Book by: Michel Anteby
Review by: Ariel Bloomer
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
New York University

At first glance, this may appear to be the next in the line of pop-ethnographies of postsecondary institutions that includes Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year or Alexandra Robbins’ Pledged. It does not take more than a few pages to realize Manufacturing Morals is of a different vintage, and Michel Anteby as an author takes his cues from Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Mary Douglas. His text is a complex anthropological investigation of the way Harvard Business School engages in the process of cultural reproduction and the implicit roles of morality and ethics at the School.

Anteby introduces readers to Harvard Business School by bringing them along on his journey as a junior faculty member.  We see his movement as he moves from outside of the school, across the bridge to campus, moves into his office, meets with colleagues, and ultimately teaches a class. Anteby uses these physical movements to orient the reader to the campus, position himself as participant-observer, and ground his anthropological musings and conclusions in the well-manicured School environment.

The premise of vocal silence as the mechanism for learning morality becomes a more important component of chapter three and subsequent chapters, during which Anteby digs into the details of teaching, learning, and faculty recruitment at the School. The unique structure of teaching case studies from the teaching notes that accompany them is described with a lens of morality. “Correct and incorrect steps are frequently specified, but right and wrong outcomes are rarely articulated. Notes remain relatively silent on the overall direction of the path traveled by protagonists” (p. 83). He discusses the discomfort, as a faculty member, of “taking a strong normative stand” in this environment, and how expressing a bias or belief in a right or wrong in such a situation would be deemed a pitfall in a discussion, rather than a triumph (p. 83).

While the moral business dilemmas presented through case studies remain silent on whether certain outcomes are ethically right or wrong, the structure and emphasis of these dilemmas does itself instill certain beliefs. “As an example, by stressing individual action in the School’s classrooms as a potentially central explanation for success or failure, preexisting social differences become partly naturalized… Individuals are mostly depicted as being in charge of their destiny” (p. 141). In this way, Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how values can be instilled implicitly, without preaching.

Practitioners with a background in student development theory will see Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development in Anteby’s pages though the author never draws from Kohlberg’s work. The silence surrounding right and wrong in the classroom prevents an easy out for students and their professors, and so stretches and challenges the moral reasoning of students as they construct and defend conclusions.

This book will be of limited interest to advisors looking for texts that directly relate to their jobs or the students with whom they work. Instead, this work will appeal to scholar-practitioners who have an intellectual curiosity and philosophical interest in exclusive institutional environments and morality development. It will also likely be of interest to faculty or teaching assistants looking for ways to provoke problem-solving discussions in their classroom and contribute to the growth of moral reasoning in their students. 

Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (2013). Book by Michel Anteby. Review by Ariel Bloomer. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 248 pp., $25.00 (Hardback). ISBN 978-0-226-09247-8

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