Learning to practice social responsibility in small business: Challenges and conflicts



Fenwick T (2010) Learning to practice social responsibility in small business: Challenges and conflicts. Journal of Global Responsibility, 1 (1), pp. 149-169.

Purpose: This article addresses issues of practicing social responsibility (SR) in small business, where SR implementation challenges are unique. The discussion examines the difficulties encountered by small business owners adopting SR practices, and the various strategies they learned in the process. Methodology: Twenty-three small business owner-managers located in western Canada were interviewed in-depth, individually and in groups. Group interviews were useful for validating and extending the themes and contradictions that arose in individual interviews, particularly in identifying the most common SR challenges and frustrations, and to compare individuals’ learning patterns and diverse strategies of response. Findings: Study findings showed that owners learned SR by working through three main areas of challenge within everyday socio-material practices: (1) positioning SR commitments and affiliations; (2) balancing diverse stakeholders with SR ideals and costs; and (3) negotiating value conflicts within SR practice, as part of ‘becoming’ a particular enterprise of SR engagement. Originality/value: This study suggests that social responsibility may be most fruitfully studied by examining the traces of the networks, linkages and boundaries formulated through everyday interactions, focusing not just on the social networks and information exchange among humans, but more deeply on the sociomaterial networks within which new practices such as SR emerge. Secondly, the study underscores the importance of conceptualizing social responsibility ‘learning’ more in terms of practices that emerge through challenge and conflict than in acquisition and application of new knowledge and attitudes.

corporate social responsibility; boundary practices; small business learning; ethical dilemmas; Social responsibility of business; Small business

Journal of Global Responsibility: Volume 1, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2010

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Professor Tara Fenwick
Professor Tara Fenwick

Emeritus Professor, Education