Institutions and moral agency: the case of Scottish Banking

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It has been an enduring concern of institutional economics and critical realism to understand how individuals are able to exercise agency in the context of social structures, and to maintain appropriate connections, separations and balances between these two levels of causal power. This paper explores the contribution of Alasdair MacIntyre's neo-Aristotelian philosophy to the topic. Empirical data are provided from the career narratives of senior Scottish bankers recalled in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007/8. The method of the study is interpretive, using themes drawn from MacIntyre's writings. These bankers faced moral choices as tensions developed between their own professional standards and the new corporate goals of the banks. We discuss MacIntyre's understanding of individual moral agency as a narrative quest in the context of different types of institution with different and often conflicting ideas about what constitutes good or right action. Habituation and deliberation are important in enabling action, but fully developed moral agency also depends on individuals being able to make choices in the space opened up by tensions within and between institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-859
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number5
Early online date24 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


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