysis of the 'bureaucratic ethos' is one place to begin."--Ethikos"A finely honed tour of an odyssey of moral transformation, in which the actors themselves remain largely unaware of the nature of their journey. It is a brilliant work."--Troy Duster, New York University

About the Author

Robert Jackall is the Willmott Family Third Century Professor of Sociology & Public Affairs, Williams College; author of Image Makers: Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy (Chicago, 2000), Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders & the Forces of Order (Harvard, 1997), and Street Stories: The World of Police Detectives (Harvard, 2005).

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Format: Paperback
Robert Jackall is a sociologist by profession, currently teaching at Williams College. His book was originally published in the late `80's, based on his research of corporate life which was conducted earlier in the decade. It has recently been reissued, most fittingly so, as a "twentieth anniversary edition," with an additional 20 page chapter entitled "Moral Mazes and the Great Recession." In this chapter Jackall demonstrates how many of the characteristics of corporate life, in particular, the expedient and contextual value systems, that he identified in the early `80's were operative in both causing the "financial meltdown" of 2008, as well as in the reaction to it. He credits a noble predecessor, C. Wright Mills, for originating the phrase "organized irresponsibility" in describing corporate life, which certainly was most operative in the explanations for the financial disaster: no one was responsible, it was a "Tsunami," and we had no idea it was coming.

In the introduction to his original book, Jackall states that his objective is to answer the following question: "What rules do people fashion to interact with one another when they feel that, instead of ability, talent, and dedicated service to an organization, politics, adroit talk, luck, connections, and self-promotion are the real sorters of people into sheep and goats?" For a work by a sociologist, his is a bit of an outlier: no tables or graphs to bolster a "scientific, quantitative approach." And I think it is all the better for it. He lays out his methodology at the beginning, and admits that the vast majority of corporations that he approached refused to let him conduct his research.
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Format: Paperback
After reading the final afterword written twenty years after the original date of publication to take into account the Crash of 2007-8, you might want to stick your head in a gas oven or slit your throat. Jackall's view of corporate and banking competence and rectitude is very bleak but it follows on completely consistently from the previous evidence he adduced about managerial behaviour.

This is a very good analysis of the world of the large organisation with its pack behaviour and herd mentality, loose morals and over-weening arrogance -- characteristics that wil be familiar to those who have kept their moral compass while all about them are losing theirs.

The evidence fully justifies the conclusions he draws. Not reassuring.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Objective, sad, but true 5 May 2002
By D J - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Moral Mazes" is an extensive, award-winning and highly accurate sociological portrait of life in the modern corporation, an academic precursor, so to speak, of the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. Unlike many other writers on this topic, Jackall doesn't resort to Marxist rants, but rather, compares modern corporate culture to the "Protestant" work ethic most Americans are raised into.
Jackall's inquiry, based on in-depth interviews with managers themselves, is broad in scope, and it is hard to generalize. Within about 200 pages, he covers the social circles of the corporation, cronyism, bad decisionmaking and public relations, to name a few. He discovers that corporations, at the upper levels at least, resemble a king's court more than a meritocratic organization. The essential work of a manager is not "management" or "leadership," but constantly making the right friends and adopting the correct posture. Anyone who has worked in such a setting, or knows people in such a field, will be able to relate instantly, although it can be argued that Jackall did not need to spend years of ethnographic research to reach this conclusion.
This book is not for everyone, as Jackall must conclude that "ethics" as practiced by managers is nothing more than "survival" and ambition for one's own "advantage." While such a diagnosis may seem harsh, it is difficult to rationally explain recent events in the marketplace, such as the Enron scandal, without concluding that corporate executives have a moral compass that differs from that of the everyday person.
Contrary to what a layman may think, Jackall makes no moral judgments of his own, although readers most certainly will. The title itself can be misinterpreted by people not familiar with sociology. The "morals" Jackall discusses are not ethics (which he attacks in his intro), but Durkheim's "occupational morality." While he does study corporations, he calls the focus of this study the "bureaucratic ethos" (not "corporate ethos"). Anyone who's read history (or the local newspaper) already knows bureacracy can create its own rules, from governments (i.e., the Nazis and the Holocaust) to religions (i.e., Catholicism and child molesters).
Surprisingly, by portraying executives' lives as frought with anxiety, guilt, "senseless" work and no reliable means to measure their self worth, Jackall may cause an intelligent reader to actually feel sorry for them. Reading though his interviews with executives, there's little question that many executives began to regard him as a "Father Confessor" to admit their deeds.
At the same time, Jackall offers an alternative theory for why the American work ethic has all but vanished: if people are promoted based soley on their manipulative social skills, why would anyone want to subscribe to the old work ethic?
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Throughly depressing but an absolute must read 6 Oct. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book ought to be required reading for all MBA candidates and would be corporate middle managers as an intro into the sad and dysfunctional but real corporate world. In numerous scenes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has worked at a Fortune 200 firm the book recounts numerous instances of failed and misdirected management. Depressing because it reveals the underbelly of corporate America and capitalism but readable in its accurate portrayal. Occasionally at times slow (particularly towards the end when he presumably is tired of writing) it does a clinical autopsy on management. Like watching a train wreck you are compelled to keep reading even as you realize the denouement. If you think that ignorance is bliss - give this a miss - on the other hand, if you are a frustrated idealist and need proof that in order for evil to overcome good, good only has to do nothing, it is worth the investment. An excellent primer on why we need ethics courses but more importantly ethical actions.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Required Reading: Business 101 27 July 2011
By Ray Gardner - Published on
Format: Paperback
An outstanding book.

Jackall correctly discerns that in the corporate world of bureaucratic double-speak, "details are pushed down, and credit is pulled up." Without prejudice or malice, he ably shreds the myths of corporate excellence, accountability and supposed work ethic.

As a corporate middle manager, I cannot recommend this book enough to those about to enter, or who have newly entered into the corporate world. It should be a bible to those who are determined to stay in the corporate world, and an encouragement for those looking to jump ship.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Inverted Values 2 Aug. 2012
By not me - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
American culture claims to value individuality, risk-taking, team work, straight talk, and personal responsibility. American business culture pays lip service to these values, too, but it actually rewards conformity, sucking up, self-promotion, euphemism, cronyism, expediency, and, above all else, having the knack for never never never being associated with a bad decision or a failure. "Moral Mazes" explores and exposes these contradictions in lipsmacking detail. The author is a sociologist, and he did a great deal of field research for this book. He wraps his argument in the jargon of social science. But, in reality, he's a satirist and an acute observer of the human comedy, like a modern Veblen or Mills. His book is very good, but I suspect it's a bit unfair to corporate managers, who do, after all, make useful widgets and other things from time to time.

Memory lane: I was the manager of a chain bookstore for eight months after I graduated from college. Our CEO visited one day, not long after he had summarily fired 30 percent of the managers in the Los Angeles area in order to terrorize the survivors. While inspecting my store, he paid close attention to the magazine racks. We had a normal assortment of periodicals: news magazines, sports mags, skin rags (Playboy and Penthouse, but not Hustler), womens' journals, biker mags, etc. After a long and careful scrutiny of the mix, the CEO pronounced his verdict: "This store needs more porn." So we put out Hustlers. The CEO had an MBA from Harvard. The chain went bankrupt about 10 years later. That made me glad.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Timely book 5 July 2010
By Virginia Rivard - Published on
Format: Paperback
How often does a twenty-year-old academic book get reprinted? Seldom does one stand the test of time as this book has. The new edition has a chapter connecting his thesis to the Great Recession--though really, if you have read the book, you can connect the dots yourself. (The book is that clearly written.)
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