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03.06.2022

Christian Gläßel on career pressures and organisational evil

In an article published in the International Studies Review, Gläßel, together with Adam Scharpf, offers a new perspective on the study of organised violence.

Christian Gläßel, postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School's Centre for International Security, and Adam Scharpf, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, published the article "Career Pressures and Organizational Evil: A Novel Perspective on the Study of Organized Violence" in the forthcoming issue of the academic journal International Studies Review. 

The article investigates how dictators, rebel leaders, and mafia bosses find henchmen willing to commit horrible crimes in the name of their organisations. Reflecting on Hannah Arendt's argument on the "banality of evil" and Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men, the authors show that it is not just random individuals who do the 'dirty work' in organisations. Instead, the authors argue that we need to look at individual career context to understand people's active involvement in organisational evil. The article identifies career pressure as a key incentive for the zealous execution of unpopular and reprehensible tasks that are important to the organisation. Pressured individuals see such tasks as the most effective way to prove their loyalty and salvage their careers. Leaders, in turn, are able to systematically exploit the career pressures of their subordinates and ensure a constant supply of willing enforcers by manipulating promotion criteria. The article outlines six distinct types of career pressures that members can experience - incompetence, misconduct, origin, isolation, organisational backlog, and shrinkage. The empirical illustrations discussed in the article range from Hitler's death squads to the Islamic State in Iraq, the Italian mafia, and outlaw motorcycle gangs, among others. However, the implications of the article's institutional logic go beyond involvement in (political) violence, shedding light, for example, on the motivation in cases of corporate fraud.

Read the full article (in English) here

 

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