• “We need to think deeply about what economic development is and who it is for; and, engage the larger society in that conversation.”

    Dr. David T. Barnard
    President and Vice-Chancellor
    University of Manitoba

  • “Rising income inequality undercuts the trust that is essential for the market system to work.”

    Art DeFehr
    President and CEO, Palliser Furniture.

  • “Investing in people in the new economy is now not just morally sound, but economically rational”

    Alan Freeman
    Cultural Economist

  • “Organizations and societies in which the top few appropriate most of the value are like inverted pyramids – inherently unstable”

    Dr. Hari Bapuji
    Associate Professor, University of Manitoba

  • “The present crisis has overturned many accepted truths: that poverty matters but inequality doesn't is one of the more important.”

    Radhika Desai
    Professor, Department of Political Studies, University of Manitoba

  • “The income gap between rich and poor, between skilled and unskilled workers, has been rising in both developed and less developed countries for a number of years. The trend is disturbing and we must find a way to turn this trend around.”

    Michael Benarroch
    Dean, I.H. Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Economic Inequality and Management Scholars: The Challenge Awaits

By BEIF Team

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.

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 idea 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.