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Moral commitments to community: mapping social responsibility and its ambiguities among small business owners

Elizabeth A. Lange (Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.)
Tara J. Fenwick (Professor and Head of Department, Department of Educational Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.)

Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN: 1747-1117

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




The purpose of this paper is to map the different moral positions articulated by small business owners in relation to social responsibility (SR) commitment and practice.


This qualitative study utilized collaborative action research with 25 small business owners in two Canadian provinces and used combined methods of group dialogue, personal semi‐structured interviews, and thematic analysis through researcher triangulation.


We found that the morality underpinning business owners' social responsibility tended to be embedded in a sense of relationship with and commitment to the well‐being of the local geographic community. However, this was threaded with felt ambiguities, revealing their understanding of a spectrum of SR practices.

Research limitations/implications

Through an ethical analysis, we argue that this moral commitment to community is connected to a relational worldview as part of a distinctive ethical vision while, at the same time, the small business owner‐managers were continuing to pursue business within an environment of orthodox economic ethics and practices. This substantially impacted the shape of their commitment as social change agents and their engagement in collective activities with like‐minded peers.

Practical implications

Further research is needed to reveal how much the lack of engagement in collective social change activities and collective promotion of social responsibility is related to the practical issues of time famine, maintenance of a business niche, or an individualist ethos.


This study contributes several original findings by identifying a range of SR practices and the ethics behind each, from the perspective of small business owners, how they position themselves, as well as the paradoxical constraints they experience.



Lange, E.A. and Fenwick, T.J. (2008), "Moral commitments to community: mapping social responsibility and its ambiguities among small business owners", Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1/2, pp. 41-55.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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