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Representational predicaments refer to situations in which job incumbents believe that dominant authorities are holding incomplete or otherwise incorrect work-related assumptions about them. We carried out qualitative interviews with a diverse and gender-balanced sample of 55 Hong Kong Chinese job incumbents, from whose perspective we identified three broad categories of representational predicament: (1) doing unvalued work; (2) doing thankless work; and (3) being subject to distorted representation. Each category of representational predicament was reported both by female and male informants, with females reporting more representational predicaments than males. Stories of unvalued work referred either to unnoticed and unvalued work, which entailed voluntary care work, or to noticed but unvalued work. Stories of thankless work fell into four subcategories: carrying out a superior’s request believed to be illegitimate; pacifying uncivil service recipients; dealing with subterranean internal obstacles; and conducting informal negotiations with troublesome service recipients/suppliers. Stories about being subject to distorted representation fell into six subcategories: being publicly ridiculed or humiliated; having flaws spotlighted but merits downplayed; receiving misattributed blame; being subject to false or misleading uncorrected allegations; suffering prejudicial stereotyping; and receiving reprimands perceived as unfounded. All but two of the representational predicament stories alleged or implied at least one type of ethical problem that concerned breaches of interpersonal justice; violations of, or threats to procedural justice; or indifference toward, or neglect of, the ethics of care. It is inferred that representational predicaments are symptoms of poor ethical climates.


HKIBS Working Paper Series 063-089

Recommended Citation

Snell, R. S., Wong, M. L. M., & Hui, S. K. S. (2009). Ethical issues concerning the experience of representational predicaments at work (HKIBS Working Paper Series 063-089). Retrieved from Lingnan University website:

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