In the last few years, signs of material excess by organizational and political leaders have often evoked public outcry. The paper aims to argue that there is insight to be gleaned from drawing together strands from the leadership literature with the literatures on moral economy and conspicuous consumption. The premise is that views of leader conspicuous consumption are shaped by their moral economy, the interplay between moral attitudes and economic activities. The paper seeks to juxtapose tales of Cleopatra and Antony's display of wealth with current media accounts to contribute to the leadership literature on ethics, specifically its intersection with power and narrative representation.
The paper adopts an analytic approach, with an international orientation and an interdisciplinary perspective. It acknowledges the role of narrative representation in shaping leadership and the psychological ambivalence with which societies approach their leaders' practices, focus here on desire-disdain and discipline-decadence. Cleopatra and Antony's conspicuous consumption generated a legacy of condemnation for millennia. Drawing from the retellings of their story, four moralizing representations – by Plutarch, Shakespeare, Sarah Fielding and Hollywood – are analyzed and juxtaposed with current media accounts. Altogether, the paper combines the interest in leadership across history with moralizing perspectives on the display of wealth by leaders.
The intersection of the literatures on leadership, moral economy and conspicuous consumption draws together several dynamics of relevance to leadership. First, evaluations of the display of wealth on the part of a leader are contextual: they change across time and place. Second, interpretations of conspicuous consumption involve aesthetic judgment and so sit at the nexus of morality and taste. Third, following tragedies, tales of leader conspicuous consumption offer critics another knife to dig into the fallen tragic hero. Fourth, views of conspicuous consumption are gendered. Last, conspicuous consumption by leaders attracts condemnation through support for social responsibility and sustainability.
The paper establishes a novel articulation between the literatures on leadership, moral economy and conspicuous consumption.
This article was accepted on 28 July 2012. All information in this article is correct at time of acceptance.The author would like to thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for valuable insight and Charles Campbell for research assistance.
Riad, S. (2014), "Leadership in the fluid moral economy of conspicuous consumption: Insights from the moralizing tales of Cleopatra and Antony", Journal of Management History, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 5-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMH-01-2012-0010Download as .RIS
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