How Transparency via Digital Media can Sustain Liminal Business Practices in the Ethical Gray Zone

Dennis Schoeneborn, Elena Bruni, Fabian Homberg

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


Within research on ethically problematic business practices, a majority of works rests on the assumption that transparency can work as effective deterrent against such wrongdoings. In this paper we problematize this premise by arguing that for liminal business practices in the ethical gray zone, an increased transparency of ethically problematic practices (e.g., via digital platforms) can actually be conducive and co-constitutive of these practices. To investigate this phenomenon, we conducted a qualitative empirical study of self-reports on a social media platform where users share experiences on how to best apply a liminal practice of ‘bribery-tipping’ to attain complimentary room upgrades in hotels. Our study identifies five main forms of legitimation of how users rhetorically frame the practice as a normal thing to do: legitimation through (1) strategizing, (2) analogizing, (3) routinizing, (4) calculating, and (5) authorizing. Furthermore, by drawing on methods of sequence analysis, we identify recurrent rhetorical patterns of how the practice is maintained. Our study makes three main contributions: First, we develop theoretical explanations on how the visibility and transparency provided by a digital platform helped sustain a liminal business practice despite its inherent ethical ambiguity. Second, on the empirical level we showcase the usefulness of online self-reports for studying the communicative dimension of ethically questionable business practices. Finally, on the practical level, our study implies rethinking measurements against organizational misconduct as a matter of collective meaning-making.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Eighty-third Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
EditorsSonia Taneja
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationBriarcliff Manor, NY
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2023: Putting the Worker Front and Center - Boston, United States
Duration: 4 Aug 20238 Aug 2023
Conference number: 83


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address
SeriesAcademy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings

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