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Business Ethics Quarterly
Special Issue on:
Socio-Technological Conditions of Organized Immaturity
in the Twenty-First Century
Andreas Georg Scherer, University of Zurich
Cristina Neesham, Newcastle University
Dennis Schoeneborn, Copenhagen Business School / Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Markus Scholz, University of Applied Science for Management & Communication Vienna
The purpose of this special issue is to collect and promote research that examines forms of organized immaturity in contemporary society. The phenomenon of organized immaturity is a manifestation of a human condition that results from the erosion of the autonomy of the individual and is advanced by socio-technological systems and their surveillance and control mechanisms. We seek conceptual, normative, or empirical studies that identify, analyze, and critique current technical and social sources of organized immaturity and develop solutions for resisting new forms of surveillance and control. In line with the disciplinary and thematic scope of BEQ, we invite authors to consider the role of (business) organizations and organizing in both control and emancipation of the individual in business and society, and to analyze possible ethical implications.
We understand "immaturity" as a condition arising when an individual deliberately or implicitly defers or delegates his or her own independent reasoning to socio-technological systems or authorities. This phenomenon has been a matter of concern for philosophers, psychologists, and social theorists over decades (see Adorno, 1951/2005; Dewey, 1939; Fromm, 1941/1969; Habermas, 1970, 1984; Marcuse, 1964; Zuboff, 2019). The Enlightenment freed individuals from their "self-inflicted immaturity" (Kant, 1784: 481, own translation). Yet, the Enlightenment understood as a societal development and achievement is not irreversible (see Arendt, 1951; Horkheimer & Adorno, 1947/2002).
Rather, there are technical, social, and political conditions and developments that push in the opposite direction and discourage human beings from using "one's reason without the guidance of another" (Kant, 1784: 481, own translation). Whereas the resulting constellations are not necessarily planned and steered by a central authority, these developments may reinforce each other in their autonomy-eroding mechanisms and effects so that the overall impression is that of an orchestrated and collective phenomenon: the erosion of individual autonomy as a consequence of an "organized immaturity" that results from prevailing socio-technological conditions.
Today, many forms of such organized immaturity are possible when technologies advance, ideologies flourish, "influencers" gain prevalence, unethical businesses and practices spread, and autocracies rise while democratic systems and individual liberties are in decline, and every form impacts a person's autonomy in their role as a citizen, consumer, worker, investor, entrepreneur, or even in everyday life (Bradshaw & Howard, 2018; de Jonquières, 2017; Eatwell & Goodwin, 2018; Taplin, 2017). Despite modernity's efforts to promote liberty as a natural right of humans, modern society, assisted by technological revolutions (digitalization, internet of things, AI, social scoring, etc.), also creates more complex systems that not only expose the individual to external or manufactured risks that (often) cannot be attributed to accountable actors, authorities, or organizations (Beck, 2009), but place the individual under more external surveillance and control (Gorton, 2016; Hansen & Flyerbom, 2015; Richards, 2013; Zuboff, 2019).
Current big data technologies, such as algorithmic filtering of content in social media, forms of pattern recognition and machine learning (Tegmark, 2017), and social scoring or social credit systems (FastCompany, 2019), are capable of colonizing and structuring the lifeworld of individuals (Habermas, 1987) in ways in which giving up individual rights of freedom (e.g., privacy) and subscribing to ethically dubious practices become the norm (Zuboff, 2019). Accordingly, the individual deprived of the exercise of mature, independent critical-reflective reasoning is likely to unwittingly participate in the creation of this new "normality" by feeding these systems with data and routinely relying on the outputs, given their apparent convenience and use value (Galloway, 2017).
As a consequence, safeguarding the basic liberties of mature individuals becomes increasingly difficult, and the social institutions emerging from uncritical forms of agency are likely to stifle rather than encourage human flourishing. In other words, instead of harnessing social and technological progress to create propitious environments for human fulfilment and self-determination (Tegmark, 2017), individuals engage such advancements in systems that can constrain, dominate and oppress people in novel ways (Zuboff, 2019).
Challenged by the emergence of new forms of immaturity and by the "dark" role of organizations, businesses, and authorities in turning these forms into systems of dominance and control, we call for business ethicists, philosophers, and social science researchers to focus their attention on these new phenomena. It is only from a nuanced and sophisticated knowledge base that we can build the critical responses needed to protect self-determination qualities that are so fundamental to enable human beings and to advance economic and political liberties in democratic societies that are key for establishing ethical businesses and practices.
This special issue is open to conceptual, normative, or empirical work that shows how engaging philosophical reasoning, business ethics, and social science research can help us identify, analyze, or resist forms of organized immaturity in contemporary contexts of businesses, organizations, and institutions in society.
Topics and contexts of interest for this special issue can be, for example:
Generally, this special issue is oriented toward the ethical implications of organized immaturity for business and society, and looks at phenomena that illustrate the irrational effects on individual autonomy and maturity of the instrumental and controlling rationality of contemporary socio-technological systems.
Examples of questions:
Manuscripts considered for publication in this special issue may address questions such as:
General business ethics and social theory studies:
Social issue and context driven studies:
Studies of the social and ethical impacts of technology:
Manuscripts must be prepared in compliance with the journal's instructions for contributors:
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly/information/instructions-for-authors-submission-guidelines. Submissions that do not conform to these instructions, in terms of manuscript style and referencing, will not be reviewed.
Manuscripts should be submitted after March 31, 2021, and no later than May 31, 2021, using BEQ's online submission system: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/beq. When submitting be sure to choose the option that indicates that the submission is for this special issue.
All papers will be initially reviewed for suitability by the guest editor team, and submissions that pass initial review will undergo double-blind review by external referees in accordance with the journal's standard editorial process. By submitting a paper for consideration, authors consent to be called upon as reviewers. Authors also agree, in the event that a submission after review receives an invitation to revise and resubmit, to resubmit within three months of that invitation.
For further information on the special issue, contact the guest editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on the BEQ more generally, contact the Editor-in-Chief at EditorBEQ@Vanderbilt.edu or visit the journal's website at www.cambridge.org/beq.
References and Guiding Literature
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Arendt, H. (1951). The origins of totalitarianism. New York: Schocken.
Bradshaw, S. & Howard, P. N. (2018). Challenging truth and trust: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation. Working Paper, Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda.
Beck, U. (2009). World at risk. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Crouch, C. (2004). Post-democracy. Malden MA: Polity Press.
de Jonquières, G. (2017). The world turned upside down: the decline of the rules-based international system and the rise of authoritarian nationalism. International Politics, 54(5): 552–560.
Dewey, J. (1939). Freedom and culture. New York: Putnam.
Eatwell, R. & Goodwin, M. (2018). National populism. The revolt against liberal democracy. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
FastCompany (2019): Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system. 26 August 2019, https://www.fastcompany.com/90394048/uh-oh-silicon-valley-is-building-a-chinese-style-social-credit-system (accessed 10 March 2020).
Fromm, E. (1941/1969). Escape from freedom. New York: Holt and Company.
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Galloway, S. (2017). The four. The hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. London: Bantam Press.
Gorton, W. A. (2016). Manipulating citizens: How political campaigns' use of behavioral social science harms democracy. New Political Science, 38(1): 61–80.
Grasso, M. (2019). Oily politics: A critical assessment of the oil and gas industry's contribution to climate change. Energy Research & Social Science, 50: 106–115.
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Habermas, J. (1970). Technology and science as "ideology". In J. Habermas (Ed.), Toward a rational society: Student protest, science, and politics (pp. 81–122). Boston: Beacon Press.
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Kant, I. (1784): Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? Berlinische Monatsschrift, 4: 481–494.
Marcuse, H. (1964). One-dimensional man. Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press.
O'Connor, C. & Weatherall, J.O. (2019). The misinformation age. How false beliefs spread. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.
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Prasad, A. (2019). Denying anthropogenic climate change: Or, how our rejection of objective reality gave intellectual legitimacy to fake news. Sociological Forum, 34: 1217–1234.
Richards, N. M. (2013). The dangers of surveillance. Harvard Law Review, 126: 1934–1965.
Taplin, J. (2017). Move fast and break things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Tegmark, M. (2017). Life 3.0: Being human in the age of artificial intelligence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Thomson, I. (2000). From the question concerning technology to the quest for a democratic technology: Heidegger, Marcuse, Feenberg. Inquiry – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 43(2): 203–216.
Weisberg, Z. (2015). Biotechnology as end game: Ontological and ethical collapse in the "biotech century". Nanoethics, 9(1): 39–54.
Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new Frontier of power. New York: PublicAffairs Books.