Mapping the cultural grammar of reflexivity: The case of the Enron scandal

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Abstract

Theorists of political economy, institutional sociology and late modernity have recently embraced 'reflexivity' as a pivotal concept in their accounts of change in capitalist society and institutions. Despite significant differences between them, these theorists jointly promote an image of reflexivity as a culturally unstructured or disembedded reflection upon problematized conventions and beliefs. The paper turns this joint theoretical image into an empirical question. Focusing on the reflexive discourse sparked by the Enron scandal, it offers a grounded analysis of Enron-related articles published in the popular American BusinessWeek in 1997-2007. The analysis examines the rise and fall of the Enron icon and the sense-making process that followed its bankruptcy which, at that time, was the biggest in history. It shows that reflexivity had an underlying cultural grammar that paralleled that pertaining to the management of money. Its four primary principles were: minimizing 'costs' entailing loss of discursive status or persuasive effect; maximizing the use-value of a core truism; quantitatively cueing morality; andconducting discursive competitions. Capitalist reflexivity, the case study proposes, is based on an underlying grammar cast in the shape of its own beliefs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-166
Number of pages26
JournalEconomy and Society
Volume40
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Economy and Society’s anonymous reviewers for their comments. I also thank Michael Shalev, Gideon Kunda and Daniella Arieli for their suggestions. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 568/08).

Funding

I thank Economy and Society’s anonymous reviewers for their comments. I also thank Michael Shalev, Gideon Kunda and Daniella Arieli for their suggestions. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 568/08).

FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation568/08

    Keywords

    • Capitalist culture
    • Enron
    • Financial scandals
    • Reflexivity

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