Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Zbaracki, Mark


Corporate public apologies are becoming increasingly common, despite consumers' apparent, widespread dissatisfaction with the statement that they are given. Following Goffman's (1971) classification of accounts and apologies, I argue that public demands for an apology may include an implicit demand for a change in the organizational identity. However, organizational identity and apology literatures do not consider such a sudden shift as feasible, or advisable. Combining insights from these literatures, I argue that factors that seem to restrict the feasibility and decrease the advisability of a sudden shift in organizational identity can in fact counter each other to offer a possible, and beneficial mechanism of change. In this interactive conceptualization of organizational identity, public criticism functions as a source of feedback and suggestions taking into account larger shifts in the normative background, for the creation and adoption of an identity more aligned with the organization's environment.

Combining two literatures in the absence of any precedent, I conduct an exploratory qualitative comparative analysis including constructs from both literatures, on a sample of N = 31 selected from a comprehensive dataset containing newswire reports on corporate apologies from 2008 to 2016. I use "references to organizational identity" in the corporate apology to operationalize the firm's interpretation of the public criticism as a demand for a change. Analysis reveals a variety of paths that lead to the presence and the absence of references to organizational identity. I interpret these paths based on their potential to provide accurate and valuable feedback and suggestions for a change or an adjustment in the organizational identity. I provide working propositions for a broader research agenda, and conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of the results.

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