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The Company They Keep: How Formal Associations Impact Business Social Performance

  • Terry L. Besser and Nancy J. Miller
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


Business networks, which include joint ventures, supply chains, industry and trade associations, industrial districts, and community business associations, are considered the signature organizational form of the global economy. However, little is known about how they affect the social performance of their members. We utilize institutional theory to develop the position that business social performance has collectivist roots that deserve at least as much scholarly attention as owner/manager characteristics and business attributes. Hypotheses are tested using multilevel analysis on data gathered from 898 members of twenty-nine business associations. Support is provided for institutional theory’s explanation for business social performance. Members of business associations are likely to conform to the pattern of social performance prevailing in their association, but not necessarily to the articulated values of the association. The potential of business associations to influence members’ social performance should be considered by agencies that start and support them as mechanisms for regional and local economic development.



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