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Misery Loves Companies: Rethinking the Social Initiatives by Business

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Misery Loves Companies: Whither Social Initiatives by Business?

Joshua D. Margolis Harvard University jmargolis@hbs.edu 617-495-6444

James P. Walsh University of Michigan jpwalsh@umich.edu 734-936-2768

December 16, 2002

We want to thank Christine Oliver, our three anonymous reviewers, Paul Adler, Howard Aldrich, Alan Andreasen, Jim Austin, Charles Behling, Mary Gentile, Tom Gladwin, Morten Hansen, Stu Hart, Nien-he Hsieh, Linda Lim, Nitin Nohria, Lynn Paine, Gail Pesyna, Rob Phillips, Lance Sandelands, Debora Spar, Joe White, Richard Wolfe and the students in Jim Walsh’s “The Corporation in Society” Ph.D. seminar for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper. We also want to thank Marguerite Booker, John Galvin and Nichole Pelak for their helpful research assistance. The Harvard Business School, the University of Michigan Business School, and the Aspen Institute’s Initiative for Social Innovation through Business provided invaluable support for this project.

Misery Loves Companies: Whither Social Initiatives by Business?

Abstract Companies are increasingly being asked to provide innovative solutions to deep-seated problems of human misery. Organization and management scholarship can play an important role in understanding and guiding possible corporate responses. Theory and research to date have sought to reconcile possible corporate responses with economic premises about the purpose of the firm. Our goals in this paper are to reorient the debate and to spark new research about social initiatives by business. Acknowledging that firms already make such investments, we try to stimulate a fresh agenda for organizational scholarship in three ways. First, we depict the hold that economic reasoning has had on how organization theory conceives of the relationship between the firm and society. Second, we examine the consequences of this...

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