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Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies - ICOS pres.

Institutional change and the rise of win-win ideology in annual reports of US firms, 1960-2010

Patricia Bromley

Despite the historical tension between social and economic goals, contemporary US firms routinely depict such aims as synergistic. Analyzing 300 annual reports from a sample of 80 large US public firms between 1960 and 2010, we examine the rise of “win-win” conceptions of social and economic value, which include both the social benefits of economic activities and economic gains from social responsibility. Our findings support arguments that win-win

ideology is a culturally contingent rhetoric tied to the emergence of a neoliberal socio-economic context. Macro-level indicators of firms’ changing institutional context including financialization of the economy, rationalization of the social sphere, and the rise of voluntary regulation schemes such as ratings and rankings, are associated with the rise of win-win rhetoric. The general socioeconomic influence is mediated by firm-level attention to its environment, which is reflected in mentions of external evaluations in annual reports. The study contributes to institutional theories of the historical development of corporate responsibility and to understanding heterogeneous organizational responses to macro-level institutional change

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