Explain the manner in which HR policies and practices are instrumental in implementing, and ensuring compliance, with legal mandates.

Discussion 2


“Ethical Issues in Business”  Please respond to the following:

  • Read the article titled, “Recognition, Reification, and Practices of Forgetting: Ethical Implications of Human Resource Management.” Be prepared to discuss. Next, analyze one (1) human resource ethical issue that you believe is prominent in today’s organizations. Suggest two (2) approaches that organizations could take in order to resolve this issue. Provide a rationale for your response.
  • Rank the major ethical issues and dilemmas in business in order of importance (one [1] being the most important). Provide a rationale for your response.

Discussion 3

COLLAPSEOverall Rating:

  • Mandated Legal Requirements and Ethical Decision Making”  Please respond to the following:
  • Read the article titled, “Sarbanes-Oxley Act: HR’s Role in Ensuring Compliance and Driving Organizational Change.” Next, suggest two (2) actions that HR should take in order to ensure an organization’s compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley. Explain the manner in which HR policies and practices are instrumental in implementing, and ensuring compliance, with legal mandates.
  • Examine the key individual and organizational factors that influence an ethical decision-making framework in resolving ethical dilemmas. Outline a guide that HR can use to implement principles and core values in ethical decision making in an organization. Provide a rationale for your response.

    Recognition, Reification, and Practices of Forgetting: Ethical Implications of Human Resource Management

    Gazi Islam

    Received: 3 June 2011 / Accepted: 28 July 2012 / Published online: 17 August 2012

    � Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

    Abstract This article examines the ethical framing of

    employment in contemporary human resource management

    (HRM). Using Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition and

    classical critical notions of reification, I contrast recogni-

    tion and reifying stances on labor. The recognition

    approach embeds work in its emotive and social particu-

    larity, positively affirming the basic dignity of social

    actors. Reifying views, by contrast, exhibit a forgetfulness

    of recognition, removing action from its existential and

    social moorings, and imagining workers as bundles of

    discrete resources or capacities. After discussing why

    reification is a problem, I stress that recognition and reifi-

    cation embody different ethical standpoints with regards to

    organizational practices. Thus, I argue paradoxically that

    many current HRM best practices can be maintained while

    cultivating an attitude of recognition. If reification is a type

    of forgetting, cultivating a recognition attitude involves

    processes of ‘‘remembering’’ to foster work relations that

    reinforce employee dignity.

    Keywords Human resources � Recognition � Dignity � Frankfurt School � Critical theory � Reification


    The rapid growth of Human Resource Management (HRM)

    has involved attempts to frame HRM’s role in under-

    standing the human consequences of the contemporary

    world of work (Heery 2008). Such attempts have generated

    discussions around the ethics of HRM (Pinnington et al.

    2007), varying from principled and ‘‘purist’’ perspectives

    drawn from moral theory and philosophy (Rowan 2000) to

    more ‘‘user-friendly’’ approaches that mix ethical-theoret-

    ical foundations and formulate managerial guidelines for

    practice (Winstanley and Woodall 2000; Heery 2008).

    More recent approaches to HRM have begun to emerge

    from critical theory, focusing on ideological and exploit-

    ative aspects of HRM, and challenging mainstream

    approaches to ethics by combining a practice-based

    approach with a critical lens (Greenwood 2002).

    The growing importance of critical ethical approaches

    brings with it an increased focus on ‘‘macro’’ critiques of

    HRM (Townley 1993; Islam and Zyphur 2008), calling into

    question the ethical grounding of the field in general

    (Greenwood 2002). While traditional views frame human

    resources as costs to be minimized or resources to be

    deployed strategically, critical ethical views highlight the

    potentially problematic idea of ‘‘using’’ people (Green-

    wood 2002), inherent in such framings. In Simon’s (1951)

    seminal work, the employee is defined as one who ‘‘permits

    his behavior to be guided by a decision reached by another,

    irrespective of his own judgment as to the merits of that

    decision’’ (p. 21), a characterization that seems to deprive

    humans of basic freedoms of conscience. While such

    authors do not discuss this aspect of employment relations

    as inherently problematic, some ethics scholars questioned

    the ethicality of contemporary workplace relationships

    (Nussbaum 2006) as well as HRM (e.g., Pless and Maak

    G. Islam (&) Grenoble Ecole de Management, 12 Rue Pierre Semard,

    38000 Grenoble, France

    e-mail: gislamster@gmail.com

    G. Islam

    Insper Institute for Education and Research, 300 Rua Quatá,

    Vila Olimpia, São Paulo, SP 04546-042, Brazil


    J Bus Ethics (2012) 111:37–48

    DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1433-0

    2004), as reducing human beings to material or financial

    resources and thus depriving them of their relational or

    other essential aspects.

    To be sure, HRM focuses on ‘‘human capital’’ within

    organizations (Foss 2008; van Marrewijk and Timmers

    2003) to enhance organizational productivity, framing

    individuals as means to organizational ends. Selection

    processes focus on job-specific individual and team

    knowledge, skills, and abilities (grouped together in the

    general ‘‘knowledge, skills, and abilities’’ or ‘‘KSAs’’;

    Guion 1998), training and development practices focus on

    firm-specific competencies and relational habits that are

    difficult to copy (van Marrewijk and Timmers 2003), and

    psychological contracts in firms tend to be increasingly

    transactional, focusing on short-term market exchanges

    (Rousseau 1995). That human agency is treated in an

    ‘‘instrumental’’ fashion by such features of HRM could

    have implications for the basic dignity of workers (Sayer

    2007). It would be problematic if all instrumentality con-

    stituted a breach of dignity; however, because such a strict

    ethical criterion might invalidate any goal-directed

    behavior. We thus need to explore the conditions under

    which treating work instrumentally diminishes human

    dignity, and in what ways instrumentality might be con-

    sistent with dignity. Ideally, such an examination would

    attempt to outline how instrumental action can be best

    reconciled with views that recognize the full social worth

    of human beings.

    This article uses a recognition-theoretic view (Honneth

    1995a) to provide a conceptual undergirding for a critical

    ethical examination of HRM, employing Honneth’s (2008a)

    reformulation of the notion of reification to explore how

    reifying views of work can undermine workers’ ability to

    grasp the moral weight of their actions. Following Honneth

    (2008a), reifying work is not immoral in terms of an external

    moral standard, but rather as a misrecognition of those forms

    of sociality that make organized work possible in the first

    place. As a proponent of the fundamental value of work

    within a well-lived life, Honneth provides an ideal basis for a

    critical ethics perspective in HRM. Building on earlier dis-

    cussions of reification (Lukacs 1971), contemporary HRM

    can be critiqued, not for valuing the wrong things, but for

    misrepresenting the value bases underlying work systems, a

    distinction that will carry practical implications.

    The remainder of this article unfolds as follows: after

    briefly summarizing a recognition-theoretic view of work,

    I overview the notion of reification, discussing how

    employees become reified through HRM practices. I then

    discuss reification as a problem of recognition, using rec-

    ognition theory as a normative compass with which to

    critique work practices that reflect a ‘‘forgetfulness of

    recognition.’’ Next, I discuss the possibility of a non-

    reifying HRM approach, engaging in instrumental action

    while avoiding reification. Finally, I respond to limitations

    of the recognition-theoretic view, outlining areas for future


    Recognition and the Ethics of Work

    The recognition-theoretic perspective begins with the idea

    that human self-esteem and dignity are constituted inter-

    subjectively through participation in forms of social life,

    including working life and political and social participation

    (Honneth 1995a). Participation, in recognition theory,

    always involves an implicit, basic positive or affirmative

    social gesture, a standpoint of interpersonal recognition. By

    recognition, Honneth (2008a; Honneth and Margalit 2001)

    suggests a pre-cognitive affirmation of the social-affective

    bond between members of a society. In other words, before

    ‘‘cognizing’’ the identities, traits and preferences of a

    person, we have to ‘‘recognize’’ their status as autonomous

    and agentic. Recognition, according to Honneth (2008a)

    underlies all forms of sociality, even those that, as we will

    see, he terms reifying. The latter, he claims, are pathologies

    of misrecognition, and involve ‘‘forgotten’’ or repressed


    The notion of intersubjective recognition, key to Hon-

    neth’s theory, developed from an elaboration and extension

    of Hegel’s early Jena writings (Honneth 1995a, b), which

    explored the philosophical roots of Hobbes’ social contract

    theory. To Hegel, social relations could not be solely based

    on contractual/legal forms of sociability, because the

    mutual recognition of legal rights already presupposed a

    more primitive form of recognition, namely, the acknowl-

    edgement that others are similar to oneself in having needs

    and vulnerabilities. The universalization and articulation of

    this notion of the ‘‘concrete’’ individual gives rise to an

    ‘‘institutionalized recognition order’’ (Fraser and Honneth

    2003) establishing the idea of a formalized legal person

    with rights (Honneth 1995a, b). This general right-bearing

    person, further, strives to become an ‘‘I’’ or subject,

    standing against the community from which his/her per-

    sonhood arose to critically evaluate and seek esteem as a

    productive individual (Honneth 1995a, b). In a dialectic

    progression between different ‘‘recognition orders,’’ the

    affective concrete individual thus becomes a formal legal

    entity, then attempts to express his/her individuality and

    gain esteem through forms of work. Work therefore rep-

    resents an advanced stage of identity consolidation that,

    following upon a foundation of universal rights and inter-

    subjective care, is a key aspect of an ethical (i.e., well-

    lived, flourishing) life.

    Without pursuing the Hegelian roots of recognition

    theory further, we see that formalized contractual relations

    (such as an employment contract) presume a conception of

    38 G. Islam


    individuals as worthy of concern and acknowledgment. In

    turn, these relations lay the foundation for individuals’

    attempts to seek esteem and merit from within a commu-

    nity of civic relations. Thus, recognition takes the varied

    forms of concern, rights, and esteem, with each form

    tending toward the next.

    For Honneth (2008a), these different forms of recogni-

    tion all involve positive affirmations of one’s fellow human

    beings. ‘‘Positive,’’ however, does not refer to positive

    emotions toward the person or support for their behavior

    (Honneth 2008a). It is rather an acknowledgment that

    peoples’ agency must be reckoned with as participants in

    society, that individuals be seen first and foremost as

    beings with subjectivity and a point of view (for a critique,

    see Butler 2008). Conversely, failing to acknowledge or

    recognize individuals leads to a state of invisibility or

    social alienation (Honneth and Margalit 2001). Applied to

    employee relations, recognition is thus different from

    attitudes like organizational identification, value alignment,

    or person-organization fit, and provides for a basis of sol-

    idarity while allowing for value conflicts. Rather than

    identification, Honneth and Margalit (2001) describe rec-

    ognition as a kind of ‘‘motivational readiness’’ to engage

    others as moral actors whose states are worthy of articu-

    lation, irrespective of differences in values or identities.

    Honneth views recognition as basic to social organiza-

    tion, as grounding personal autonomy and self-realization.

    However, he resists charges of instrumentalism or ‘‘func-

    tionalism,’’ arguing that, rather than a cause of healthy

    social relations, recognition constitutes social relations per

    se. Recognition is not desirable because of its instrumental

    outcomes but because it grounds instrumental social rela-

    tions themselves (Honneth 2002). This distinction is useful

    because, unlike utilitarian views of ethics, it does not frame

    ethics in terms of instrumental outcomes. More impor-

    tantly, however, it does not preclude instrumental or

    functional social behavior (which would make it difficult to

    apply to most contemporary organizations), but affirms that

    instrumental behavior finds its ultimate ground in the self-

    realization of social actors made possible through recog-

    nition. This second aspect makes it ideal for studying work

    relations, by reconciling instrumentalist, interest-based and

    principled justice views (e.g., Greenwood 2002).

    In addition, beyond its critical potential, recognition theory

    also rescues the work concept from overly cognitive con-

    ceptions of social interaction (Moll 2009). For example,

    Honneth’s mentor, Habermas (e.g. 1981), locates ethicality in

    ‘‘communicative rationality,’’ within the processes of inter-

    subjective truth-finding, dissociating ethics from instrumental

    conceptions of action, which are directed toward functional

    aspects of society. Honneth (1995b), departing from this tra-

    dition, argues that Habermas had abandoned work as an

    ethical mode of being, and that instrumental action should

    not be dismissed as irrelevant to the ethical sphere. Yet work,

    and instrumental action generally, can also promote habits of

    forgetting whereby we deny, repress, or misrecognize the

    ethical basis of our work (Honneth 2008a, 1995b). Neither

    ‘‘unethical’’ in the sense of breaking ethical codes (Wiley

    2000) nor ‘‘erroneous’’ in the sense of making category mis-

    takes (Honneth 2008a), such misrecognitions involve taking

    an inauthentic stance toward work, failing to understand what

    it is that one is actually doing while acting. In a similar way

    that for Habermas (1981), rational communication presup-

    poses that one cares about, or has a stake in, the ability for

    people to reach consensus, for Honneth, coordinated social

    interaction presupposes that actors care about or have a stake

    in mutual acknowledgement.

    Despite this presupposition, however, when work

    interactions are goal directed, we may neglect this under-

    lying basis in interpersonal recognition, treating organiza-

    tional goals as if they existed independently of human

    intentions and shared projects. This does not change the

    social nature of work, but may promote neglect of this

    aspect. Because the immediate object of work involves a

    product or service, the production of which is the explicit

    goal of a work system, the underlying social bases of the

    system may remain below consciousness, and risk being

    forgotten altogether. Although intersubjective recognition

    does not itself constitute an object of work, but rather a

    ‘‘grammar’’ (Honneth 1995a, b) of work, its underlying

    structuration of the work sphere provides a basis for col-

    laboration and instrumental labor. Reification is the term

    Honneth (2008a) uses to describe the various processes that

    promote a misrecognition, forgetting or neglect of this

    underlying relation at work, and reification is thus a useful

    concept to discuss as a basis for HRM.

    Human Resources and the Problem of Reification

    While labor discussions have tended to frame issues of

    worker well-being in terms of economic welfare (Gill

    1999), an ongoing debate within critical theory involves the

    extent to which systemic critique should involve primarily

    economic questions of material redistribution or symbolic

    issues of identity and values (Fraser 1995; Fraser and

    Honneth 2003). Honneth and coworker (2003) argues that

    the history of labor conflict is marked by struggles to

    defend ‘‘ways of life,’’ not simply gain material benefits

    (c.f. Thompson 1924/1993), and thus understanding ethical

    worker relations must involve a recognition of work as part

    of an ethical human striving for a ‘‘good life.’’ Recognition

    theory (Honneth 1995a, b) argues that such a good life

    involves the striving of actors to achieve work-related

    goals that are considered valuable in a community of


    Recognition, Reification, and Human Resources 39


    Because HRM specializes in the administration of

    human action, motivation, and relationships at work, it

    must contain an (implicit or explicit) concept of employee

    agency. According to Kallinikos (2003), ‘‘The consider-

    ation of the models of human agency, underlying the

    constitution of the workplace during the past 100 years or

    so, seems to be essential to the project of understanding

    the key behavioral premises of current economic and

    labor developments.’’ (p. 596). The concept of reification

    (Lukacs 1971; Honneth 2008a; Berger and Pullberg 1966)

    contributes to the understanding of organizational life a

    particular vision of the relationship between human agents

    and the products of their labor. According to Lukacs

    (1971), the meaning people attribute to work depends on

    the relations they take with the objects of their labor, as

    well as their co-workers; these relationships shape not only

    the products of labor but the worker’s ideas of themselves

    as well. Lukacs’ (1971) formulation of the concept

    involved the modern essentializing of work, such that the

    products of contemporary labor practices appear as inde-

    pendent of the social processes by which they were con-

    structed (Jay 2008). Obscuring the work processes

    underlying social products then made such products appear

    as fact-like, deterministic constraints on agents rather than

    as reflections of their own agency (Whyte 2003).

    Applied to the world of employment relations, forms of

    sociality thus reified begin to look like duties and obliga-

    tions, rather than as freely entered forms of social inter-

    action. The facticity of social relations makes social actors

    appear as objects, either of duties and obligations, on the

    one hand, or as objects of manipulation and profit, on the

    other. Such objectification feeds back into the self-concepts

    of actors (Whyte 2003), and they begin to see themselves

    in fact-like terms, as bearers or owners of traits, exemplars

    of categories, and holders of human ‘‘capital’’ such as

    KSA’s, rather than as free agents whose self-expression is

    realized in and through such traits and categories.

    Following this logic, according to Honneth (2008a),

    reification has three progressive aspects for the subjects of

    commodity exchange. First, actors come to view their

    environments as composed of ‘‘objects’’ that serve as

    constraints or opportunities for commodity exchange.

    Second, they learn to view their fellow human beings as

    ‘‘objects’’ of economic transaction. Finally, they come to

    see themselves as ‘‘objects,’’ defined by what they can offer

    to others in terms of commodity exchange and human

    capital. Each of these forms of reification is related to the

    others in that each decontextualizes its respective objects

    from their origins in networks of social recognition,

    viewing things, others, or themselves in isolated, disem-

    bedded terms (Berger and Pullberg 1966).

    How do HRM practices fit into the reification story?

    Are there specific practices that are in themselves reifying,

    or that force people into thing-like relations with each other?

    Honneth suggests that social practices can promote, but do

    not determine, reification, a point of view that attempts to

    engage in social critique without presenting a deterministic

    view of social circumstances. Rather, as emphasized by

    practice theorists (e.g., Feldman and Orlikowsky 2011),

    HRM practices can promote ways of thinking about work

    and simultaneously performatively constitute ways of being

    at work, by framing symbolic meanings and social relations.

    Following Honneth’s direction, the proper question in this

    context would be more like ‘‘how do HRM practices promote

    environments in which reification appears as a normal,

    business-as-usual form of social existence?’’

    While an exhaustive review would be beyond this

    essay’s scope, I will present three illustrative areas where

    HRM practices might constitute pathways to reification of

    employees. Such pathways range from more ‘‘micro’’

    processes whereby employees essential features are defined

    through stable individual traits, to techniques that attempt

    to essentialize employees through metrics and incentives

    systems, to more ‘‘macro’’ trends in the workplace that

    decontextualize work from its social bases. I discuss each

    of these in turn.

    ‘‘Human Capital’’ and the Reification of Employee


    Because reification involves seeing people in ‘‘thing-like’’

    terms, treating their aspects as inert properties rather than

    as subjective expressions, we may point to organizational

    attempts to define people in terms of such properties as

    constituting a preliminary pathway to reification. Such

    attempts are characteristic of recent treatments of ‘‘human

    capital’’ (e.g., Foss 2008), which emphasize the organiza-

    tion of employment relations according to allocations and

    costs of human capital involved in production tasks. As

    Foss describes such views, ‘‘there is nothing particular

    about human capital; it is just a capital asset like any other

    which to be more or less specialized to specific uses and/or

    users’’ (Foss 2008, p. 8). Employees, as the ‘‘owners’’ of

    their own human capital, hold bargaining power to the

    extent that they hold specific job-related assets or capa-

    bilities that are hard to imitate (van Marrewijk and Tim-

    mers 2003), and the ability to act opportunistically to the

    extent that their contributions are not separable from other

    employees or monitorable (Williamson 1985). To this

    extent, HRM systems can increase managerial power by,

    on the one hand, finding ways to standardize employee

    human capital, and on the other hand, increase the sepa-

    rability of individual contributions through measurement

    and monitoring.

    HRM practices contribute to a human capital view of

    work by providing the conceptual tools by which to

    40 G. Islam


    categorize work in terms of discrete, individualized worker

    capacities, or properties. Largely under the aegis of

    understanding differences in work behavior and produc-

    tivity, as well as to develop effective selection systems, the

    search for stable, universal individual differences that

    relate to workplace performance has been a mainstay of

    HRM systems (e.g., McCrae and John 1992). Individual

    differences perspectives tend to frame human behavior as a

    product of developmental factors resulting from individu-

    als’ pre-existing potentials, often genetic in nature (Loehlin

    1992), that are subject to change, although more from

    intrinsic developmental maturation than from cultural or

    social relationships.

    Employees thus framed seem to possess capabilities that

    display a certain independence from the employee’s own

    phenomenological lived experiences, intentions, or choi-

    ces, and that can be traded, bargained, or otherwise

    instrumentally acted upon. Acquired skills are considered

    as job- or firm-specific human capital components that

    come with training or on-the-job experience (Foss 2008;

    Williamson 1975); this acquired knowledge constitutes a

    form of ‘‘asset specificity’’ (Williamson 1975), allowing

    employees to behave opportunistically. According to Foss

    (2008), the tying of incentives and benefits to job catego-

    ries rather than individual negotiations, along with other

    work arrangements, reflect attempts to negotiate human

    capital across differentially specific and separable work

    situations. Training versus selection processes are essen-

    tially the outcomes of ‘‘make or buy’’ decisions, where the

    asset is human capital tied to the firm to the extent nec-

    essary to avoid opportunism. Stone (2002) describes how

    this view can lead to struggles over who ‘‘owns’’ worker

    knowledge, with not only ideas but also worker knowledge

    and experience, treated as a firm-specific asset that can be

    claimed from employees by firm owners.

    In his essay on reification, Honneth (2008a) explicitly

    references psychometric testing of ‘‘talents’’ as promoting

    reification, particularly when such capacities are framed

    in genetic terms. The generalization of human capital as

    KSAs seems to abstract human inputs from their bases in

    the lived experiences of actors, and treat them as holders of

    bundles of capital inputs. Recognition views suggest that

    simply offering employee programs for skill or knowledge

    acquisition is not tantamount to recognition (Gutmann

    1994), and some see a skill-based focus as exploitative

    (Borman 2009). In addition, Honneth (2003) has noted that

    an instrumental view of job skills can lead to a lack of

    recognition when such skills become disqualified from the

    market or outmoded. Thus, the reification of KSA’s pro-

    duces the difficult situation of being either used instru-

    mentally for one’s valuable skills, or else being seen

    obsolete or un-usable, neither of which constitutes a rec-

    ognition of an employee’s full humanity.

    Measurement, Incentives, and the Reification

    of Employee Behavior

    While not referring to organizational practices per se, Honneth

    (2008a) describes reification as promoted where ‘‘the mere

    observation of the other has become so much an end in itself

    that any consciousness of an antecedent social relationship

    disappears’’ (p 79). The habitual practice of monitoring and

    measuring is a fact of contemporary organizational life (Ball

    2005), where measured behaviors and attitudes are used to

    create objectified categories, which are subsequently tied to

    economic outcomes based on the estimated economic value of

    these categories. Such practices seem like a recipe for pro-

    moting a reified stance toward people. As discussed above, the

    parsing of human behavioral tendencies into discrete and

    general categories (i.e., traits, skills, abilities) reduces work

    capabilities to standardizable functions rather than autono-

    mous choices. In addition, the establishment of performance

    metrics increases the separability of individuals, allowing

    productivity to be individualized and evaluated for specific

    workers, neglecting the embeddedness of work practices with

    wider networks of social activity. Third, if organizational

    incentives are framed as compensation for lost time or effort

    rather than recognition of good works, then the goals of

    employee action cease to be seen as a form of inclusion in a

    socially valuable endeavor, and action is experienced as

    alienated from its actor.

    Several scholars have directly or indirectly tied incen-

    tives practices to the reification phenomenon. Ball (2005),

    for example, discusses metrics in terms of the separation of

    the body as a social object from its phenomenological

    moorings as a site of lived experience. Holgrewe (2001)

    claims that incentives, bonuses, and other forms of ‘‘ritu-

    alized admiration’’ linked to performance measurement

    come to replace and attempt to compensate for a feeling of

    being recognized as a member of one organization, and the

    sense of belonging this entails. Carlon et al. (2006) argue

    that performance statistics can act as ‘‘fetishes,’’ masking

    underlying social relations by treating such relations as

    facts, a concept closely related to the description of reifi-

    cation given above. Their analysis suggests that such

    metrics serve as signifiers that tend to break free from their

    original referents, taking on a life of their own.

    As routinized measurements become dislocated from the

    lived human experiences from which they are drawn, rec-

    ognition theory suggests they have harmful consequences

    for personal dignity. Diverse scholars have noted such

    effects; Sayer (2007), for example, points out that moni-

    toring, because it frames actors solely as opportunistic

    economic actors, negatively affects their dignity. Lamont

    (2000) notes that worker dignity often results from the

    autonomy and trust an organization can show by not

    measuring worker output in economic terms.

    Recognition, Reification, and Human Resources 41


    Although Honneth’s writings on recognition focus more

    on observation than incentive systems, the latter, because of

    their close relations to systems of measurement, gives rise to

    reifying standpoints. Sayer (2007) claims, for example, that

    dignity at work requires a certain temporal distance between

    action and reward, which facilitates reward as a recognition of

    general good performance rather than a specific transactional

    exchange. This falls in line with the self-determination per-

    spectives in which rewards seen as coercive diminish workers’

    sense of self-determination, but seen as a recognition of value

    or good performance, they reinforce self-determination and

    intrinsic motivation. According to Honneth (2003), recogni-

    tion of workers is possible through a ‘‘principle of achieve-

    ment,’’ by which actors are recognized for their successes.

    Thus, it is not the incentives themselves that reify employees,

    but rather the framing of incentives as compensations of

    workers for their work (thus framing work as a loss) instead of

    as signals of recognition for their achievement.

    The Contemporary Flexibilization of Work

    While the within-organizational ‘‘micro’’ practices of HRM

    discussed above can promote reification, personnel changes

    associated with the changing workforce at the ‘‘macro’’ level

    also have implications for reification. Increasingly, scholars

    have noted increased workforce fragmentation, resulting

    from increases in temporary, contingent, or precarious forms

    of work (Kalleberg 2009), and the psychological costs

    associated with such changes (Deranty 2008). Such changes

    reflect large-scale shifts in the ‘‘psychological contracts’’

    defining work relations, from relational contracts based on

    workplace inclusion to transactional contracts emphasizing

    spot transactions and economistic employee–organization

    relations (Rousseau 1995).

    Because careers provide a source for narrative biograph-

    ical continuity, enabling a coherent identity (Levinson et al.

    1978), fragmented employment forms ‘‘challenge the

    behavioral and existential unity’’ of employees (Kallinikos

    2003, p. 600). By removing the temporal continuity from

    work relationships, temporary work arrangements disembed

    indviduals’ work lives from their surroundings, making the

    individual the only constant, and thus obscuring the diffuse

    social connections from which those individuals draw their

    manners of thinking and acting. Kallinikos (2003) notes, for

    example, that contemporary forms of work promote the

    dislocalization of workers from sites of work and stable

    social relations. This is not to suggest that the workplace is

    the only or central space in which biographical continuity is

    achieved—worker identity can also be established through

    professional associations, craft guilds, and the like, and

    biographical continuity also rests on non-work bases such as

    the family or social ties—but it does suggest that the work-

    place is a key source for identity construction.

    Such dislocations link the flexibilization and precariza-

    tion of work to reification. Some argue that the fragmentation

    of work life can lead to a sense of drift and social dislocation

    among individuals (Deranty 2008; Sennett 2006), promoting

    a view of humans as ‘‘depthless’’ (Jameson 1984) and

    ‘‘modular’’ (Gellner 1996). As some have noted (Bernstein

    2006), the precarization of work de-couples skill acquisition

    from the social context of work, treating skills as a kind of

    ‘‘toolkit’’ employees carry from workspace to workspace.

    Given the relation of this toolkit view to a reified picture of

    human traits, it stands to reason that such a standpoint toward

    employees reflects reification.

    In addition, precarious forms of work can reduce work-

    related solidarity and exacerbate ethnic and group-based

    divisions (Gill and Pratt 2008), divisions which are often

    reflective of reification (Honneth 2008a). Honneth argues

    that stereotyping, for example, is a problem of reification

    because it reflects a lack of recognition of the whole per-

    son, reducing people to single dimensions and denying

    their autonomy to transcend a group-based category. Chr-

    istopherson (2008) links gender and ethnic divisions to

    precarious work because, under precarious work relations,

    workers are forced to rely on their group-related resources,

    such as friendship networks, to secure work contracts,

    leading to the treatment of such networks as ‘‘capital,’’ or

    the instrumentalization of social identities.

    As said earlier, the three above areas of analysis are not

    meant to be exhaustive, nor do I argue that they invariably give

    rise to reification. Rather, similar to other recent approaches in

    critical theory, recognition theory focuses more on intersub-

    jective meaning than structural causation (Chari 2010),

    emphasizing the performative aspect of social practices in

    enacting status roles and demonstrating respect, an aspect that

    fits well with contemporary organizational practice perspec-

    tives (Ibarra-Colado et al. 2006; Feldman and Orlikowski

    2001). Rather than a direct cause, then, reification promotes and

    embodies habits of thought by which HRM professionals’

    attention is diverted from the recognition of employee dignity

    and toward viewing employees as sources of individual and

    social capital.

    At this point, however, one might ask ‘‘Even if reifica-

    tion is best thought of as a failure of recognition, and HRM

    practices can, in their various ways, promote such reifica-

    tion, why should this be a problem?’’ In other words, is

    reification morally wrong, or unethical? On what basis does

    exposing reification in HRM constitute a critique of HRM?

    I now turn to this topic.

    Why is Reification a Problem? A Recognition View

    To understand how reification constitutes a normative

    problem according to recognition theory, we must note the

    42 G. Islam


    peculiar line that this theory navigates between descriptive

    and normative perspectives. According to Honneth (2008a,

    p. 52), reification is ‘‘neither an epistemic category mistake

    nor…a transgression against moral principles.’’ It is not the former because it does not make an erroneous assertion, but

    is a habit or perspective, but neither does it constitute an

    instance of ‘‘liability or guilt’’ (p 53), which would make it

    a moral transgression. This is perhaps the most difficult

    subtlety of Honneth’s critique, and has drawn some criti-

    cism (e.g., Lear 2008). It is important, however, because it

    reflects the view that recognition is not a moral ideal or

    utopic vision, but a basic, pre-cognitive component of all

    social relations. In essence, Honneth argues that by living

    in society, we have already tacitly agreed to certain

    commitments, and thus undercut our own social existence

    and that of others when we fail to make good on these tacit


    According to this view, which Honneth draws from

    diverse authors such as Dewey (1931), Heidegger (1962),

    and Cavell (1976), humans relate to each other neither as

    bundles of information (epistemic) nor as moral claimants

    (normative), but rather through a basis of acknowledge-

    ment and empathy. Just as our own feelings are to us

    neither simple ‘‘information’’ nor moral demands, but

    subjectively felt experiences, our primary relations with

    others are empathic experiences, a claim in support of

    which Honneth mobilizes evidence from developmental

    psychology as well as from philosophy. Misrecognition,

    typified by reification, is thus a kind of social pathology by

    which we forget the empathic basis of our relations, turning

    our attention to instrumental uses of other people.

    Applied to HRM, I argued above that contemporary

    HRM approaches frame employees as bundles of objective

    capacities and ‘‘human capital,’’ to be utilized, developed,

    or divested according to an economic logic. If one asks

    ‘‘why should people not be treated in such a way, given

    that people enter into contractual arrangements of their

    own free will?,’’ the response would be that acknowledging

    employees’ free autonomous will presupposes under-

    standing them as more than simply human capital. Thus

    posed, such a response criticizes HRM internally, rather

    than imposing an arbitrary, ‘‘high philosophic’’ (Green-

    wood 2002, p. 265) framework on organizations that

    sounds moralistic and could estrange managers. Entering

    into a contract with an employee already presupposes the

    autonomy and basic dignity of both parties (Honneth

    2008a, b, 1997). By subsequently reifiying employees,

    HRM ‘‘forgets’’ the implicit terms under which the

    employment contract is valid in the first place. The orga-

    nization treats the employee as if (Honneth 2008b) they

    were mere instruments.

    Thus, ‘‘we are left with the realization that reification

    has not eliminated the other, non-reified form of praxis but

    has merely concealed it from our awareness’’ (Honneth

    2008a, p. 31). It is this concealment that leads Honneth

    to borrow Horkheimer and Adorno’s (1999) celebrated

    phrase, ‘‘All reification is a forgetting.’’

    Remembering Recognition

    If reification is tantamount to a forgetfulness of the rec-

    ognitive bases of human relations, striving for a norma-

    tively sound HRM approach is less a question of finding

    correct values than of ‘‘remembering’’ or attending to the

    values implicit in our social system, i.e., the unquestioned

    notions of civility that social actors expect from each other

    but are often left unexplicit in contractual terms or day-to-

    day work relations. The driving issue for HRM is thus how

    to promote employee capacity development without

    reducing human beings to bundles of capacities.

    A recognition-theoretic approach would avoid external

    ‘‘solutions’’ that denied the instrumentality of worker

    behavior, because worker traits and skills are, after all,

    instrumentally valuable, as are incentive and measurement

    systems. Neither would solutions attempt to change basic

    moral or ethical values of HRM practitioners according to

    an external philosophical criterion, because they are taken

    to be presupposed in the employment relation. Rather,

    solutions would have to promote a kind of ‘‘facing up’’ to

    the underlying sociality of employment, what Honneth

    describes as a problem of acknowledgement or attention.

    This aspect of recognition theory implies both ‘‘good

    news’’ and ‘‘bad news’’ for HRM practice. The bad news is

    that there is no ‘‘silver bullet’’ to solving normative pathol-

    ogies through codes-of-ethics, value alignment, or other kind

    of organizational change; change, rather, would be a subtle

    shift in ‘‘stance’’ of HRM systems. The good news, contrary

    to Lukacs’ (1971) perspective, is that preventing reification

    would not require social revolution; because existing rela-

    tions presuppose recognition, such relations could be main-

    tained along with attempts to raise the self-conscious

    awareness of their bases among HRM practitioners. Put

    differently, it is not the work arrangements themselves which

    reify work, but the fact that they obscure their own origins in

    recognition, that promotes processes of forgetting. In prin-

    ciple, then, it is possible for a recognition-rich work envi-

    ronment to coexist with human resources views.

    How would such consciousness-raising or recognizing

    of original acknowledgement be promoted? Unfortunately,

    to this point recognition theory does not provide much

    direction; in its current development, the diagnosis of

    social pathologies receives a more thorough treatment than

    do proactive ways to overcome such pathologies. However,

    given the sources of attentional deficit described above,

    some initial directions could be proposed.

    Recognition, Reification, and Human Resources 43


    For example, Pless and Maak (2004) use recognition

    concepts to discuss building cultures of diversity in orga-

    nizations. Rather than discussing diversity in legal or per-

    formance contexts, promoting diversity should be

    considered as a form of solidarity, recognizing differences

    because they reflect the richness of a common humanity.

    They argue that a diversity culture based on recognition

    could, paradoxically, lead to greater instrumental benefits

    because it allows the free expression of differences without

    fear of such differences being exploited or taken out of the

    context of the person’s autonomous life choices. To this

    end, they replace the term ‘‘HRM’’ with ‘‘Human Relations

    Management,’’ because the latter de-emphasizes the treat-

    ment of employees as material or financial resources.

    ‘‘Human Relations’’ would thus be an alternative to the

    ‘‘Human Capital’’ approach, as a frame for HRM.

    Adding further to recognition theory’s ability to unpack

    diversity issues, from this lens we can recognize a partic-

    ular internal tension in diversity issues that is informative

    for work practices in general. Referring back to the dis-

    cussion of the progressive forms of recognition, we see that

    the workplace involves both rights-based forms of soli-

    darity (which emphasizes formal equality and universal

    human dignity) and esteem-based recognition (which

    emphasizes particularistic dignity and esteem through

    achieving good works that are intersubjectively recognized

    as such). In Honneth study (as in Hegel previously), these

    forms of identity formation are dialectically related and

    mutually reinforcing (Honneth 1995a, b). However,

    because they seem to superficially represent opposite

    principles (i.e., equality vs. distinction), it might be diffi-

    cult to understand how diversity promotion coheres with

    solidarity and strong organizational culture. A recognition

    perspective helps theorize this apparent difficulty in

    diversity studies, and by extension, in the myriad organi-

    zational spaces where equality and distinction principles

    coexist in tension.

    Also related to diversity, while Pless and Maak (2004)

    focus on organizational cultures, recognition theory can

    further be used to highlight the diverse forms of work that

    are left unrecognized in contemporary society (Fraser and

    Honneth 2003). Because work constitutes a form of social

    recognition, the definition of work involves ideological and

    exclusionary aspects whereby entire groups (such as unpaid

    household labor), or sets of behaviors (e.g., organizational

    citizenship or prosocial behaviors) are left outside of rec-

    ognized work relations. Thus, the recognition of forms of

    work is specifically tied to distributional outcomes (Fraser

    and Honneth 2003). Leveraging this idea critically, HRM

    practices like maternity leave, work-life flexibility, or the

    promotion of prosocial, extra-role behavior involve eco-

    nomic-distributional decisions that promote the recognition

    of certain forms of life. Such decisions are not purely

    economic but are demonstrative of forms of social respect

    and value.

    Recognition theory also illuminates important non-

    diversity issues, such as the social role of incentives.

    Because reification is closely connected with forms of

    economic exchange (Lukacs 1971), although not deter-

    mined by these forms (Honneth 2008a), incentive systems

    play an important symbolic role in acknowledging or

    subverting employee autonomy. Deci et al. (1999), for

    example, show meta-analytically that reward systems can

    be detrimental to intrinsic task motivation when rewards

    are expected and contingent. They explain this with the

    idea that such reward systems can compromise employee’s

    sense of autonomy or self-determination. Unexpected yet

    salient rewards, however, do not show such effect. On the

    contrary, such rewards often increase intrinsic motivation

    by showing that employee contributions are valued and

    recognized. Although Deci et al. (1999) do not reference

    recognition theory, these results are consistent with one of

    its main assumptions, namely, that the social-integrative

    function of work confirms workers’ sense of autonomy and

    identity, but that economic exchanges can cause this self-

    determination to be ‘‘forgotten,’’ as the reward becomes an

    end in itself. But if rewards are configured such as to avoid

    such forgetting, autonomy can reemerge as part of the work


    Other literature more closely aligned with recognition

    theory itself acknowledges that the symbolic framing of

    incentive systems has important implications beyond the

    economic value of incentives. Heinich (2009), for example,

    looks at the recognition effects of vocational prizes, such as

    professional artistic and scientific awards, which can

    symbolize social recognition when their outcomes are seen

    as not politically determined and the community of judges

    is psychologically important to the candidates. Thus, rather

    than the economic value or even the reputational esteem

    conferred by a prize, Heinich argues, such prizes place one

    within a community of peers as a respected member, giving

    stability to members’ professional identities. Similarly,

    Sayer (2007) argues that maintaining a temporal distance

    between reward and action (a point also discussed by

    Heinich) increases worker dignity by removing the per-

    ception of reward contingency, another factor that Deci

    et al. (1999) find to diminish intrinsic motivation. Finally,

    Holgrewe (2001) argues that social admiration through

    workplace recognition programs can increase a sense of

    social belonging, unless such admiration is ‘‘ritualized’’

    (i.e., standardized), in which case it can promote jealousy

    and competition.

    In all these cases, it is acknowledged that the recognition

    possibilities of incentive systems are tied to their ability to

    signify social respect, autonomy, and belongingness

    beyond economic value. In Honneth’s (2009) terms,

    44 G. Islam


    incentive systems exhibit a ‘‘social integration’’ function in

    addition to an ‘‘economic integration’’ function, and that

    once this double function is recognized; it is possible to

    maintain an economically integrated HRM system while

    recognizing its social-integrative aspects.

    Evaluating a Reification Perspective on HRM

    A critical ethics perspective on HRM practice, born out of

    a concern for work effects on well-being, fits well with

    recognition theory. The latter’s focus on the interpersonal

    respect, its emphasis on community as a source of dignity,

    and its ability to critique the world of work while retaining

    work as a central aspect of human worth, make it a useful

    theoretical tool. As Honneth (2009) states, despite the

    growing instability and precarization of employment rela-

    tions, work remains perhaps the central category for social

    identity and a meaningful life, a situation only more

    pressing because of the growing transnationalism of work

    spaces and the integration of women into the work force. In

    this scenario, the addition/substitution of work identities

    vis à vis traditional geographically bounded or kinship-

    based identities, and the extension of work as a crucial

    psychological support for larger segments of the popula-

    tion, means that the ethics of employee dignity are more

    pressing than ever before.

    Viewing employee dignity through a reification lens,

    and particularly through the recognition-theoretic refor-

    mulation of the reification notion, offers several advantages

    in this regard. Because of its critical theory roots, the

    recognition theory and reification attempt an internal cri-

    tique of work practices, trying to reconcile the experience

    of lack of dignity at work with expectations constitutive of

    the work role that such dignity be provided. The critical

    perspective thus does not rely on external visions of the

    proper work role, avoiding utopian claims (Burrell 1994)

    that both academics and managers might find problematic.

    Rather, recognition theory wagers that if managers prop-

    erly understood the relational standpoints implicit in their

    own practices, they would be led to recognize, and not

    reify, employees (Honneth 2009).

    Second, the link between critical theory and community-

    based practice views allows recognition theory to

    engage with practice-based ethical theories. For example,

    MacIntyre’s (1981) discussion of practice-based ethics

    distinguishes between goods derived because of work

    practices (external goods) versus goods that inhere in the

    performance of the practices themselves (internal goods).

    The latter tend to mark communities of practice, where the

    perfection of a practice both justifies and legitimates the

    community and confers esteem on its individual members

    (Lovell 2007). Thus, a scientist profiting from an invention

    would receive an external good, but the internal good that

    flows from discovery would both confer esteem on the

    scientist and strengthen the scientific community as a

    whole. The increasing popularity of practice views in

    organizational studies (e.g., Feldman and Orlikowsky

    2011) means that theories that help us (a) understand the

    symbolic functions of practice, (b) understand the com-

    munity embeddedness and reciprocal influence of practices

    on communities, and (c) understand how practices influ-

    ence the attainment of human flourishing or the ‘‘good life’’

    are particularly timely in the current intellectual climate of

    business ethics.

    Third, while earlier visions of reification (Lukacs 1971)

    were more squarely based on a Marxian paradigm, Hon-

    neth deliberately distances himself from such perspectives

    by allowing for the possibility (indeed the necessity) of

    fundamental recognition in economic exchange (Honneth

    2008a; Jay 2008). While for Lukacs, overcoming reifica-

    tion was a revolutionary, proletarian act, Honneth gener-

    alizes the need for recognition and the danger of reification

    to social actors more generally. As Jay (2008, p. 9) states it,

    ‘‘no one has a monopoly of primal recognition.’’ The

    advantages of this move are, first, that its acceptance does

    not force managers or business scholars to adopt a Marxian

    paradigm, but rather to acknowledge the centrality of

    interpersonal recognition in the formation of individual

    dignity. Second, overcoming reification does not require

    overthrowing a market system of exchange, but rather

    remaining vigilant as to the cognitive and social biases that

    the operation of such a system can promote (Jay 2008).

    The possibility of recognition from within the current

    economic system, however, has drawn criticism. Jay (2008,

    p 10), for example, questions whether ‘‘remembering a past

    hurt (or recapturing the trace of positive nurturance)’’ is

    enough to remedy social ills and restore dignity, seeing it

    as a necessary but insufficient condition for worker well-

    being. Chari (2010) critiques Honneth’s characterization of

    recognition as an ‘‘irreducible kernel’’ of social relations as

    leading to an apolitical position. Similarly, Fraser (1995;

    Fraser and Honneth 2003), critiquing recognition perspec-

    tives, viewed recognition theory as conservative, because it

    does not require radical social transformation. However,

    according to Honneth, this aspect makes it a workable way

    to humanize society without demanding proletarian revo-

    lution (Honneth 2008a).

    In the exchange between Honneth and Fraser (2003),

    Honneth clarifies that recognition, different than what

    Fraser mentions as ‘‘identity politics,’’ does not substitute

    material welfare (e.g., worker benefits, increased salaries,

    decision-making authority) for merely symbolic identity

    recognition. Indeed, some treatments of workplace recog-

    nition focus almost entirely on the symbolic aspect of

    recognition, for example, Pfeffer’s (1981, p. 37) claim that

    Recognition, Reification, and Human Resources 45


    symbolic managers ‘‘trade status for substance.’’ Rather,

    for Honneth, material aspects of work are important forms

    of recognition, and embody recognition when used in the

    context of community solidarity. Thus, a salary increase

    can signal respect as much as it can be used to ‘‘buy off’’ a

    lack of respect, and the task of the recognition scholar is to

    examine the subtle performative shifts that can greatly

    change the meaning of the material.

    Thus, in principle, because reification is due to an

    intersubjectively based pathology of meaning, rather than a

    social-structural, objectively determined pathology, it is

    possible for actors to recognize each other’s dignity within

    the current economic constraints. In this way, recognition

    theory both levies a critique against current conditions, and

    at the same time allows actors to find an ethical space

    within these conditions. This makes recognition theory

    ideal as a critical ethical project for HRM, allowing it to

    remain within traditional employment relations and launch

    its critique from this interior space, without rejecting HRM

    outright as an unethical institution.

    A third advantage of the recognition-theoretic view is that

    the abstract and pre-cognitive nature of recognition allows

    for a diversity of ethical forms of life, rather than promoting a

    specific set of HRM values or codes (Pless and Maak 2004).

    Forms of recognition do not have to lead to similar moral

    obligations, but rather to plural or even contradictory forms

    of moral actions depending on the ‘‘concrete communities’’

    within which recognition takes place (Honneth 1997). Thus,

    recognition views have the benefit of allowing for plural

    ethical standpoints while at the same time supporting a view

    of basic human worth (Jay 2008). Indeed, existing recogni-

    tion perspectives in the business ethics literature have

    focused on workplace diversity (Pless and Maak 2004).

    This very possibility for diverse forms of recognition,

    however, has drawn criticism. Some view recognition

    norms as idealistic (Duttmann 2000), and others have noted

    that personal differentiation is as important to identity as

    interpersonal acknowledgment (Butler 2008). Butler

    (2008) hits at the core of recognition theory, doubting both

    that original affective affirmation is plausible, and that a

    reified attitude is impersonal. To Butler, reification and

    other dehumanizing practices are often infused with dom-

    inance urges, requiring recognition of the other in the very

    act of social humiliation. Bullying, for example, requires

    that the target be aware of, and acknowledge, ill-treatment.

    Where interpersonal recognition takes perverse forms,

    according to Butler, recognition theory gives no recourse.

    Indeed, by analytically separating recognition from

    positive emotions, Honneth buys the general applicability

    of the theory at the cost of its putative normative force. The

    importance of affirming original bonds is questionable if

    such affirmation provides no compass for specific social or

    organizational changes.

    A second limitation similarly involves the variety of

    sources of recognition possible at work. Although we have

    assumed that the work relationship is primarily constituted

    through employment contracts, the role of professional

    associations, craft guilds, or other types of work-based

    relationships cannot be overlooked (Greenwood et al.

    2002). Where there are strong non-employer ties, alternate

    identifications might substitute for the employee–employer

    relationship, which might become thereby less central for


    Two responses may here be given. First, while in many

    professions the employment relationship does not consti-

    tute the primary basis of worker identity (c.f. Deranty and

    Renault 2007), this fact does not refute, but rather limits the

    scope of, the effects of employer-based reification. Exclu-

    sivity of identity thus acts as a moderator variable for the

    impact of workplace recognition, and future research

    should examine the dynamics of recognition in other, non-

    employer work relationships. Second, even where the

    primary identification is outside of the employer, the cen-

    trality of employers in (a) providing a space and structure

    for work, (b) evaluating, rewarding, and punishing per-

    formance related outcomes, and (c) placing the employee

    within a status hierarchy defined organizationally means

    that employers play a central actor in recognition pro-

    cesses. Some evidence exists (Hillard 2005) that organi-

    zational practices matter for ties of solidarity even in craft-

    type occupations, suggesting that non-organizational

    identities interact with, but do not fully compensate for,

    lack of organizational recognition. Because the study of

    recognition at work is still incipient, however, much work

    needs to be done in disentangling the relative influences of

    different components of recognition.


    In this article, I have outlined an ethical approach to HRM

    based on recognition theory, and its unique treatment of

    reification at work. While reification was important concept

    to earlier descriptions of worker exploitation (Lukacs

    1971), these versions were linked to a theoretical legacy of

    Marxian thought (e.g., Burris 1988) that equated reification

    with economic exchange per se. Recognition theory frees

    the concept for more general usage, in a language under-

    standable by those who write about and practice HRM,

    although as described above, this generalization comes at

    the cost of a clear social-transformative paradigm.

    Despite this limitation, there is cause for optimism.

    There are several areas in which ‘‘remembering’’ can

    promote constructive organizational changes, maintaining

    market-based employment relationships while re-empha-

    sizing recognition. Attending to the social-integrative

    46 G. Islam


    functions of exchange, labor or otherwise, can maintain

    work structures while reaffirming human dignity social

    value. By focusing on recognition as a source of this dig-

    nity, and reification as a symptom of its absence, future

    work on ethics in HRM has a diagnostic tool that combines

    the values of individual affirmation and autonomy, social

    solidarity, and the universalistic value of respect. The

    recognition perspective thus provides a rapprochement

    between descriptive psychological and sociological per-

    spectives, on the one hand, and normative perspectives, on

    the other. The next step would be for research to illustrate

    the subtle ways in which recognition is achieved or sub-

    verted in specific workplace settings.

    Such empirical work can discover and refine our

    thinking regarding workplace recognition, and provide the

    ground with which to turn recognition into a normative

    claim. While claims about worker well-being abound in

    academic and practical contexts, while such claims remain

    ungrounded in the constitutive norms of social life, they

    appear disjointed, arbitrary, and without wide-reaching

    social legitimacy (Honneth 2009). Once recognized as

    demands for full participation in a society valuing partic-

    ipation, such claims gain renewed legitimacy in an era

    where the workplace dignity has been made increasingly


    Acknowledgments The author would like to acknowledge Janna L. Rose, Charles Kirschbaum, and Patrick O’Sullivan for their

    in-depth comments on previous versions of this manuscript.


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