Radical Repertoires: The Incidence and Impact of Corporate-Sponsored Social Activism

Organization Science, Forthcoming

20 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2012 Last revised: 26 Apr 2016

See all articles by Mary-Hunter McDonnell

Mary-Hunter McDonnell

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: August 13, 2015


This article explores when and why firms participate in overt corporate-sponsored social activism. To shed light on this question, I empirically explore the emergence and implications of a new strategic phenomenon in non-market strategy – the corporate-sponsored boycott – in which firms voluntarily cooperate with contentious social movement organizations to sponsor boycotts that protest the contested social practices of other companies or entities at higher orders of market organization, such as industries, transnational regulators, or states. Using a longitudinal database that tracks the social movement challenges faced by 300 large companies between 1993 and 2007, I provide evidence that overt corporate-sponsored activism is used by companies that are chronically targeted and losing ground to activists, especially when those companies are facing a reputational deficit. Further, I find that participation in overt corporate-sponsored activism is associated with significant decreases in the number of activist challenges targeting a firm in the future, suggesting that the tactic may effectively defend a firm from contentious threat by allowing firms to co-opt allies within the activist population. I discuss implications of these findings for social movement research, non-market strategy, and the study of corporate social responsibility.

Keywords: social movements, corporate social responsibility, non-market strategy, corporate political mobilization, political sociology

Suggested Citation

McDonnell, Mary-Hunter, Radical Repertoires: The Incidence and Impact of Corporate-Sponsored Social Activism (August 13, 2015). Organization Science, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2137371 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2137371

Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Contact Author)

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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