Barnes, Michael C., and Michael Keleher. 2006. “Ethics in Conflict: Making the Case for a Critical Pedagogy.” Business Communication Quarterly 69 (2) (January 1): 144–157.
The authors present a survey of secondary sources as well as the analysis of primary data collected by examining textbooks on business communication/technical communication (grouped together in this study), and interpersonal communication. This examination consisted of assessing the presentation of ethics from a selection of these books. Apart from the paper’s primary research questions, the authors found that neither textbook substantially presented ethics—the textbook with the most ‘substantial’ treatment consisted of 15 pages). The authors also found that in undergraduate curricula, communication ethics is either underrepresented (most textbooks do not even mention ethics) or presents only one ethical perspective, which does not adequately introduce or prepare students to communicate ethically in a business environment.
Foundational and nonfoundational views are two differing schools of thought presented between business and technical communication and interpersonal communication textbooks.
The Foundational Perspective
Business/technical communication textbooks primarily present the foundational perspective which offers that knowledge is static and that individuals have the capacity to find and understand what is correct. Kant’s categorical imperative, The Golden Rule, and “Universal Law” are examples of the underlying foundations from which an individual’s sense of ethics comes.
The Nonfoundational Perspective
The foundational perspective is in contrast to “groupthink” or ideas that are typically taught within interpersonal communication textbooks and constitute the “nonfoundational ethos”. Social constructivist theory is one of these ideas which purports that culture and society not only influence our ethical decisions, but also determine them (or should either way). This idea is reflected by the principle that “your personal ethic is based on your belief and acceptance of what the communities or groups with which you most closely identify consider moral and ethical.”
The authors contend that these opposing ethical views will either confuse students or offer such a cursory examination of communication ethics that students will not be able to effectively navigate ethically-questionable situations in the workplace. Instead, the authors propose a critical pedagogy of ethics that would allow students to find their own positions on ethical principles and how they would apply them to business communications.