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Cover of the book Manufacturing Morals

Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business Education

(University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Corporate accountability is never far from the front page and Harvard Business School trains many future business leaders. But how does HBS formally and informally ensure its members embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand faculty experience, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.


In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, HBS has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence in HBS’s process of codifying morals and values. As he describes, specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy.

Manufacturing Morals is a perceptive must-read for anyone looking for insight into the moral decision-making of today’s business leaders and those influenced by and working for them.

Finalist of the 2015 Academy of Management George R. Terry Book Award

Advance Reviews 

"In this first-rate organizational ethnography, Michel Anteby describes the ethos of a premier institution and how it shapes the worldviews and moral rules-in-use of its faculty, staff, and students.”

Robert Jackall (Williams College), author of Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers

“Delivering a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of the Harvard Business School, Michel Anteby powerfully reveals how this consequential institution does its work. His elegant writing carefully uncovers how the organizational culture combines a logic of profit maximization with moral concerns. This book is a must read for business students and faculty and for social scientists interested in higher education, evaluation, and the making of the American upper and upper middle classes.”

Michèle Lamont (Harvard), author of How Professor Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment

"Michel Anteby’s spare but well-chosen words offer an up-close and personal look at the inner workings of what many call the West Point of American Capitalism. Theory and reflexivity intermingle as the quotidian manners and mores, rituals and routines absorbed by junior faculty members at the school are put forth and sharply interrogated. Manufacturing Morals is a deft reimagining of organizational silence as sometimes a message, a provocation, a comfort, or an excuse."

John Van Maanen (MIT), author of Tales of the Field

“Manufacturing Morals demolishes conventional notions about business and morality as separate spheres. With Michel Anteby as our expert guide we are taken into an extraordinary journey of how Harvard Business School constructs its complex moral world. With exquisite style, subtle arguments, and fascinating observations, Anteby lays out a new theory of organizational morality. A crucial contribution to the sociology of organizations and culture."

—Viviana Zelizer (Princeton), author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy


"In Manufacturing Morals, Michel Anteby attempts to answer a timeless and important question in organization theory: how do organizations ensure that their employees engage in “moral conduct” or, more generally, conduct consistent with the organization’s values?... On its face, the book seems to be simply another study of organizational socialization... What makes this treatment of the topic unique is that Anteby examines organizational socialization in the context of one of the most guarded and institutionally powerful organizations in the business school landscape: Harvard Business School (HBS). ... [T]his book explains how the powerful routines at HBS create a situation in which faculty view their role as fostering moral pursuits rather than moral order, and in which multiple moral perspectives are articulated, with very limited attempts to distinguish among them or to identify some as superior to others... This book helps us understand both the nature of the moral perspective manufactured in business schools globally and why that perspective has been so resistant to calls for change. Readers who are in formal or informal leadership positions in business schools would be well served to ask themselves whether and how the process of manufacturing morals at HBS applies in their school and whether they are content to foster moral pursuits or want to engage in the long, difficult work of changing school routines to give their students the passion and capability to create organizations with a moral order. This book does not provide an answer to this question, nor should it, but it highlights this critical question and encourages each of us to ask it."

Alison Davis-Blake (University of Michigan) in Administrative Science Quarterly, 2015, 60(1)

"If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a faculty member at Harvard Business School (HBS) Manufacturing Morals is the place to start... It’s notoriously difficult to study elites, but Anteby intrepidly pulls the veil. What he reveals is neither glamorous nor monstrous, but is instead mundane and routine, albeit in an exceptionally privileged way. And that’s the point... This tour th[r]ough HBS is smooth, facilitated by an engaging writing style, yet the tour is also scholarly and the endnotes are detailed and rich. The reader learns as much, if not more, from engagement with these gems... This [study's] approach enables him to see what is not, perhaps, objectively apparent, and herein lies his conceptual contribution, what he calls “vocal silence,” “a routine that requires significant decision making on the part of those involved with little direct guidance from higher authorities in a context rich in normative signs” (p. 127). It is Anteby’s quiet, internal voice that makes vocal silence audible. The substantive chapters demonstrate how vocal silence, though not explicit or coercive, operates to construct and reconstruct norms. Although the empirical details are specific to HBS, this is a concept that will travel."

Tim Hallett (Indiana University) in American Journal of Sociology, 2014, 120(1): 297-299

"A classic theme in the sociology of work is the tension between organizational and professional values, which itself is a variation on grander themes of power and autonomy... Michel Anteby’s Manufacturing Morals engages with this enduring theme through a case study of Anteby’s own experiences as a newly minted PhD taking up a position as an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School... [He documents] ways in which the School deploys its tremendous resources to gently, seemingly inexorably re-form new members. Readers who are faculty at less wealthy institutions may feel some envy. But they may also feel some gratitude that their own schools are not so creepily successful as the School at creating the total institution-like experience of resocialization that Anteby describes... Anteby’s clean writing makes the book a pleasure to read. His work nicely illustrates the genius of this model of elite socialization... The real work of creating the new person desired by the organization is accomplished bit by bit and day by day, through hundreds of ordinary interactions and routine practices, shaping a new self from the outside in, replacing the professional scholar’s values with the organization’s own."

—Rebecca Sandefur (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) in Contemporary Sociology, 2015, 44(5): 625-626

"This short volume is... a delightful ethnographic account of the ways in which the material culture of the campus, offices, and classrooms—space, landscaping (down to the squirrels!), architecture, furniture, even clothing is scripted so as to shape the organizational culture, creating insularity, timelessness, cohesion, and privilege. One gets the impression of a well-oiled machine; everyone pulling together for the good of the organization... The metaphor is apt—a machine, perhaps, but without character, without overt principle... HBS has repeatedly avoided establishing a code of business ethics. Professors are socialized to provide a moral education but hamstrung from providing any specific moral guidance, with the hope that silence will speak volumes; that underspecification of morals will lead to positive outcomes... But does it? Anteby is himself reticent on this topic."

Debra Schleef (University of Mary Washington) in ILR Review, 2015, 68(4): 961-963

"As a junior faculty member at another elite business school, I found Anteby’s account compelling. Many of Anteby’s vignettes are eerily parallel to my own experiences.... In short, Anteby deftly captures what it is like to be inside an elite business school. It will prove worthwhile reading for anyone interested in business education or elite educational institutions more generally... the book is really a study in how norms generally—not specifically the norms of morality— are communicated and instilled. In many instances, the reader will wonder whether what is being manufactured is morals or a culture of upper-class elitism. The hyper-groomed campus of HBS can alternately be seen as conveying organization and efficiency or the exclusion and superiority of a gated community. The case method’s emphasis on a protagonist’s moment of decision, which can be seen as emphasizing accountability, can also be understood as fostering an inflated belief in management’s importance and responsibility for success. So, overall, it is unclear whether the 'morals' manufactured at HBS have much to do with morality."

Nicolas Cornell (University of Pennsylvania) in Journal of Economic Literature, 2014, 52(3): 851-853

"Michel Anteby’s fascinating work gives a participant’s account of what it like to enter, as a faculty member, the world’s most iconic business school, Harvard Business School… Anteby’s book constitutes an important contribution to the literature on academic work and has wider interest for those interested in debates about business schools, management education and management values and behaviour… Moral forms of behaviours are encouraged [at HBS], but not overtly, in silence so to speak. This is Anteby’s major and intriguing theoretical trope – the role and the power of silence in an environment where the higher authorities expect you to behave in certain kinds of ways but do not tell you how."  

—Ken Starkey (University of Nottingham) in M@n@gement, 2014, 17(1): 78-82

"Harvard Business School : sur la liste des sites qui méritent d’être étudiés du point de vue de la socialisation au monde des affaires entrepreneuriales, l’école de commerce adossée à l’université de Harvard a certainement une place de choix. Destination rêvée de milliers de jeunes qualifiés de la planète entière désireux d’acquérir les caractéristiques superlatives du dirigeant responsable et aventureux, modèle souvent fantasmé de l’industrie globale de l’éducation supérieure, creuset des formes nouvelles d’intégration morale en milieu capitaliste, entreprise de formation d’un corps professoral remarquable et remarqué : tous les ingrédients sont donnés pour que, dans la carte des enquêtes sociologiques sur les valeurs du capitalisme contemporain, un immense panneau planté à l’entrée du campus de Soldiers Field à Boston, Massachusetts, indique : 'This way, please'. L’enquête de Michel Anteby est certainement l’une des seules à avoir suivi cette direction, et incontestablement l’une des plus exceptionnelles."

Fabian Muniesa (Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation, Mines ParisTech) in Sociologie du Travail, 2014, 56: 245–275.

Select Media  


"Harvard Business School" Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4, Feb. 11, 2015

"Vocal Silence" First Things, March 7, 2014

"Why Silence is Not Enough" Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jan. 22, 2014

"Harvard Business School Preaches in Silence" The National, Dec. 10, 2013

"Interview with Michel Anteby" Accounts (ASA - Economic Sociology Newsletter),13(1), Nov. 2013, pp. 10-12

"Why Business Schools Need Business Ethics" The Guardian (online), Oct. 22, 2013

"The Management Stylings of Harvard Business School" Strategy+Business, Oct. 2, 2013

La Harvard Business School a-t-elle une Morale?” Le Monde, Sept. 25, 2013 (France)

"Villes-Monde Harvard: La Formation d’une Elite” France Culture, Sept. 29, 2013 (France)

Unspoken Cues: Encouraging Morals without Mandates” HBS Working Knowledge, Sept. 18.

"Prescriptive Freedom” (with C. Anderson), Times Higher Education, Sept. 5, 2013, p. 40.

"Manufacturing Morals" Publishers Weekly, July 22, 2013

"Etre un prof a la Harvard Business School" l'Etudiant,, Feb. 2, 2014 (France)


You can purchase this book at the University of Chicago Press, Amazon, or an independent bookstore.

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