Sub-theme 45: Moral Markets: Actors, Meanings, and Institutions

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Panikos Georgallis
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Brandon Lee
University of Melbourne, Australia
Michael Lounsbury
University of Alberta, Canada

Call for Papers

Over the past couple of decades, a robust literature has emerged on the creation of new, more morally oriented markets and kinds of organizations (e.g., Georgallis & Lee, 2019; McInerney, 2014; Pacheco et al., 2014; Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2017, Sine & Lee, 2009, Vasi and King, 2011; Weber et al., 2008). Moral markets such as renewable energy, fair trade goods, socially responsible investment, organic products, and plant-based meat alternatives, emerged at least partly to provide market solutions to societal challenges, and thus they are often evaluated or promoted on the basis of normative/moral attributes (Arjalies & Durand, 2019; Dubuisson-Quellier, 2013). Literature on moral markets has sought to understand how, and to what extent, social movements have been able to infuse economic activity with values other than wealth creation (e.g., Schiller-Merkens & Balsiger, 2019; Fourcade & Healy, 2007). Such moral value infusion is a particularly difficult challenge because the construction of markets entails embracing market logics that value efficiency and wealth, which, in turn, tend to foster conservative goal transformation (Zald, 1966) and co-optation (Selznick, 1949).
These difficulties notwithstanding, moral markets have the potential to address societal challenges such as inequality, climate change, or poor working conditions (Ferraro et al., 2015; Georgallis & Lee, 2019). Thus, it is paramount to understand the actors, meanings, and institutions that support moral markets. Organizational research has addressed some of these questions, albeit not always in a systematic manner.
First, observing that adoption patterns in moral markets cannot be simply reduced to technical and economic feasibility (Lounsbury, 2001; Sine & Lee, 2009), organizational theorists have depicted moral markets as outcomes of bottom-up collective action involving ideologically motivated actors. Several studies show that social movement organizations or other market mediators instigated the formation of moral markets by inciting producers’ interest, stimulating demand among conscious consumers, or by facilitating mutual action and market exchange. For example, environmental groups encouraged entrepreneurial and corporate entry in the renewable energy sector (Durand & Georgallis, 2019; Sine & Lee, 2009); non-governmental organizations spurred demand for fair trade products (Jaffee & Howard, 2010); and certification intermediaries were instrumental in stimulating collective action in the organic food market (Lee, 2009; Lee et al., 2017). However, the literature has attended much less to the role of consumers and other actors that enable moral markets to function and drive ongoing change after early struggles to attain legitimacy.
Second, some studies have focused on the meanings and framing practices that are deployed in these market arenas. For instance, Weber, Heinze and DeSoucey (2008) found that the grass-fed meat and dairy product market relied on activists’ mobilization of cultural codes around authenticity, naturalness, and sustainability that supplied a vocabulary of motives and offered shared meaning for producers and consumers. Other work has emphasized the narratives and frames used to support recycling practices (Lounsbury et al., 2003); the political dynamics that underlie contestation between corporations and civil society in the framing of sustainable coffee (Levy et al., 2015); battles over market meaning in the biodiesel market (Hiatt & Carlos, 2019); or visual framing tactics used to define ethical fashion (Blanchet, 2018). This work has only begun to scratch the surface on the sources and consequences of meaning making in moral markets.
Third, although institutions that support moral markets have received some attention (Georgallis et al., 2019; Sine et al., 2005), this literature dovetails with a variety of scholarly efforts to uncover how market logics are twined to logics related to community and societal welfare in the context of social entrepreneurship and hybrid organizing (e.g., Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Battilana & Lee, 2014; Mair et al., 2012; Smith & Besharov, 2019; Zhao & Lounsbury, 2016). Since the goals associated with market logics (e.g. efficiency and profit) are often perceived to conflict with logics that valorize social good, community welfare, and sustainability, the twining of such logics generates problems associated with institutional complexity that require ongoing attention (Greenwood et al., 2011; Thornton et al., 2012). The tension associated with institutional complexity plays itself out not only in the structuration of producers, but also affects consumers and regulatory dynamics (Georgallis et al., 2019; Markard et al., 2012). More effort is required to bridge the literatures on moral markets with those on institutional complexity and hybrid organizing.
The goal of this sub-theme is to provide the opportunity for organizational scholars to take stock of what is known and to then advance our understanding of the dynamics of moral markets by contributing to our understanding of actors, meanings and institutions, by forming links between these different approaches, or by exploring underrepresented topics. Aligned with the focus of the 37th EGOS Colloquium 2021 on inclusiveness, we are open to a variety of epistemological, theoretical, and methodological approaches to the study of moral markets. We particularly encourage attempts for integration that foster a more comprehensive dialogue among organizational scholars studying moral markets from different perspectives.
Potential topics and questions that papers may address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What role does motivation play in moral markets? Does the presence of actors with different motives (e.g., ideological vs. profit-seeking) help or hinder the development of moral markets?

  • Do the competitive dynamics that underlie these sectors differ from those of conventional markets?

  • What are the sources of meaning within moral markets, and what drives variation in how these markets are perceived by external audiences?

  • What is the role of identity, power, and conflict in these settings?

  • How do moral market entrepreneurs navigate extant institutional configurations, and how do they deal with competing institutional logics?

  • What are the challenges, opportunities, and trade-offs associated with the mainstreaming of moral markets?

  • How are the values of social movements maintained as moral markets become established and scale via the entry, for example, of large, established incumbents?

  • What enabling conditions allow moral markets to diffuse across national contexts, and what are the circumstances that inhibit diffusion?

  • How do moral markets and the institutions that support them (co-)evolve over time?

  • How do moral markets spawn new social movement activism or give rise to new kinds of moral markets or moral market segments?



  • Arjaliès, D. L, & Durand, R. (2019): “Product categories as judgment devices: The moral awakening of the investment industry.” Organization Science, 30 (5), 885–911.
  • Battilana, J., & Dorado, S. (2010): “Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of commercial microfinance organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 53 (6), 1419–1440.
  • Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014): “Advancing research on hybrid organizing: Insights from the study of social enterprises.” Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 397–441.
  • Blanchet, V. (2018): “Performing market categories through visual inscriptions: The case of ethical fashion.” Organization, 25 (3), 374–400.
  • Dubuisson-Quellier, S. (2013): “A market mediation strategy: How social movements seek to change firms’ practices by promoting new principles of product valuation.” Organization Studies, 34 (5–6), 683–703.
  • Durand, R., & Georgallis, P. (2018): “Differential firm commitment to industries supported by social movement organizations.” Organization Science, 29 (1), 154–171.
  • Georgallis, P., & Lee, B. (2019): “Toward a theory of entry in moral markets: The role of social movements and organizational identity.” Strategic Organization, 18 (1), 50–74.
  • Georgallis, P., Dowell, G., & Durand, R. (2018): “Shine on me: Industry coherence and policy support for emerging industries.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 64 (3), 503–541.
  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling grand challenges pragmatically: Robust action revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • Fourcade, M., & Healy, K. (2007): “Moral views of market society.” Annual Review of Sociology, 33, 285–311.
  • Greenwood, R., Raynard, M., Kodeih, F., Micelotta, E.R., & Lounsbury, M. (2011): “Institutional complexity, organizational responses.” Academy of Management Annals, 5 (1), 317–371.
  • Hiatt, S.R., & Carlos, W. C. (2019): “From farms to fuel tanks: Stakeholder framing contests and entrepreneurship in the emergent US biodiesel market.” Strategic Management Journal, 40 (6), 865–893.
  • Jaffee, D., & Howard, P.H. (2010): “Corporate cooptation of organic and fair trade standards.” Agriculture and Human Values, 27 (4), 387–399.
  • Lee, B.H. (2009): “The infrastructure of collective action and policy content diffusion in the organic food industry.” Academy of Management Journal, 52 (6), 1247–1269.
  • Lee, B.H., Hiatt, S., & Lounsbury, M. (2017): “Market mediators and the trade-offs of legitimacy – Seeking behaviors in a nascent category.” Organization Science, 28 (3), 447–470.
  • Levy, D., Reinecke, J., & Manning, S. (2016): “The political dynamics of sustainable coffee: Contested value regimes and the transformation of sustainability.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (3), 364–401.
  • Lounsbury, M. (2001): “Institutional sources of practice variation: Staffing college and university recycling programs.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 46 (1), 29–56.
  • Lounsbury, M., Ventresca, M., & Hirsch, P.M. (2003): “Social movements, field frames and industry emergence: A cultural–political perspective on US recycling.” Socio-economic Review, 1 (1), 71–104.
  • Mair, J., Marti, I., & Ventresca, M.J. (2012): “Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh: How intermediaries work institutional voids.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (4), 819–850.
  • Markard, J., Raven, R., & Truffer, B. (2012): “Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects.” Research Policy, 41 (6), 955–967.
  • McInerney, P. (2014): From Social Movement to Moral Market: How the Circuit Riders Sparked an IT Revolution and Created a Technology Market. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Pacheco, D.F., York, J.G., & Hargrave, T.J. (2014): “The coevolution of industries, social movements, and institutions: Wind power in the United States.” Organization Science, 25 (6), 1609–1632.
  • Schiller-Merkens, S., & Balsger, P. (2019): “Moral struggles in and around markets.” Research on the Sociology of Organizations, 63, 3–26.
  • Schneiberg, M., & Lounsbury, M. (2017): “Social movements and institutional analysis.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence & R.E. Renate E. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Chapter 11.
  • Sine, W.D., Haveman, H.A., & Tolbert, P.S. (2005): “Risky business? Entrepreneurship in the new independent-power sector.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 50 (2), 200–232.
  • Sine, W.D., & Lee, B.H. (2009): “Tilting at windmills? The environmental movement and the emergence of the U.S. wind energy sector.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 54 (1), 123–155.
  • Smith, W.K., & Besharov, M.L. (2019): “Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity.” Administrative Science. Quarterly, 64 (1), 1–44.
  • Thornton, P.H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012): The Institutional Logics Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure, and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vasi, I.B., & King, B.G. (2012): “Social movements, risk perceptions, and economic outcomes: The effect of primary and secondary stakeholder activism on firms’ perceived environmental risk and financial performance.” American Sociological Review, 77 (4), 573–596.
  • Weber, K., Heinze, K.L., & DeSoucey, M. (2008): “Forage for thought: Mobilizing codes in the movement for grass-fed meat and dairy products.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), 529–567.
  • Zald, M.N. (1966): “Organizations as polities: An analysis of community organization agencies.” Social Work, 11 (4), 56–65.
  • Zhao, E.Y., & Lounsbury, M. (2016): “An institutional logics approach to social entrepreneurship: Market logic, religious diversity, and resource acquisition by microfinance organizations.” Journal of Business Venturing, 31 (6), 643–662.
  • Zietsma, C., & Lawrence, T.B. (2010): “Institutional work in the transformation of an organizational field: The interplay of boundary work and practice work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (2), 189–221.
Panikos Georgallis is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He studies the interaction between firms, social movements, and governments, particularly in settings related to social or environmental sustainability. Panikos’ research has been published in leading journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science, Journal of Business Ethics, and Strategic Organization.
Brandon Lee is an Associate Professor of Strategy at Melbourne Business School, Australia. His research interests include the role of collective action in market formation, environmental sustainability, the regulation of new markets, and certification processes in industries. He has recently published work in this area in ‘Organization Science’ and ‘Strategic Management Journal’.
Michael Lounsbury is the Canada Research Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Alberta School of Business, Canada. His research focuses on the relationship between organizational and institutional change, entrepreneurial dynamics, and the emergence of new industries and practices. In addition to serving on a number of editorial boards, Michael is the series editor of ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’. He has previously served as Chair of the Organization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management.
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