Wired to Fail: Virtue and Dysfunction in Baltimore’s Narrative

The Contribution of Fiction to Organizational Ethics

ISBN: 978-1-78350-949-2, eISBN: 978-1-78350-948-5

ISSN: 1529-2096

Publication date: 12 September 2014


How can public institutions achieve their goals and best nurture virtue in their members? In this chapter, I seek answers to these questions in a perhaps unlikely place: the television series The Wire. Known for its unflinching realism, the crime drama narrates the intertwined lives of police, criminals, politicians, teachers and journalists in drug-plagued urban Baltimore. Yet even in the thick and quick of institutional dysfunction the drama portrays, human virtue springs forth and institutions (despite themselves) sometimes perform their roles. I begin this exploration of The Wire by drawing on Montesquieu and other political theorists to evaluate the problems facing state institutions – problems of diversity and principle as much as selfishness and power-mongering. I then turn to the prospects for virtue within modern institutions, developing and applying the system of Alasdair MacIntyre and paying particular attention to the role of narrative in cementing and integrating virtue.




This chapter benefited greatly from comments on a previous draft provided by two anonymous reviewers for REIO.


Breakey, H. (2014), "Wired to Fail: Virtue and Dysfunction in Baltimore’s Narrative", The Contribution of Fiction to Organizational Ethics (Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, Vol. 11), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 51-80. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1529-209620140000011003

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