Collective memory and corporate irresponsibility - A collection of essays

Jukka Rintamäki

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles

Abstract

As history will tell us, corporate scandals and instances of irresponsible firm behavior have frequently occupied newspaper headlines. And while no one will deny the attention large scale corporate scandals typically receive at the outset, this attention tends to peter out relatively quickly, and in a matter of years, many such scandals are largely forgotten. Although forgetting of past events is often to be expected, in many cases it is not an automatic, inevitable outcome, but rather the result of active efforts by actors with interests.In this dissertation, over four essays, I argue that organizations often have a tendency to attempt to influence perceptions of their own pasts – i.e. collective memory of them – particularly when it comes to instances of corporate irresponsibility, propose ways in which they go about reconfiguring their pasts, and through an empirical pilot study, demonstrate a struggle over the past of an organization that had been deemed irresponsible.Over the course of the first two essays I conceptualize ways in which firms attempt to reconfigure the collective memory of their past acts of irresponsibility. For the third and fourth essay, I have conducted a pilot study on memory work and (perceived) past irresponsibility. With this dissertation, I make a number of contributions, three of which are worth outlining here. By using collective memory as the primary lens through which to observe corporate irresponsibility and the pasts of organizations, I highlight the inherent unreliability of the past, as well as the fact that the past can be utilized and manipulated to serve present purposes. This poses questions to stakeholder pressure: while we can expect stakeholder pressure to keep firms in check in the short term, can we say the same about the long term? My essays indicate that stakeholder attention to corporate irresponsibility will tend to wane as time passes. As a second primary contribution, I point to the potential negative effects of forgetting of past irresponsibilities. Although forgetting may alleviate the trauma of an uncomfortable past, it may also obstruct learning from past mistakes, leading organizations (and societies) to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Finally, through the notion of organizational memory work, I demonstrate that organizations can influence public understandings of the past, and are indeed important determiners and facilitators of collective memory. Though resistance can be mounted, the amount of resources that business firms have, and their ability to focus them, means that they can be potentially very powerful drivers of collective memory.
Translated title of the contributionKollektiivinen muisti ja vastuuton yritystoiminta: Kokoelma esseitä
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Spicer, Andre, Thesis Advisor, External person
  • Mäkelä, Kristiina, Thesis Advisor
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6908-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6909-8
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Keywords

  • Collective memory
  • corporate irresponsibility
  • memory work
  • mnemonic communities
  • organization studies

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