Ethics and Network Organizations

Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 533-543

11 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2009 Last revised: 29 Sep 2016

See all articles by Robert A. Phillips

Robert A. Phillips

York University - Schulich School of Business

Date Written: November 21, 2010


As value chains become longer with increases in outsourcing and subcontracting, the challenges of fixing responsibility become more difficult. Using concepts from the literature on social networks, this paper considers issues of diffusion of responsibility and plausible deniability in such relationships. Specifically, this paper isolates three sources of denial of – or defense against – attributions of responsibility: connection, control and knowledge. It goes on to consider the effects on network density and actor centrality as third parties (tertius illuminans) alter the structure of these networks. Finally, preliminary conclusions are considered including suggestions for addressing these new challenges as well as the potential for conceptual cross-fertilization between network analysis and organizational ethics.

Keywords: networks, ethics, structural holes, diffusion of responsibility, plausible deniability

Suggested Citation

Phillips, Robert A., Ethics and Network Organizations (November 21, 2010). Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 533-543 , Available at SSRN:

Robert A. Phillips (Contact Author)

York University - Schulich School of Business ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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