International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 18 - 20 July 2016
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A developmental perspective on organizing for social responsibility: A task for higher education organizations and scholars

Cassie L. Barnhardt, Carson W. Phillips, and Ryan L. Young Department of Educational Policy & Leadership Studies, University of Iowa


An ongoing critique of the present state of theory in organization studies is that contemporary organizational problems largely reflect issues of global human welfare, but the theories tend not to. This relative omission, or minimally an under-emphasis, is particularly problematic given that organizations and organizing processes are increasingly being tasked with the responsibility to respond to alleviate or solve issues of social justice, inequity, and institutionalized oppression. Nowhere is this perhaps more true than in the case of higher education. Higher education institutional rhetoric is explicit in its social aims, employing missions that aspire to produce citizens who can “be people of integrity possessed of a sense of responsibility to society . . . . [with] a sense of humanity as well as a commitment to the common good with a conviction that there is something more important than oneself” (Thomas, 2002, p. 30). Efforts to generate these outcomes are intended to be reflected in formal structures and subtle cultures of institutions. Furthermore, higher education institutions are intentional in their activities so that the cumulative effect of a student’s university experience is that one has developed the capacity to be individually successful, socially responsible, and even socially just. The field of higher education has become ever explicit about its socially responsible aims, and intended outcomes, codified in the Association of American Colleges & Universities partnership with the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research issuing its Declaration on Higher Education and Democratic Culture (2006), signalling that there is a field of organizations which displays little hesitation in communicating their humanitarian values and related outcomes. Thus, the developmental path for higher education institutions becoming socially-responsible actors warrants considerable scholarly attention. Our manuscript presents the major components in building a developmental model of organizing that proceeds along an increasingly more socially just and therefore responsible path. We argue that the individual developmental process toward socially responsible, just, and altruistic outcomes are possible at the organizational level. More specifically, our paper addresses the following questions: (a) What developmental theories lead one to greater competence in socially responsible interactions and engagement in society? (b) How is social responsibility conceptualized as a developmental outcome and construct? and (c) What evidence suggests that organizations possess the parallel developmental potentials as individuals? We conclude by offering a new conceptual framework and a series of research propositions that we invite organizational scholars to pursue.


Organizational development, social responsibility, organizational change

Link to Full Paper


Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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