Ethics in Gothic Form: John Ruskin and Ethics of Entrepreneurship

Jean Clarke, Robin Holt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


In this paper we introduce John Ruskin’s writings on the value of gothic architecture, using his study of mediaeval gothic craftwork as a means to reflect on the ethical potential of new organizational form. Ruskin understood gothic architecture emerging from the co-operative, on-going and expressive activity of workers explicitly committed to cultivating growth that sustains community life, functionally, intellectually and emotionally. As such ‘gothic’ served as a template for ethical organization. In this paper we examine these ideas in the context of entrepreneurship, often viewed as individualistic, self-serving and opportunistic, so the antithesis of Ruskin’s gothic. In line with Ruskin’s call to examine ethics as lived human experience, we employ a phenomenological approach to understand entrepreneurship as a ‘gothic’ condition, focusing on the everyday activity of twenty entrepreneurs. Our findings suggest that whilst the entrepreneurs were alive to the importance of commercial return, they demonstrated further concern for, and commitment to, collective production and consumption activities that enabled them to create and judge the conditions for “good labour”. We argue Ruskin’s work on gothic offers a means to understand what it is about entrepreneurial work that makes us human, that which ‘gives to life’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Eightieth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
EditorsGuclu Atinc
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationBriarcliff Manor, NY
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2020: Broadening Our Sight - Virtual
Duration: 7 Aug 202011 Aug 2020
Conference number: 80


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2020
Internet address
SeriesAcademy of Management Proceedings

Cite this