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How Organizations Move From Stigma to Legitimacy: The Case of Cook's Travel Agency in Victorian Britain

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Based on an in-depth historical study of how Thomas Cook’s travel agency moved from stigmatization to legitimacy among the elite of Victorian Britain, we develop a dialogical model of organizational destigmatization. We find that audiences stigmatize an organization because they fear that it threatens a particular moral order, which leads them to mount sustained attacks designed to weaken or eradicate the organization. Our model suggests that an organization that experiences this form of profound disapproval can nonetheless purge its stigma and become legitimate through a two-step process: first the organization engages in stigma reduction work designed to minimize overt hostility among audiences by showing that it does not pose a risk to them. Second it engages in stigma elimination work designed to gain support from stigmatizers by showing that it plays a positive role in society. Our study therefore reorients organizational stigma research from a focus on how organizations can cope with the effects of stigma, and considers instead how they can eradicate the stigma altogether. We also shed light on much neglected audience-level dynamics by examining the process through which audiences construct stigma and why these constructions change.
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How Organizations Move
From Stigma to Legitimacy: The
Case of Cook’s Travel Agency in Victorian Britain
Journal:
Academy of Management Journal
Manuscript ID
AMJ-2015-0365.R2
Manuscript Type:
Revision
Keywords:
Case < Qualitative Orientation < Research Methods, Institutional theory <
Theoretical Perspectives, Qualitative orientation (General) < Qualitative
Orientation < Research Methods
Abstract:
Based on an in-depth historical study of how Thomas Cook’s travel agency
moved from stigmatization to legitimacy among the elite of Victorian
Britain, we develop a dialogical model of organizational destigmatization.
We find that audiences stigmatize an organization because they fear that it
threatens a particular moral order, which leads them to mount sustained
attacks designed to weaken or eradicate the organization. Our model
suggests that an organization that experiences this form of profound
disapproval can nonetheless purge its stigma and become legitimate
through a two-step process: first the organization engages in stigma
reduction work designed to minimize overt hostility among audiences by
showing that it does not pose a risk to them. Second it engages in stigma
elimination work designed to gain support from stigmatizers by showing
that it plays a positive role in society. Our study therefore reorients
organizational stigma research from a focus on how organizations can cope
with the effects of stigma, and considers instead how they can eradicate
the stigma altogether. We also shed light on much neglected audience-
level dynamics by examining the process through which audiences
construct stigma and why these constructions change.
Academy of Management Journal
How Organizations Move From Stigma to Legitimacy:
The Case of Cook’s Travel Agency in Victorian Britain
Christian E. Hampel
University of Cambridge
Trumpington St
Cambridge, CB2 1AG
ch547@cam.ac.uk
Paul Tracey
University of Cambridge
Trumpington St
Cambridge, CB2 1AG
p.tracey@jbs.cam.ac.uk
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank John Amis, Shaz Ansari, Royston Greenwood, Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Thomas
Keil, Jochem Kroezen, Tom Lawrence, Sucheta Nadkarni, Rowena Olegario, Wendy Smith, Trin Thananusak,
Rene Wiedner, participants at the 2014 EGOS Colloquium (especially Markus Höllerer and Charlene
Zietsma), the 2015 Edinburgh Writing Workshop, and the 2014 and 2015 AoM Annual Meetings for their
helpful feedback. We also thank the historians who offered their valuable insights, especially Paul Smith and
Piers Brendon. Finally, we would like to express our particular gratitude to associate editor Scott Sonenshein
and the three reviewers for their extremely helpful and constructive guidance and suggestions throughout.
This research was supported by a PhD scholarship from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant
number: 1162930).
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How Organizations Move From Stigma to Legitimacy:
The Case of Cook’s Travel Agency in Victorian Britain
Based on an in-depth historical study of how Thomas Cook’s travel agency moved from
stigmatization to legitimacy among the elite of Victorian Britain, we develop a dialogical model of
organizational destigmatization. We find that audiences stigmatize an organization because they fear
that it threatens a particular moral order, which leads them to mount sustained attacks designed to
weaken or eradicate the organization. Our model suggests that an organization that experiences this
form of profound disapproval can nonetheless purge its stigma and become legitimate through a two-
step process: first the organization engages in stigma reduction work designed to minimize overt
hostility among audiences by showing that it does not pose a risk to them. Second it engages in
stigma elimination work designed to gain support from stigmatizers by showing that it plays a
positive role in society. Our study therefore reorients organizational stigma research from a focus on
how organizations can cope with the effects of stigma, and considers instead how they can eradicate
the stigma altogether. We also shed light on much neglected audience-level dynamics by examining
the process through which audiences construct stigma and why these constructions change.
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Stigmatization poses distinct challenges for organizations. An organization becomes
stigmatized when salient audiences mark it out, publicly shame its conduct as highly inappropriate,
and express strong moral disapproval of it (Devers, Dewett, Mishina, & Belsito, 2009; Goffman,
1963; Hudson, 2008). The consequences for an organization tainted in this way are potentially fatal:
key stakeholders such as investors, customers, and prospective employees may avoid the
organization because they fear being stigmatized by association, which can lead to isolation and
starve it of the requisite resources (Pozner, 2008; Sutton & Callahan, 1987). Research has shown that
such organizations can manage the dynamics of stigmatization by deploying various tactics that
allow them to cope with a stigma’s negative effects (Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012), or
even use a stigma to their advantage (Helms & Patterson, 2014; Tracey & Phillips, forthcoming).
Interestingly, and seemingly cheating their fates, some stigmatized organizations not only
develop strategies to manage stigma but actually destigmatize altogether. In other words, they
become “normal” organizations that are legitimate in the eyes of those who originally stigmatized
them. For example, priests initially stigmatized life insurers for challenging the sanctity of life by
putting a price on it, but later endorsed them for their role in securing the financial survival of
vulnerable families (Zelizer, 1978). Similarly, the mainstream media originally tainted online dating
companies for promoting promiscuity, but subsequently accepted such providers for enabling
relationships. However, despite the burgeoning research on organizational stigma, we lack a
theoretical explanation for how an organization can remove its stigma in this way and become
legitimate amongst stigmatizing audiences (Helms & Patterson, 2014; Mishina & Devers, 2012). It is
this process of organizational destigmatization that is the focus of our study.
Specifically, we investigate how organizations move from stigma to legitimacy through an
inductive study of Thomas Cook’s travel agency in Victorian Britain. The Victorian elite stigmatized
the travel agency as vulgar and immoral. For instance, the establishment newspapers labeled Cook as
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“an unscrupulous man”, his trips as “an uncouth mode of conveyance”, and his tourists as “barbarian
hordes” (Daily News, 1866:6; Pall Mall Gazette, 1865a:9). Yet, within two decades, these same
newspapers described Cook’s agency as providing “invaluable services” (The Art-Journal, 1873:299)
and Cook as being “in the rank of public benefactors” (Pall Mall Gazette, 1891:5). Our study
explores how the travel agency moved from being stigmatized by the British elite to being accepted
by it. We find that an organization can move from stigma to legitimacy by removing the fear it
engenders and showing its positive service to society. Our two-step process model suggests that an
organization that enacts this strategy first engages in stigma reduction work to minimize overt
hostility, and second in stigma elimination work to gain support from stigmatizers. Intriguingly, our
analysis suggests that when successful, this strategy purges the organization of its stigma and
actually converts erstwhile stigmatizers into supporters that advocate on its behalf.
We make contributions to research on stigma management, legitimation, and social class.
First, we contribute to research on stigma management through our process model of organizational
destigmatization. While existing research explains how stigmatized organizations can cope with their
stigma through the deployment of various strategies to manage its effects (Helms & Patterson, 2014;
Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012), we show how organizations can actually purge their
stigma. Second, we shed light on the process by which audiences construct stigma and why these
constructions change. In contrast to existing research, we find that audiences may confer legitimacy
to “deviant” organizations if they perceive the deviance as non-threatening to them and positive for
society (Elsbach, 1994; Lamin & Zaheer, 2012; Suchman, 1995). Third, we show that class
dynamics in an organization’s environment may strongly affect its success. Indeed, to attract new
audiences and persuade them to support an innovation, organizations may need to simultaneously
renegotiate and affirm prevailing class structures (Côté, 2011; Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013).
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ORGANIZATIONAL STIGMA AND LEGITIMACY
Organizational Stigma and its Management
In sociology and social psychology, a stigma is theorized as a socially constructed mark that
taints and discredits the bearer – particular individuals or groups – within certain sections of society
(see Link & Phelan, 2001, for a review). Goffman’s (1963) seminal work distinguished between
three types of stigma – abominations of the body (e.g., physical disability), character blemishes (e.g.,
drug addiction), and tribal signs (e.g., traits associated with particular ethnicities). His ideas remain a
central reference point in the study of stigma and precipitated much research that explores how
individuals experience and cope with their stigmatization as well as the motivations of those who
stigmatize them (see Major & O’Brien, 2005, for a review).
Recently, scholars have explored stigma in organizational settings (Sutton & Callahan, 1987).
Stigmatized organizations are vilified by certain audiences for a perceived “fundamental, deep-seated
flaw that deindividuates and discredits the organization” (Devers et al., 2009:157). Audiences tend to
avoid and withhold resources from them in part because their stigma “expose[s] something unusual
and bad about the[ir] moral status” (Goffman, 1963:1), but also because interaction poses the risk of
“stigma transfer” (Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009); in other words, being stigmatized by association
(Pontikes, Negro, & Rao, 2010). The result is that stigmatized organizations take on pariah status,
with potentially life-threatening implications.
Two main types of organizational stigma have been distinguished. Event-stigma arises due to
a singular anomalous infraction (Hudson, 2008). For example, when an organization enters Chapter
11, this negative event immediately dominates audience perceptions of it, leading to the
stigmatization of the organization (Sutton & Callahan, 1987). By contrast, core-stigma arises due to a
perceived major flaw in an organization’s fundamental operations on the part of one or more
audiences (Hudson, 2008). For example, some NGOs have stigmatized arms production, the core
activity of arms manufacturers, because they consider that it promotes war (Durand & Vergne,
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2014). Organizations that are core-stigmatized are vulnerable because some audiences condemn their
very essence. The intense pressure associated with it may force organizations to exit stigmatized
operations (Piazza & Perretti, 2015). This paper concerns a case of core-stigma.
Research suggests a variety of strategies through which core-stigmatized organizations can
manage the consequences of their stigmatization and ensure their survival (Hudson, 2008; Sutton &
Callahan, 1987). Specifically, scholars have proposed three important approaches: the first approach
of shielding involves concealing the stigma to minimize its negative repercussions (Hudson &
Okhuysen, 2009; Reinmoeller & Ansari, forthcoming). For example, Hudson and Okhuysen (2009)
show how men’s bathhouses deploy a set of boundary management processes to avoid unwanted
attention. The second approach of straddling involves diluting a stigma to reduce audience
disapproval (Carberry & King, 2012; Durand & Vergne, 2014). For example, Vergne (2012)
explores how arms producers straddle market categories to achieve this effect. The third approach of
co-opting involves actively using the stigma to gain attention and resources (Helms & Patterson,
2014; Tracey & Phillips, forthcoming). For example, Helms and Patterson (2014) show that mixed
martial arts (MMA) organizations co-opted the stigma of violence, using it to gain new audiences
and reduce hostility among existing audiences.
These three stigma management approaches – shielding, straddling, and co-opting – explain
how organizations can survive despite – or in the MMA case because of – their continuing
stigmatization. While the underlying stigma persists in organizations that deploy these strategies, all
three approaches help stigmatized organizations to cope with the consequences of their tainting
mark. Interestingly, however, research has not explored how organizations can destigmatize –
eradicate their stigma – to become an accepted part of society in the eyes of stigmatizing audiences.
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Legitimacy and Organizations
Organizations are deemed to be legitimate when audiences evaluate them as “desirable,
proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and
definitions” (Suchman, 1995:574). The conferral of legitimacy has important consequences for
organizations: it heralds increased resource flows, better access to stakeholders, and ultimately
enhanced survival prospects (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994). Audiences can confer several types of
legitimacy upon organizations (Bitektine, 2011; Tost, 2011; Zimmerman & Zeitz, 2002). Suchman’s
(1995) foundational work distinguishes three forms: cognitive legitimacy (based on fit with existing
categories), pragmatic legitimacy (based on fit with audience interests), and moral legitimacy (based
on fit with normative expectations).
The popularity of the legitimacy concept has led to a proliferation of – sometimes conflicting
– interpretations, which has introduced the threat of theoretical vagueness and confusion (Devers et
al., 2009; Hudson, 2008). Thus, it is important that we are meticulous in how we delineate and use it.
We address the criticisms of the concept in two ways: first, following Hudson, Okhuysen, and Creed
(2015), we conceptualize legitimacy as a social evaluation that is made by a particular audience,
rather than as a universal evaluation held by society as a whole. At any given time, some audiences
may judge an organization to be legitimate, while others do not hold this view. Second, following
Galvin, Ventresca, and Hudson (2004), we are careful to be explicit about the form of legitimacy
with which we are concerned and to specify what it means in the context of our particular empirical
setting. Thus we focus on audiences’ conferral of moral legitimacy, which hinges on an organization
gaining normative approval. Specifically, the organization needs to convince audiences that its
activities fit with their normative expectations about what constitutes “the right thing to do” in a
given social context (Suchman, 1995:579). By qualifying the notion of legitimacy in these ways, we
seek to augment the “analytic usefulness” of the concept (Galvin et al., 2005:59).
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Audience Conferral of Legitimacy to Deviant Organizations
Legitimacy research says relatively little about stigma but has explored why audiences deny
legitimacy to deviant organizations – organizations which depart from societal norms (Warren, 2003)
– of which stigmatized organizations are an extreme form. For example, churches in Vancouver
defied the expectation that “addicts” should be housed outside of residential neighborhoods
(Lawrence & Dover, forthcoming). In such cases, audiences refuse to confer moral legitimacy
because of organizational actions that deviated from their normative expectations.
Much existing research suggests that deviant organizations need to reform and apologize for
their deviance in order for audiences to confer moral approval upon them. For example, Elsbach
(1994) showed that audiences were more likely to accept as legitimate an organization that had
supposedly committed an infraction when it admitted a mistake than when it denied or sought to
justify its approach. Similarly, when faced with accusations that organizations employed sweatshop
practices, the public refused to confer legitimacy on those organizations that denied the allegations
and held their course (Lamin & Zaheer, 2012). From this perspective, organizations that deviate
significantly from expectations must acknowledge their supposed mistake, accept their punishment,
and conform (Pfarrer, Decelles, Smith, & Taylor, 2008).
However, audiences sometimes come to approve of organizations that were deemed to be
guilty of infractions but that subsequently refused to conform to expectations. For example,
regulators originally disapproved of “Morris Plan Banks” in early 20
th
century New York City as
they deviated from the moral expectation that poor people should be discouraged from getting into
debt (Barron, 1998). These banks refused to accept they had committed an infraction and continued
their lending practices, emphasizing that they only offered money to customers who planned to use it
for a “constructive and useful purpose”. Ultimately, regulators rewarded this deviance and gave their
moral approval to them. Thus acquiescence in the face of moral pressure may not always be the best
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route to acceptance. More broadly, the circumstances under which audiences confer moral legitimacy
on organizations that depart from normative expectations, thereby rewarding deviance, are unclear.
The Puzzle of How Organizations Shift From Stigma to Legitimacy
In sum, stigma researchers are explicitly concerned with organizations that are stained in
some way in the eyes of one or more audiences, but have tended to focus on the management of the
effects of the stigma and have seldom considered the process of destigmatization. This is despite
“calls for theories on stigma’s removal” (Helms & Patterson, 2014:1454) and for research that
specifically examines “how organizations rid themselves of (…) stigmas” (Mishina & Devers,
2012:213). In turn, legitimacy researchers have explored how organizations conform to audience
expectations in order to attain social approval but it is unclear how audiences come to give their
moral backing to deviant organizations. Thus, working at the intersection of the organizational
stigma and legitimacy literatures, we draw on the case of Thomas Cook’s travel agency to examine
the following research questions: how can stigmatized organizations destigmatize among hostile
audiences? Why do audiences come to accept stigmatized organizations as legitimate?
METHODS
Research Setting: Cook’s Travel Agency Moves from Stigma to Legitimacy
While today’s travel agency is seen as an innocuous form of organization, when it emerged in
Victorian Britain it was considered by some to be morally reprehensible. Prior to the travel agency,
travel had been the preserve of aristocrats and select wealthy families. Emblematic for this elite
group was the Grand Tour – a trip of several months across Europe that involved visiting the cultural
riches of the Continent, particularly in France and Italy (Mullen & Munson, 2011). The tour played
an important educational role and served as a “finishing school” for many travelers, who studied
European culture, languages and history during their trips (Newmeyer, 2008a). On these tours, select
travelers used private carriages and were usually accompanied by servants who organized bespoke
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trips for them. However, the growth of the railways in the 19
th
century made transportation available
to a wider group of people and paved the way for the travel agency (Jordan & Jordan, 1991).
Thomas Cook, a temperance campaigner and publisher from Leicester, began his
involvement in travel by organizing tours for his local temperance society (Hamilton, 2005). After
several years of arranging such tours alongside other activities, Cook established his travel agency in
London in 1861 and became the main proponent of the new organizational form (Pudney, 1953; see
Table 1 for timeline). Cook’s travel agency at first primarily offered “conducted tours”. These
involved a tour guide who would lead a tourist group of usually between 40 and 150 people over a
few days across England, Scotland and, from a slightly later date, Continental Europe. Cook’s firm
organized transport, accommodation and guides at affordable prices, extending travel to both the
working class and the lower-middle class (Withey, 1997). Originally, the travel agency only catered
for conducted tourists, whose backgrounds were markedly different to the wealthy individual
travelers, described above, who travelled on their own Grand Tours. At a later stage, Cook also
offered travel to individual tourists, who traveled on their own, like individual travelers, but paid
Cook’s travel agency to organize the trip. However, the origins of the travel agency were dominated
by conducted tours. The emergence of Cook’s travel agency quickly generated anger and resentment
among the elite of Victorian Britain (Brendon, 1991). The establishment newspapers, such as The
Times and The Pall Mall Gazette, wrote about the travel agency “as if those who composed it ought
to be ashamed of themselves, and he who headed it ought to be punished” (Rae, 1891:59).
----- INSERT TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE -----
To appreciate why the travel agency developed by Cook was vilified in this way it is
important to consider the class structure of Victorian Britain. During this period, social stratification
was very deep-rooted. Victorians routinely classified themselves and others into one of three marked
tiers – working class, middle class, and upper class – depending on the nature of their work. Working
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class people performed physical work, such as laboring in a factory (Mitchell, 1996). They usually
earned low incomes and their leisure time was often spent in pubs and at local fairs. The middle class
consisted of those engaged in “clean work”, in contrast to the physical labor of the working class
(Bailey, 1978). This class grew rapidly in the 19
th
century and ranged from clerks to engineers and
academics. It was further divided into the upper middle class, which mainly included the professions,
and the lower middle class, to which the remainder belonged (Mitchell, 2011). Members of the
middle class were acutely concerned about moving up in the class hierarchy. To achieve this, they
sought to distance themselves from the working class and to align their attitudes and behaviors with
the upper class. Finally, the upper class was the smallest but most influential group in Victorian
Britain. Members of this class did not work but derived their incomes from investments and estates
(Mitchell, 1996). They included hereditary aristocrats and the gentry who were landowners, but also
select industrialists whose combination of wealth and distinction led to their inclusion in the upper
class. While the working class and lower-middle class supported Cook’s enterprise, the more
privileged members of society – the upper middle class and the upper class – strongly disapproved of
it. This elite group saw the travel agency as morally abject and called for an end to its “excursion
mania” (The Times, 1861:6). The establishment newspapers, which both reflected and influenced the
attitudes of the elite, stigmatized Cook’s travel agency and campaigned against its existence.
In response, Cook vehemently fought vilification. Following a long struggle, his firm
ultimately became a respected organization that was seen as performing a valued service for a range
of customers, including the elite. Indeed, while the firm was derided when it opened its first office in
London in 1861, by 1877 its original media stigmatizers supported it: the establishment press who
had campaigned against Cook’s tours only a few years earlier stopped stigmatizing Cook’s travel
agency and accepted its positive role in society. In the findings that follow, we ground the study’s
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two key constructs (stigma and legitimacy), investigate why the elite changed its evaluation of
Cook’s travel agency, and explore how it moved from stigma to approval.
1
Data Collection
Despite having taken place in Victorian times, there remains a wealth of material on the early
history of the travel agency (see Table 2), which forms the empirical basis of this study. First, we
drew on a rich corpus of historical records that are preserved in libraries. Most notably, we collated
over 360 press articles and books from The British Library, Britain’s legal deposit library. In these
publications, Victorians opined about the controversial new travel agency.
----- INSERT TABLE 2 ABOUT HERE -----
Second, we had unfettered access to the Thomas Cook archives – located in the company’s
present day headquarters in Peterborough – including their extensive collection of material about the
early history of tourism. In this respect we were fortunate that Cook’s agency created and preserved
many documents, such as guidebooks and descriptions of the firm’s activities. Especially important
among these was Cook’s travel magazine “The Excursionist”. Published up to 10 times a year, the
Excursionist was an active participant in the public debate about travel and the role of the travel
agency during the Victorian era, and a valuable source of data for our study.
Third, Cook’s case has attracted much attention among historians and tourism studies
researchers. Books and articles about the early history of tourism abound; over a dozen of them focus
specifically on Cook. Together, these sources provided a rich description that allowed us to track
Cook’s travel agency from its inauspicious beginnings as a moral outcast to the point at which it
became accepted by the British elite as contributing positively to society.
1
The few rivals that Cook had during our study period either gave up quickly, or traded locally for a lower-class clientele
(Jordan & Jordan, 1991). Cook could not count on them to change the travel agency’s perception.
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Data Analysis
Given the limited understanding of how organizations destigmatize and how audiences come
to view stigmatized organizations as legitimate (i.e., normatively approve of them), we relied upon
grounded theory methods to inductively analyze our data. Specifically, using naturalistic inquiry and
the constant comparison technique, we analyzed the data as we collected it, focusing on the process
by which marked organizations attain approval in society (Glaser & Strauss, 2009; Lincoln & Guba,
1985). Theoretical sampling helped us to identify emerging patterns in the data, which guided our
data collection until theoretical saturation (i.e., the point at which no new patterns emerged) was
reached. Our analysis consisted of three main phases.
Timeline and case history. The original motivation for our study was to explore the
emergence of the field of tourism in Victorian Britain. We started by immersing ourselves in the
extensive historical scholarship on Victorian travel in order to understand the field’s evolution. At
this stage, we compiled an event-history database to establish the trajectory of important incidents
(Garud & Rappa, 1994). We were quickly struck by the extreme controversy surrounding Cook’s
firm. Surprisingly, the establishment press first stigmatized it but subsequently, through Cook’s
efforts, hailed it as an important contributor to Victorian society. As we found this very intriguing,
we refocused our data collection and analysis on this puzzle.
Identification of organizational actions and audience reactions. Once we had developed
our case history and refined our research focus, we centered our data collection on the establishment
press’s evaluation of the travel agency and the actions that Cook used to fight the travel agency’s
stigma. At this stage, our data collection shifted from a focus on historical scholarship to original
(press) records, which we accessed at the libraries and archives. We collected and coded data to
answer our two new research questions of how organizations destigmatize and how audiences
change their evaluation from stigma to approval. Through open coding, we named incidents in the
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data that described this process. We focused in particular on establishment press articles and Cook’s
travel magazine to identify the actions that could explain the shift in audience perceptions. As we did
so, unexpected findings emerged. For example, we discovered that despite being reprimanded by the
establishment newspapers, Cook provided these periodicals with news of events from the foreign
countries in which his agency operated. This led to the code “supply press with foreign news”. Data
collection and coding continued until no new actions surfaced. By cycling through the codes and
comparing them, we identified recurring codes that we collapsed into 24 first-order categories, of
which 16 related to Cook’s actions and 8 to audience evaluations (see Figure 1 for data structure).
----- INSERT FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE -----
Development of aggregate themes and process model. We then looked for relationships
between our first-order categories to identify the key ways in which audiences evaluated Cook’s
agency and the actions in which Cook engaged to gain approval for his venture. At this point, we
cycled iteratively between data, emerging themes and the literature, identifying 12 more
theoretically-informed themes (Van Maanen, 1979). For example, it struck us that the British elite
was initially acutely concerned that the travel agency may threaten its status as it feared that Cook’s
tours would enable “social upstarts” to gain “respectability which may arise from having seen them
[Continental sights]” (Pall Mall Gazette, 1865a:9; Steward, 2005:44). Thus, we formed the second-
order theme “fear for social position” based on the first-order categories “fear demise of exclusivity”
and “organize travel for money”. The hostile press response to, and moral condemnation of, Cook’s
agency pointed us to the stigma literature, which also informed our second-order themes.
In a next step, we linked the various phenomena that emerged in our case by integrating the
second-order themes into aggregate theoretical dimensions. For example, we collapsed the second-
order themes “highlight support of worthy groups” and “construct superordinate identity” into
“demonstrate service to society” as Cook stressed his agency’s role in aiding “the nation’s future”
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(Newmeyer, 2008b:282). This process led to 6 aggregate theoretical dimensions. At the same time as
we identified these dimensions, we explored their temporal trajectory and developed our model. We
drew on temporal bracketing to separate our case into distinct phases (Langley, 1999). Specifically,
we explored how key actions in one period affected the subsequent period. We used our 6 aggregate
dimensions to build provisional models and we refined these over multiple iterations – returning to
the data throughout – until we arrived at our final model. To further increase the trustworthiness of
our findings we used member checks (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Specifically, we discussed our
findings with 7 historians, including Paul Smith, the Thomas Cook archivist, and Piers Brendon, a
historian and the writer of Thomas Cook’s 150 year history. While we tweaked some of the details of
our analysis in response, our overarching explanation remained in tact and we gained considerable
confidence in our interpretation of events.
This completed our journey from the data we collected about the stained beginnings of the
travel agency through to the theoretical constructs we developed to explain its trajectory from stigma
to legitimacy (see Figure 1 for data structure and Table 3 for additional quotes).
2
COOK’S TRAVEL AGENCY: A CASE OF ORGANIZATIONAL DESTIGMATIZATION
Our process model of organizational destigmatization discloses why audiences come to
construct a stigma, the series of actions that organizations can take in response to eradicate it, and
finally why audiences shift their evaluation from stigma to normative approval.
3
The model is
summarized in Figure 2 and is organized around the 6 aggregate theoretical dimensions that emerged
from our grounded theory building, as summarized in Figure 1. At the core of our model is the idea
that destigmatization is a process that is enacted jointly by a stigmatized organization and its
stigmatizing audience. We term it a dialogical model of organizational destigmatization because it
2
Please note that author names are often missing as the Victorian press usually did not name the authors of articles.
3
All the constructs in our model resulted from a grounded theory analysis; i.e., our core concepts emerged inductively
from the data through several phases of iteration (Glaser & Strauss, 2009). However, we show the model upfront to
clarify the presentation of our findings (cf. Howard-Grenville, Metzger, & Meyer, 2013).
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considers not only the actions of the stigmatized organization in response to its stigma, but also
audience-level processes of stigma construction and legitimation.
----- INSERT FIGURE 2 ABOUT HERE -----
As can be seen in Figure 2, our model begins with an audience that stigmatizes an
organization because it fears that the organization poses a threat, leading to active hostilility on the
part of the audience. The model then delineates two phases in which a stigmatized organization
engages in a series of actions to tackle its stigma in the eyes of that audience. We label the first set of
actions enacted in phase 1 – deflect attention from stigma, isolate stigmatizers, and demonstrate
service to society (narrow) – as stigma reduction work. At the end of this first phase, the stigmatizers
cease their overt hostility but the stigma remains in place. During a second phase another set of
actions are enacted – ally with stigmatizers and demonstrate service to society (broad) – that we term
stigma elimination work. Here the intention is to build bridges with the stigmatizers in order to turn
them from adversaries into supporters that bestow normative approval. While, in our case, the
process of destigmatization had a successful outcome, it is possible that audiences will not be
convinced by the organization’s stigma reduction or stigma elimination work, in which case the
stigma will remain in tact. This is indicated at the bottom of our model by two feedback loops. The
final part of our model shows that, where the actions of the stigmatized organization have the desired
effect, former stigmatizers come to view the organization as having a social value and confer
normative approval upon it. At this point the organization has eradicated its stigma and becomes
legitimate.
Next, in the case analysis that follows, we ground our overarching dimensions in our data and
illustrate the dynamics of our process model. This section shows how Cook’s travel agency moved
from stigmatization to normative legitimacy over two phases between 1861 and 1877.
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Stigmatization based on Fear
When Cook’s travel agency opened in London in 1861 and offered conducted tours to
working and middle class people, the British elite reacted with fury and fear. It was worried that the
travel agency would destroy a noble and cherished activity by vulgarizing it. The elite was also
scared that travel would cease to be a clear sign of its privileged position. Cook’s travel agency
threatened to open travel to the masses and thus erode a key marker of class distinction: “Upper class
men and women accustomed to visiting the Continent in the pre-Cook era resented the growing
crowds and feared that they would be tarred by association” (Withey, 1997:162).
To combat Cook’s travel agency, the establishment press, which catered for and reflected the
views of the elite, engaged in scathing attacks on Cook’s agency and contributed to a “moral panic”
designed both to mobilize the elite to campaign against mass travel and to deter would-be tourists
(Walton, 2010:87). In doing so the press sought to tap into a broader set of fears on the part of the
elite about the precariousness of the class system. The Victorian social order was “subjected to
immense strains by the processes of urbanization and industrialization” and those at the top were
deeply worried that it would “disintegrate into anarchy through the disruption of social ties and
institutions, and the emergence of frighteningly large masses of apparently masterless men”
(Thompson, 1981:189). The elite regarded the erosion of class boundaries and any class
advancement by “undeserving” people as immoral. Yet Cook’s travel agency appeared to support
both outcomes, and the elite therefore turned against it. Specifically, the elite’s stigmatization of
Cook’s agency comprised two elements: anxiety about users and a fear for its social position.
Anxiety about users. The British elite was deeply anxious about the prospect of rubbing
shoulders with a group of people that it deemed unworthy of travel and was angry at Cook for
putting it in such a position. For example, The Times (1861:6) worried that tourists were “spoil[ing]
the pleasure of the regular traveller”. As a result the elite censured anyone who was involved with
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Cook’s agency. Indeed, Cook’s opponents treated the travel agency “as if those who composed it
ought to be ashamed of themselves, and he who headed it out to be punished” (Rae, 1891:59). The
elite’s concerns were rooted in two aspects of the travel agency: tourists as uncouth beings, and fear
about overrun travel destinations.
The first reason for the elite’s anxiety stemmed from its perceptions of Cook’s customers: it
viewed the travel agency as catering for highly uncouth and potentially threatening tourists. The elite
professed shock at the type of people who patronized Cook’s trips and suggested that they hailed
from the worst sections of society. Their behavior was described as disgraceful and unworthy of
travel. Indeed, one writer went as far as to liken tourists to herds of animals: “I have already seen
three flocks, and anything so uncouth I never saw before” (Blackwood, 1865:231). In a similar vein,
an establishment newspaper characterized tourists as “low-bred, vulgar, and ridiculous” (Pall Mall
Gazette, 1865b:37). After one of Cook’s tourist parties had visited Italy, the local correspondent of
the Daily News (1866:6) provided an account that illustrates the elite’s level of anxiety about Cook’s
tours at the time:
“That modern Attila, Thomas Cook (…) has been here with his swarm of followers, who, like
the barbarian hordes of old, have been ravaging the fairest provinces of Italy.”
The implication was clear: Cook’s tourists made for dangerous company and were to be
avoided at all costs as they would stain any “deserving” travellers by association.
The second reason for the elite’s anxiety about the users of the travel agency was its view that
mass travel would result in overrun travel destinations. Previously, elite travelers could retreat to
travel resorts knowing that they would be able to embrace their beauty without disturbance or danger
as they were among themselves. However, this changed with Cook’s travel agency: “There was a
fear among many of tourism overwhelming unspoilt destinations in a similar way to the rising tide of
mass production” (Hamilton, 2005:160). The Victorian establishment became increasingly
concerned that tourists would ruin the beauty of these destinations through their “vulgar” presence. It
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observed with dread the arrival of “tourists from outside their own particular social circles, who were
invading their favourite resorts” (Steward, 2005:43). Put simply, the elite was terrified of vacationing
in the same locations as the lower-classes. This might cause embarrassing cross-class encounters:
“Victorians spoke of the prospect with horror: he might meet his own tailor. Cook’s efforts made
such painful encounters more likely” (Brendon, 1991:90).
Fear for social position. The second element of the elite’s stigmatization of Cook’s agency
was rooted in a deep concern about its social position. The elite deplored the operations of the travel
agency in part because it viewed mass travel as both reflecting and promoting a broader shift in
British society – the blurring or indeed erosion of what had traditionally been clear class boundaries.
The elite was used to a world in which most of the population had been confined to their hometowns,
while only the privileged few traveled. A change to this order terrified them:
“Victorians feared social contamination almost as much as sexual contagion. Tourism (…)
had egalitarian tendencies. (…) Tourism broke down the carefully constructed barriers which
inhibited the promiscuous mingling of classes” (Brendon, 1991:92).
More specifically, our analysis suggests two reasons why the emergence of the travel agency
led the elite to fear for its social position. The first was the elite’s profound apprehension about the
demise of the exclusivity of travel, as it “resented his [Cook’s] parties’ presence and feared the loss
of exclusivity” (Walton, 2010:87). Travel, particularly trips to Continental Europe, had been limited
to a select circle of wealthy travelers in Victorian society. The travel agency threatened to open up
travel to wide swathes of the population. Suddenly, a multitude of people from lower social positions
would be able to witness the sights of Italy or talk about the art riches of France. This would raise
their social position and reduce their distance to the elite. An establishment newspaper complained
that Cook’s agency helped the lower classes to cheat by passing off a “dicky” (a detachable garment
often made of cardboard and worn by male servants) as a “shirt”; i.e., by enabling social climbing:
“to give himself all the airs of an extensive traveller, at the least possible expenditure of time
and money. (…) By availing himself of the facilities offered by Mr. Cook he can get up a
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kind of continental experience, which is to that obtained in the regular way precisely what a
“dicky” is to a shirt” (Pall Mall Gazette, 1865a:9).
The second reason for the elite’s fear for their social position was that Cook organized travel
for money. Traveling was portrayed as an individual endeavor that each person had to achieve by
their own efforts. Similar to doping in sport today, offering organized travel off-the-shelf was
depicted as debasing travel and in effect allowing people to cheat as it fell short of the idea of travel
as an individual pursuit. Critics from the establishment newspapers labeled Cook as an
“unscrupulous man” for selling travel and likened the travel agency to the “ingenious deceptions of
the cheap haberdasher” (Blackwood, 1865:230; Pall Mall Gazette, 1865a:9). Cook was confronted
with hostile press allegations that “seeking to get money by my ‘trade’, I was not the best fitted for
the work which I voluntarily undertook” (Excursionist, 1867a). Cook’s critics staunchly fought the
idea that tourists, who paid the travel agency to organize their tours, could be afforded the
respectability of travelers, who ventured on individually-organized trips. The intended message was
clear: no true lady or gentleman would become a tourist and engage the services of Cook’s agency.
As a consequence of its anxiety about the users of the travel agency and fears about its own
social position, the elite embarked on a vociferous campaign against Cook’s firm. The stigmatization
had its intended effect as wide swathes of the middle class became afraid of traveling with Cook
because it risked associating them with the working class, which impeded a core middle class
aspiration in Victorian society: moving up the social hierarchy. For example, one journalist, who
ventured to travel with Cook, stressed the need for “moral courage in forming the resolution to avail
myself of this mode of travel” (Temple Bar, 1868:73). As Cook’s agency was seen as morally
dubious, only people who were not worried about their reputation would use it. Having shown why
the Victorian elite stigmatized Cook, we now turn to how Cook responded to this existential threat.
In doing so, we identify two discrete phases around which we structure the next part of the analysis.
Phase 1: Stigma Reduction (1861-1871)
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The stigmatization of Cook’s travel agency by the powerful Victorian elite placed its future
survival in doubt. Referring to his stigmatization, Cook (1870:4) complained bitterly that “many are
influenced by such misrepresentations (…); many are deterred from accepting my proposals[.]” In
order to survive, Cook’s travel agency needed to fight the stigma. From 1861 to 1871 in a first phase
that was focused on stigma reduction, it used three tactics to influence the perception of the travel
agency: deflect attention from stigma, isolate stigmatizers and demonstrate service to society.
Deflect Attention from Stigma
Our analysis suggests that Cook responded to the attacks by his critics by deflecting attention
from the stigma, by which we mean presenting an alternative, positive account that does not
acknowledge the organization’s stigma. While his critics depicted Cook’s agency and his trips as a
deplorable undertaking, Cook tried to “improve the travel process and signify it with dreams and
promises that would make travel appealing” (Newmeyer, 2004:281). Specifically, Cook sought to
portray his trips as desirable and free from stigma by using two tactics: combining accepted
practices, and showing the respectability of his customers.
Combine accepted practices. To deflect attention from the stigma, Cook used and combined
practices from classic travel. In doing so, Cook’s travel agency drew upon the practices of individual
travelers as well as those of Continental travel. Both sets of practices were associated with
sophistication and distinction, attributes that differed markedly from the labels that critics used to
describe Cook’s agency. Specifically, Cook adapted the concept of the Grand Tour to the “interest,
level of knowledge [and] finances” of his clients, thus positioning the travel agency as a facilitator of
this worthy type of travel (Newmeyer, 2008a:5). The intention was to portray the travel agency as
part of the Grand Tour lineage, rather than as an organizer of new, immoral and philistine pursuits.
An important aspect of the practice combination that we find in our case was Cook’s decision
to offer individual travel. Given the opposition to conducted tours, Cook chose to offer his tourists
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the opportunity to travel on their own, thereby mirroring the experience of individual travelers. He
combined various existing practices that would make travel both easy and free from stigma. A key
offering was the tourist ticket, which enabled tourists to book the train tickets for their entire trip
with Cook but to travel “without our personal accompaniment” (Excursionist, 1865a:1). One
newspaper explained the benefits of the novel tickets as follows:
“[H]e presents his ticket at the booking-office of the station (…), has it stamped, and there is
no more trouble, and he has no more association with his fellow-travellers than if he were an
ordinary and more aristocratic traveller” (Eclectic Review, 1865:462).
Cook also introduced hotel coupons which enabled individual tourists to book their hotel
accommodation at Cook’s office and then simply hand over the coupon at the hotel as payment. In
the Excursionist (1869a:4), Cook proudly quoted a banker who found that his “coupons formed a
passport to general attention and even preference. At the “Three Kings” they gave us a room on the
Rhine front; at the “Beau Rivage” we overlooked the Lake” [.] While tourist tickets enabled Cook’s
tourists to travel like individual travelers, hotel coupons enabled them to stay at established hotels
alongside such individual travelers.
In addition, Cook introduced trips to destinations in continental Europe that were considered
rich in culture. The appreciation of revered European cities and their cultural treasures formed an
important part of the Grand Tour. Cook wanted to integrate this aspect of travel into his offering. For
example, from 1863 onwards Cook offered regular trips to classic Grand Tour destinations in France,
Switzerland and Italy. He made sure to mention their artistic, historical, and cultural richness. For
example, the Excursionist (1863a:2) emphasized the allure of Paris:
“There are few places that possess a greater interest than the city and neighbourhood of Paris.
To the historian, the politician, the painter, the poet, the sculptor, and the man of fashion and
taste, Paris stands unequalled”.
Cook also integrated classic destinations and the appreciation of fine arts into his conducted
tours to emphasize their respectability. For instance, after returning from a tour to Italy Cook stressed
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that his group reveled “amongst the multifarious and brilliant productions of sculptors, painters, and
Italian artists of every name and degree” (Excursionist, 1864a).
Thus by integrating some of the familiar and accepted practices of classic travel into tourism,
the travel agency would seem less alien and reproachable to Victorians.
Show respectability of users. Cook also sought to show that his tourists, particularly those
who were traveling in conducted tours, were respectable and worthy of acceptance. Rather than
conceding that tourists were inferior to travelers and that he should be ashamed of his customers,
Cook regularly extolled the virtue and interest that his tourists showed while traveling. In one
instance he proudly claimed: “We might defy any newspaper scribe to shew [sic] a more respectable
and better behaved party“ (Excursionist, 1864b:5). Cook was a staunch defender of his tourists.
In order to illustrate the respectability of his users, Cook tried to depict conducted tourists and
individual travelers as similar. While the former were generally seen as poorly educated, unruly in
their behavior, and even dangerous, the latter were regarded as refined, well-behaved, and desirable
company. In addressing the difference in perception between the two, Cook’s travel agency made
sure to present its tourists very carefully. For example, in one instance Cook cited a journalist who
praised his trip with Cook’s travel agency: “I know full well I have had a thoroughly enjoyable
month” (Excursionist, 1865b:5). Stressing that his customers, such as this journalist, went on longer
trips helped to deflect from the impression that Cook only offered group trips for rowdy day-trippers.
Cook always defended his tourists against allegations of being inferior to travelers. For example, he
responded publicly to a particularly negative depiction of his tours by a well-known writer:
“Mr. Lever is an Irish gentleman of the precise class to which the English clergymen,
physicians, bankers, civil engineers, and merchants, who honour me by accepting my escort
to Italy last year, indisputably belong” (Excursionist, 1865c:5).
Cook also changed the way the tours were run to increase their perceived respectability. For
example, Cook reduced the number of tourists on each tour. He explained in his travel magazine:
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“Our aim (…) has been to make these associated Tours as unobjectionable as possible, by reducing
the numbers of the parties and making them more frequent” (Excursionist, 1873:4). The intention
was to make conducted tours and their tourist groups nearly indistinguishable from individual trips
and their travelers, so that they became acceptable to middle class customers.
In addition to likening tourists to travelers, Cook emphasized the support his parties received
in the countries they visited. By showing that his conducted tourists were welcome abroad, he was
able to challenge the idea that there was universal hostility to the notion of a conducted tour.
Specifically, he aimed to show that the stigma attached to such tours from the British establishment
had no significance in Continental Europe, thereby changing how potential customers viewed them.
A common ploy used by Cook was to highlight how royalty and other high status actors responded to
his tourists. On one occasion he described how the French Emperor “graciously acknowledged the
cheers of the visitors” (Excursionist, 1861:2). Moreover, Cook often mentioned foreign princes or
barons who his tourists had met by chance during conducted tours. For example, Cook explained
how well his tourists had been received in Geneva, alongside members of the nobility:
“We took the Beau Rivage by surprise, (…) but as kind a reception was accorded to Cook’s
Tourists to all appearance, as to the Prussian Baron van Wrangel, or the Queen of Hanover,
who were both staying there” (Excursionist, 1864b:5).
When describing his Swiss tours, Cook explained that his goal was for his tours to become “a
passport to all that is civil and obliging” and “to see ‘Cook’s people’ as distinctly recognised in their
social travelling arrangements” (Excursionist, 1864c:7). By describing the positive reception that
conducted tours received abroad, Cook’s travel agency sought to convince middle and upper class
Britons that these tours had much value and should not be stigmatized.
Isolate Stigmatizers
Cook also responded to the stigmatization of his travel agency by isolating its stigmatizers.
Specifically, he suggested that they were misrepresenting and impeding the good work of the travel
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agency. Indeed, Cook maintained that, in contrast to his stigmatizers, he was receiving the support of
the wider public:
“The grateful appreciation of hundreds of delighted travellers obliviate every attempt at
annoyance by (…) a very small section of the London Press, who appear to be affected by a
mania of discontent about the idea of any one, save the privileged few, being provided with
the means of tourist enjoyment” (Excursionist, 1865d:4).
We found that Cook used two tactics to isolate his critics: depicting stigmatizers as a
misguided minority, and attacking the character of stigmatizers.
Depict stigmatizers as a misguided minority. To isolate his critics, Cook portrayed them as a
small and mistaken group who were out of touch even with other members of their own social class.
He was very careful to direct his attacks only at his critics and to avoid any actions that could be
interpreted as undermining the British elite as a whole, which, he suggested, was being let down by
this misguided minority.
In depicting the travel agency’s stigmatizers as a misguided minority, Cook attacked them as
exclusive. His core argument was that they held views that did not fit with the needs and
opportunities of a changing – and increasingly equal – British society:
“It is surely taking the silver fork view of life with a vengeance, to suppose in these days of
enterprising rapid transit, and easy communication, that the great flood of English autumn
travellers can be kept back by (…) doubts whether their enjoyment is real, or by round
assertions that they do not understand what they see” (Excursionist, 1865c:5).
Cook’s apparent aim was to portray his critics as selfish elitists who held society back by
wanting to prevent others from benefitting from the advantages of travel. For example, the
Excursionist (1869b:3) reprinted the sentiment of a newspaper read mainly by working class people:
“The objecting exclusives have seen long since, probably many times over, what the Cook tourist
wants to see for once in his life and thus they must give way”. Cook also invoked universal notions
of faith and natural beauty that contrasted markedly with the narrow objectives of his seemingly self-
centered critics: “it is too late in this day of progress to talk such exclusive nonsense; God’s earth,
with all its fullness and beauty, is for the people” (Excursionist, 1864c:5). Indeed, on one occasion
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Cook described his critics as “purse-proud younglings”, making clear his view that they could not be
trusted as stewards of British society (Excursionist, 1864c:5).
To further depict stigmatizers as a misguided minority, Cook also sought public censures of
his stigmatizers. To achieve this, he asked very high status actors, including newspaper editors,
senior politicians and members of the Royal Family, to condemn those who were critical or
dismissive of his agency. For example, Cook publicly asked Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert
and the Earl of Clarendon, who was Britain’s Foreign Secretary, for support. While neither royalty
nor politicians responded to his requests, Cook gained much publicity from his measured appeals to
these illustrious individuals. In one instance, when a well-known writer claimed in a travel book that
Cook’s tourists had chased the Prince of Wales and endangered him, Cook (1870:3) published a
book containing an open letter to the heir to the British throne:
“My object in coupling (…) your Royal Highness with the subject-matter of this pamphlet is
to arrest, if possible, the attention of some of those (…) influenced by the remarks relating to
myself, my tours and tourists, of W. H. Russell, LL.D., in his “Diary in the East”.
When facing another attack, Cook addressed the editor of an establishment newspaper:
“[T]he Pall Mall Gazette, has circulated, at my expense, the miserable jokes of O’Dowd. Will the
editor of that professedly first-class paper candidly notice any strictures and refutations?”
(Excursionist, 1865e:6). Again, apart from a few newspaper editors who gave ambivalent responses,
these luminaries did not provide censures but the act of trying created much attention.
Attack character of stigmatizers. Cook also contested the moral qualities of his critics. He
suggested that they should be ignored as they lacked moral rectitude, honesty and decency. On one
occasion he explained: “(…) we leave these really small, but very afflicted people, still to pursue
their vocation of truth-less misrepresentation, whilst we busily attend to the great work before us”
(Excursionist, 1865d:4).
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Most notably, Cook sought to portray his stigmatizers as disingenuous. He challenged their
accounts of his trips and accused them of deliberately misrepresenting his travel agency. These
attacks by Cook always concerned accounts of specific events or trips that a writer had seemingly
distorted in an unjust way. For example, in response to a book with allegations about bad behavior
by Cook’s tourists in a hotel, Cook responded in no uncertain terms about a writer:
“(…) who has not hesitated to tell deliberate untruths about our tour (…)[.] Should she ever
re-visit Florence, we advise her to apologise to the Proprietors of the New York Hotel (…) [.]
[F]alsehoods are odious under any disguise especially when they are employed to the injury
of public men and public movements” (Excursionist, 1868a:4).
On another occasion, when journalists were once again attacking conducted tours, Cook
accused them of using “distorted facts” and “false representations” in order to “have worked up
sensational articles” (Excursionist, 1866:10). These focused attacks on apparent misrepresentations
by journalists and writers had the potential of harming the reputation of critics – allegations of an
“untruthful leading article” backed up by a more plausible alternative account of events could cause
considerable embarrassment to them (Excursionist, 1870a:1).
In addition, Cook portrayed his stigmatizers as lacking genuine nobility. By doing this, Cook
showed that he respected the ideals of nobility and wanted to uphold them but that, in contrast, his
critics were falling short of such ideals. He emphasized that those who were confident about their
class position would support people from lower classes to improve themselves. When describing
how the nobility reacted to his tourists, he observed that “the higher the rank of those distinguished
personages, the more courteous have they shewn [sic] themselves” (Excursionist, 1865f:5). Cook
stressed in particular the support from people of “true” nobility:
“Many times have my humble efforts to remove the difficulties of Highland and Foreign
Travel been applauded by those distinguished by a double nobility – the nobility of rank and
soul” (Excursionist, 1865e:6)[.]
In stark contrast, he characterized those “who would deprive those of inferior degree of the
pleasures and advantages of travel” as “not of high and noble rank, intellectually or morally”
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(Excursionist, 1865e:6). Such attacks appeared designed to suggest that Cook’s critics did not
deserve to occupy their social position, a particularly cutting accusation in Victorian Britain.
Demonstrate Service to Society (narrow)
Cook was adamant throughout that his travel agency offered an important service that was
beneficial for all parts of Victorian society. He stressed that his work was in Britain’s interest and
that “the nation’s future would be secured if the citizenry knew each other better” (Newmeyer,
2004:282). Cook regularly extolled the benefits of the travel agency for Britain:
“the results have been beneficial to the interests of society. (…) [T]hey (…) knit more closely
the bonds which bind (…) Britain into one great, powerful, free, and glorious nation; thus
seconding the efforts of every honest patriot” (Excursionist, 1867b:12)[.]
Cook emphasized the travel agency’s service to society by using two tactics: highlighting his
support of worthy groups in the first phase, and constructing a superordinate identity in the second
phase. Thus while he initially portrayed his service to society in a narrow form that primarily showed
how the travel agency helped deserving social groups from lower social positions, he later depicted
his service more broadly by stressing how the travel agency supported the British nation as a whole.
We focus in this section on the former tactic, with the latter tactic examined in the next section that
considers the stigma elimination period of 1870 to 1877.
Highlight support of worthy groups. Cook’s early attempts to explain the positive societal
role of his agency focused on how it enabled deserving people to travel. Specifically, he claimed that
it allowed honest Britons who worked hard – but would not be able to expand their horizons without
Cook’s help – to educate themselves, recuperate, and return to work with added zest. For example,
he reprinted an article from a working-class periodical that extolled the virtues of his agency:
“It is right that a hard-working man, labouring in one spot for fifty weeks in a year, should, in
his fortnight’s holiday, betake himself to some place as far away from and as different to his
ordinary abode as lies within the reach of his purse, and this he is only able to do by the aid of
(…) my excursion agent” (Excursionist, 1864d:6).
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To further highlight his agency’s support of worthy groups, Cook emphasized that the travel
agency enabled professionals such as teachers and ministers to travel. These professions commanded
modest salaries and were not situated as part of the elite but were nonetheless highly respected. As
representatives of education and religion, teachers and church ministers were perceived as doing
valuable work and serving an important role. Cook promoted his affiliation with these groups in a
variety of ways: he offered specific tours for them, he called on communities to finance holidays for
their priests, and he emphasized how positive tourist trips would be for these worthy, but modestly
paid, individuals. For example, Cook wrote: “there is no class of men to whom a good tour could be
more beneficial than to hard working Ministers” (Excursionist, 1863b:4). On a different occasion
Cook stressed that he had timed an upcoming trip to fit the schedules of hard working professionals:
“We have selected the time proposed, as being most convenient for that large class of
Teachers, Preachers and Traders and (…) for this reason we have selected the earliest
possible time after the commencement of the vacation” (Excursionist, 1864e:2).
Cook also included testimonials from these groups to show that they valued his efforts:
“Mr Cook’s tour is the best both for comfort and economy (…) A minister who travels in
these countries learns what would be good in his own church” (Excursionist, 1870b:2).
In addition, as part of his efforts to highlight his support of worthy groups, Cook emphasized
that he was simplifying travel for “deserving” people in general. In contrast to established travelers
who had the money and knowledge to undertake extensive and bespoke trips, most of the Victorian
population was not able to travel without Cook’s travel agency. Cook argued that it was a good deed
to help people of limited means but good character to become “earnest pilgrims to a land of beauty,
and poetry, and art, and natural fertility” (Excursionist, 1865d:4). A newspaper, which was
sympathetic to the working classes, echoed these sentiments and reassured readers that Cook’s
activities were enabling new classes to travel:
“[W]e shall regard Mr. Thomas Cook as a public benefactor, and (…) shake hands with him
once more in thankful acknowledgment that, through his arrangements, we, with a pleasant
little family party, first caught sight of Jura (Eclectic Review, 1865:465)[.]”
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As a result of these efforts, Cook was able to show that he enabled travel for worthy and
hard-working people, rather than the rowdy and unruly mobs that his stigmatizers suggested. In
doing so, he hoped to change the perception of the travel agency from being a stain on Britain to
being a key pillar of the established social order.
Summary of Audience Evaluation of Thomas Cook at the End of Phase 1
Our data suggest that during this first period of our analysis (1861 to 1871), the establishment
press became less hostile towards the travel agency and softened its longstanding condemnation of it.
Thus as Cook deflected attention from the stigma, isolated the stigmatizers, and demonstrated service
to society, the fear among the British elite began to subside. This is evidenced by the fact that
establishment writers stopped suggesting that the travel agency would lead to “terrible” outcomes,
such as overrun travel destinations or barbarian acts by tourists.
Instead, the press began reporting on the activities of the travel agency in a more neutral way,
such as by noting that “[a]bout a hundred ladies and gentlemen have within these few days' visited
the field of Waterloo, and are now somewhere on the Rhine” (Daily News, 1869:5). Similarly,
newspapers also noted how the travel agency had changed for the better, but, as in the following
example, would sometimes continue to make unflattering references to the way in which Cook’s
tours were structured in the past: “Formerly monster excursions to Scotland were the chief object to
which the Cook energies were devoted, with an occasional run to Switzerland” (The Graphic,
1871:298). Increasingly, however, the overt hostility toward the travel agency subsided and gave
way to a guarded and less inimical depiction of the organization. For example, at the beginning of
the tourist season of 1871, Cook noted:
“Our newspaper correspondents, with the solitary exception of the Paris representative of The
Daily News, have not yet commenced their periodical sneers at Cook’s Tourists. Let us hope
that this year they will be found wiser” (Excursionist, 1871:7).
Thus during this phase of stigma reduction, the strength of the fear among the members of the
establishment had mellowed sufficiently that much of the overt hostility towards the travel agency
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had dissipated, even if few members of the elite dared to support it publicly. In the next section we
focus on the actions taken by Cook to purge the stigma altogether and gain normative approval.
Phase 2: Stigma Elimination (1870-1877)
Cook realized by 1870 that he had managed to decrease the intensity of the elite’s hostility
towards the travel agency, but was acutely aware that pockets of stubborn resistance remained.
Moreover, he wanted the travel agency not simply to be accepted by the elite, he sought their
approval which he hoped would lead to active support. Thomas Cook, and particularly his son John,
who became managing partner in 1879, believed that this required different, more collaborative,
tactics (Brendon, 1991). They were helped in this regard by the fact that, as the establishment began
to lose its fear of the travel agency and softened its attacks against it, Cook’s travel agency was able
to approach this group directly. Thus from 1870 to 1877, in a second phase of stigma elimination that
overlapped by one year with the first phase, Cook’s travel agency deployed two additional tactics:
demonstration of service to society (broad) by constructing a superordinate identity, and allying with
stigmatizers. While the latter tactic would have met with staunch opposition just a few years earlier,
during this phase it began to resonate with a British elite whose reduced concern about the travel
agency allowed it to consider the possible positive effects of Cook’s activities.
Demonstrate Service to Society (broad)
Construct superordinate identity. From 1870 onwards, Cook increasingly emphasized his
firm’s service to society in a broad sense. In contrast to the earlier narrow emphasis on helping
deserving, lower-class people, Cook now stressed that the travel agency promoted the interests of the
country as a whole. In doing so, Cook described his work in patriotic terms as helping to make
Britain “Great”. For example, he stressed that the travel agency was pioneering “a system which is
already beginning to tell favourably upon the national character” (Excursionist, 1867c:9). Our
interpretation of Cook’s actions is that he was trying to invoke an overarching British identity.
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First, Cook demonstrated the role of the travel agency in promoting peaceful relations with
other countries. During the Victorian era, Britain was involved in several armed conflicts, such as the
Crimean war and the Indian mutiny. Each came at a huge human and financial cost to the nations
involved, and precipitated concern among British people about the prospect of further conflict.
Sensing this unease, Cook placed his agency in the service of peace. He stressed the importance of
reciprocal tourism for building goodwill among the inhabitants of different nations, establishing
positive international relations between governments, and undermining stereotypes and
misinformation about other countries. For example, he stressed the role of the travel agency in:
“aiding largely the work of international peace and goodwill. The annual influx of so many
thousands of English tourists into France is rapidly dispelling our olden prejudices
concerning that brave and high-spirited people” (Excursionist, 1868b:6)[.]
In the Excursionist (1870c:8), Cook stressed that the travel agency assisted “the social and
industrial history” of Britain and provided the nation with immense benefits:
“[T]his development of the Tourist system – in this continual commingling of people with
people – more is being done to further the cause of international peace, brotherhood and good
will than ever has been effected by pulpit, platform or press”.
A second way in which Cook sought to support a superordinate national identity was to
emphasize the role and potential of the travel agency in educating the British population. In doing so,
Cook explained: “The educational and social results of these (…) travels have been most
encouraging” (Excursionist, 1872a:2). He stressed that the travel agency was helping to turn the
British into a more enlightened and knowledgeable people. Tourism would not, as some of its critics
claimed, convert Britain into a nation of idle pleasure-seekers. Rather, it would help build a country
inhabited by an unprecedented number of cultured and educated citizens (Excursionist, 1870d:7):
“But the Continental tourist obtains something more than mere pleasure. (…) The history of
ancient Italy is no longer to him an obscure mystery. (…) Never before did the British people
know so much about the early and modern history of their neighbours”.
Thus Cook sought to appeal to and reinforce a superordinate British identity at a time when
weariness of armed conflict had created a sense of insecurity about Britain’s “greatness”.
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Specifically, he argued that his travel agency was serving the nation by educating its inhabitants and
promoting peace with its neighbors. In this light, the travel agency was a patriotic and laudable
enterprise – not an immoral and dangerous pariah.
Ally with Stigmatizers
Cook altered profoundly the way that he interacted with the British elite. Unlike in the first
phase, when he had tried to isolate the members of the establishment press that had attacked the
travel agency, in the second phase he changed tack and tried to partner with and support the very
group of people that had originally stigmatized his firm. Specifically, Cook realized that many
members of the establishment continued to see the travel agency as a threat to the aristocracy. He
was concerned to correct this impression and to show the establishment that he sought cooperation:
“Instead of trying to beat the aristocracy he wanted it to join him” (Brendon, 1991:95).
4
Ingratiate stigmatizers. In order to ally with its stigmatizers, Cook sought to ingratiate them.
First, he tried to win over the establishment newspapers by approaching many of his staunchest
critics and offering them valuable information. For example, Cook supplied the press with foreign
news and their international reporting soon benefited from a close relationship with his travel
agency: because Cook could draw on a large network of travelers, guides and representatives, he was
able to provide new information and stories about life in foreign countries. These insights ranged
from practical travel advice to news about major political events in other countries. For example,
when news came to Britain of a tense political situation in the Ottoman Empire, Cook’s tour guide
reported about local developments. A popular topic was advising Britons on the latest passport rules
in other countries, as these changed regularly. Remarkably, the same establishment newspapers that
had vilified Cook’s agency a few years before, now reprinted news and other stories from Cook
4
At this time Cook’s son John took a larger role in the firm, which was instrumental for the change (Brendon, 2004).
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enthusiastically. For example, The Pall Mall Gazette, which had been one of Cook’s “energetic
critics” quoted the advice of “Thomas Cook and Son” about trips to France (Steward, 2005:44):
“Mr John Cook, the excursion agent, points out that, under the new regulations (…) British
subjects will still have to produce their passports” (Pall Mall Gazette, 1872:9)[.]
Another important concern for the British establishment was to be informed about progress
on key transport routes. The Daily News (1866:6), which had earlier likened Cook’s tourists to
“barbarian hordes”, regularly reported such travel news from Cook’s agency. For example, when
rumors arose that the Danube had been closed for passenger traffic, The Daily News (1876:5)
assured its readers that “Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son have received the following telegraphic
reply: ‘Danube route open. No fear of its being closed’”.
Cook also regularly reported about the politics, weather and life in exotic countries that
Britons were only too eager to learn more about. On one occasion, The Times (1861:6), which earlier
had accused Cook’s tourists of “spoil[ing] the pleasure of the regular traveller”, quoted Cook’s latest
report about the weather and road conditions in the Middle East in detail:
“A telegram received by Thomas Cook and Son from Beyrout, dated April 6, shows (…) the
diligence road between Beyrout and Damascus is still blocked (…) The weather at Jerusalem
had been very stormy, and deep snow had fallen there” (The Times, 1874:6).
It is important to note that press ingratiation was challenging and not always successful. For
example, Cook was scolded for an early attempt to report on the Franco-Prussian war. According to
the Observer (1870:5): “[W]e cannot but deprecate the doubtful taste which had an organised body
of tourists to go where (…) they certainly are not wanted.” Nonetheless, it is apparent from our
analysis that the establishment press became increasingly receptive to Cook’s overtures.
Finally, Cook also shared event details from his own tours with the press. Cook’s travel
agency organized several landmark tours, about which the press was only too eager to print first-
hand information. These included a crossing of the Arctic Circle and a tour that included the opening
ceremony of the Suez Canal. For example, The Pall Mall Gazette (1876:2430) reported:
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“Messrs. Cook and Son have received a telegram (…) to the effect that the tour to the North
Cape had been successfully accomplished in beautiful weather, the sun at midnight being (…)
of sufficient power at that hour to ignite a cigar by the aid of a burning-glass”.
In sum, rather than punishing his original press stigmatizers by denying them information
about his tours, Cook supplied them with extensive material in an effort to win them over.
Affiliate with stigmatizers’ peers. In addition to cooperating with his stigmatizers, Cook also
sought to associate with the establishment more broadly. Specifically, Cook’s agency used its
tourism expertise to help the colleagues of its original stigmatizers. Affiliations with the elite of
British society appeared to facilitate the travel agency’s journey to normative approval.
Most notably, Cook helped the peer group of his stigmatizers when they were in crisis. This
usually involved using Cook’s tourist infrastructure to support members of the British elite when
they were traveling or managing their foreign interests. On one occasion, Cook aided members of the
Royal Household in sending provisions to their Parisian friends during the Prussian occupation: “On
his return John [Cook] reported to the Lord Mayor, and to the press, that British gifts were being
dispensed ‘in the proper channel’ though Paris was still ‘closed’” (Brendon, 1991:118). However,
Cook’s most important mission of this kind involved helping the Archbishop of Canterbury – the
head of the Anglican Church – travel to France for urgent medical treatment not available at home.
Lady Wake, who accompanied him, “acknowledge[d] our obligations to Mr. Cook, who (…)
volunteered himself to act as the Archbishop’s courier. The effects were marvelous” (Pudney,
1953:168). Such missions showed the British elite the positive potential of the travel agency and
generated valuable affiliations for Cook.
In addition to helping stigmatizers’ peers through crisis, Cook also designed new services for
the stigmatizers’ peer group. While, as noted above, criticisms of the travel agency lessened over
time, many members of the British elite remained reluctant to associate with Cook’s firm. However,
Cook tried to convince them otherwise by organizing specialist offerings for them that were not
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available elsewhere. These ranged from themed tours with a focus on a specific historical aspect of a
culturally rich country, to tours for hitherto overlooked age groups, such as children. For example,
Cook appealed to the elite’s desire for distinct knowledge and experiences that made them appear
erudite by offering an archaeological tour to Rome:
“[W]ith our proposed Archaeological Tour we are preparing the way for rendering
continental excursions more useful and instructive than they at present too often are, and of
awakening fresh interest in the study of ancient history” (Excursionist, 1872b:2).
Cook also tried to appeal to the elite’s desire to provide their offspring with eclectic
educational experiences by arranging special educational tours for them:
“Messrs Thomas Cook & Son have pleasure in inviting the attention of parents (…) to the
following itinerary of a Personally-Conducted Tour[.] (…) [W]hen boys get to be young men
it will be as much a habit, or an institution, for them to visit France and Germany and Italy as
it is for them to learn modern languages” (Excursionist, 1876:3).
Cook did not always succeed with these efforts. For example, one tour received criticism for
supposedly not dedicating sufficient time to each place of interest. However, the nature of the
criticism shifted from fundamental moral objections to what were essentially practical issues.
Approval based on Social Value
In this final part of our analysis, we shift our attention from the organizational actions taken
by Cook’s travel agency in the face of stigmatization to the reactions of the establishment
stigmatizers. We aim to explore why an audience that had originally stigmatized an organization in
such a hostile way subsequently changed its position and conferred normative approval upon it.
As noted, the Victorian elite had initially vilified Cook’s firm for offering what it viewed as
immoral services. However, over time this same group began to appreciate the benefits of the travel
agency for British society: “By the 1880s Cook was becoming an institution” (Brendon, 1991:97).
Indeed, the establishment came to value the role that the travel agency played in national life and saw
it as contributing to the advancement of society, rather than to moral degradation. For example, The
Pall Mall Gazette (1891:5) praised Cook by saying that “the idea [of the travel agency] (…) has
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distinctly placed you in the rank of public benefactors”. Thus in the eyes of the elite, Cook’s travel
agency came to be seen as a force for good. Our analysis suggests that two key factors explain why
the establishment re-evaluated the stigma that they had attached to the travel agency: their gaining of
confidence in the travel agency, and their embracement of a superordinate national identity.
Gain confidence. The elite had originally feared that Cook’s travel agency could endanger its
position by robbing it of the distinction that travel provided. By the end of our period, after much
effort by Cook, the elite had gained confidence in the travel agency. Crucially, the elite no longer
worried that Cook’s agency was a challenge to the class system as tourism “became integrated into
the already existing, larger system of cultural capital and distinction” (Newmeyer, 2004:275).
One reason for the elite’s confidence was that it felt reassured about the travel agency. The
elite started to be assuaged by the travel agency’s services, particularly as Cook arranged trips to
more distant and exotic destinations. Cook’s trip around the world had shown the possibility of new
types of travel and his “Eastern tours” were also highly sought after: “In the 1880s everybody who
wanted to be thought a bona fide traveller went to Egypt and the Nile and most of them travelled on a
Cook’s Tour” (Swinglehurst, 1982:92). The elite was now confident that Cook was indeed willing to
cooperate with it and Cook’s travel agency was quite content to affiliate with such travelers. As a
result, Cook (1881:6) could proudly note that his agency was patronized by “great numbers of the
aristocracy and the wealthy, (…) who travel with the utmost confidence under our arrangements”.
Another reason for the elite’s confidence was that it now regarded tourists as harmless. While
the elite had originally viewed tourists as “illbred, offensive, and loathsome” people who were
physically threatening, it now perceived them as innocuous. This is evidenced, for example, by the
following observation: “It used to be the fashion to sneer at and disparage “Cook’s Tourists” and
(…) to libel in a very cruel and uncalled-for way the harmless travellers” (ILN, 1878:226) [.] The
Times showed how much perceptions had changed by writing about tourists in almost reverent tones:
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“Mr. Cook discovered the British tourist. He took him up, cultivated him, and developed him to the
fine proportions which we all admire at the present day” (Lambert, 1950:149). Another commentator
simply stated: “I have met with many hundreds of Cook’s Tourists (…) and I never could discern
any difference between them and other English travellers” (ILN, 1880:299). Thus the British elite no
longer feared Cook’s firm and its tourists, and this was critical to the shift in how stigmatizing
audiences viewed the travel agency.
Embrace superordinate identity. The British elite increasingly came to accept and endorse
Cook’s role in supporting Britain’s national interests. Members of the establishment became
convinced that “Cook’s tours would strengthen and better the nation by improving its citizenry”
(Newmeyer, 2004:281). Cook had been arguing for years that the travel agency wanted to support
the country and help to preserve Britain’s “Greatness” – a central preoccupation of the elite at the
time. These efforts bore fruit as the elite came to see Cook as an ally in this endeavor.
One way in which the establishment embraced the superordinate identity promoted by Cook
was by praising the travel agency’s work of educating Britons through travel. Now the elite came to
accept that Cook’s work could aid “the nation’s future” (Newmeyer, 2008b:282) by helping to
inform and enrich the intellects of British citizens, thus strengthening the national character and
supporting the empire. For example, The Art-Journal, a magazine with a sophisticated readership,
printed a glowing review of Cook’s agency and acknowledged its debt to it:
“[I]t is a duty to us eminently pleasing to perform, to record our high sense of the invaluable
services (…), not only for familiarising thousands and tens of thousands of persons with the
great foreign Fine-Art collections, but also for enabling these (…) travellers to explore distant
lands, and to form a personal knowledge of the different races and nations of their fellow-
creatures” (The Art-Journal, 1873:299).
Similarly, The Times suggested that learning about the wonders of the Continent, such as
Zermatt or the midnight sun, was now inextricably linked with Cook’s travel agency. It wished the
travel agency well in its project of promoting national education: “May it continue to flourish, and
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may the tens of thousands who make use of it to help them on their travels come back from them a
little better informed, a little wiser than they started” (The Times, 1891:9).
The elite also praised the travel agency for helping Britain strengthen its relationships with
other countries. For example, newspapers and important figures from public life supported Cook’s
claims that the travel agency had helped to “further the cause of international peace, brotherhood and
good will” (Excursionist, 1870c:8). Previously most Britons had been confined to their hometowns.
Cook had helped many of these people – and indeed the citizens of other countries who were also
becoming customers – to learn about neighboring nations and develop mutual affection that removed
“petty jealousies and hereditary feuds” (Wood, 1891:7). This helped to establish positive bonds
between previously hostile nations and might even have reduced the risk of war. Prime minister
Gladstone (1887:9) used the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee to emphasize Cook’s positive role
in furthering Britain’s peace with its neighbors by enabling cultural exchange:
“Among the humanizing contrivances of the age, I think notice is due to the system founded
by Mr. Cook (…) under which numbers of persons (…) have for the first time found easy
access to foreign countries, and have acquired some of that familiarity with them, which
breeds not contempt but kindness”[.]
It was the acceptance by the elite of Cook’s role in promoting the welfare of the nation that
signaled that the travel agency had finally purged its stigma in their eyes: it had transformed itself
from a pariah, which “ought to be punished”, to a benefactor, which rendered “invaluable services”
(Rae, 1891:59; The Art-Journal, 1873:299). The British elite reconstructed its evaluation of Cook’s
travel agency from one of stigmatization based on fear to one of approval based on the social value
created for Britain. Indeed, by the end of our period, Cook’s Excursionist was even stocked in the
private clubs whose select clientele had earlier condemned Cook’s agency (Brendon, 1991).
Crucially, key stigmatizers, such as The Pall Mall Gazette and The Times, affiliated with Cook
through their reporting and ultimately explicitly endorsed the moral value of the travel agency. An
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organization which had for so long been seen as a pariah among the elite, achieved normative
approval in its highest circles, and would dominate travel over the next century.
DISCUSSION
We began with the question, as yet unexplored in organization theory, of how organizations
can purge their stigma. To answer this question, we drew on a case study of Thomas Cook’s travel
agency and traced its journey from stigma to moral legitimacy. From our case analysis, we
developed a dialogical model of organizational destigmatization which considered not only the
specific organizational actions that promote destigmatization, but also how audiences construct an
organizational stigma and how such constructions shift over time. Here we elaborate on our analysis
to articulate three contributions. We also consider the transferability of our findings, outline some of
the limitations of our study, and suggest directions for future research.
Stigma Management: Organizational Destigmatization
Our primary contribution is to build a model of how organizations can destigmatize –
eradicate a stigma in the eyes of a hostile audience. In our case, we found that Thomas Cook
succeeded in legitimating the travel agency, so that his original opponents ceased to hold their stigma
against his firm. He did so by addressing the fear of moral panic that the travel agency originally
engendered among the Victorian elite and by demonstrating its advantages for the national interest.
Thus our study differs from existing theory with respect to the strategies deployed to address
organizational stigma and with their overall outcomes for organizations.
As noted, researchers have suggested three principal ways in which an organization can
manage the consequences of its stigma (see Table 4). First, it can shield the organization from
interactions with stigmatizers by managing organizational boundaries (Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009).
Second, it can straddle stigmatized and non-stigmatized categories to dilute the stigma (Vergne,
2012). Finally, it can co-opt the stigma to gain support from new audiences and soften negative
views among existing audiences (Helms & Patterson, 2014). These three studies explain how
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stigmatized organizations can survive or even thrive in spite of the problems induced by their
stigmatization. However, they do not explain how organizations can eradicate the underlying stigma
in the eyes of their stigmatizers: shielding and straddling do not change audiences’ perceptions of an
organization but rather reduce the negative consequences that arise from the stigma (Hudson &
Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012); co-opting may reduce the strength of an organization’s stigma, but,
as Helms and Patterson (2014) showed, does not necessarily purge the stigma itself.
----- INSERT TABLE 4 ABOUT HERE -----
Drilling down into the specifics of our model, there are two main ways in which Thomas
Cook’s approach to its stigmatization differed from the existing key studies and which we suggest lie
at the heart of destigmatization. The first concerns its response to the stigma. Thus in our case the
stigmatized organization refused to accept its stigma and instead depicted itself as virtuous. More
specifically, our model suggests that destigmatization requires an organization to engage in two core
sets of actions when faced with stigmatizing audiences: on the one hand, the organization deflects the
stigma by portraying its contentious activities in positive terms. On the other hand, the organization
stresses its benefits for society by explaining why its activities serve a broader public good. This
contrasts markedly with the approaches outlined in other studies, in which an organization’s
acceptance and awareness of its stigma frame its subsequent actions. Whether it is shielding,
straddling or co-opting, the existing literature delineates a set of strategies that involves
organizations’ acknowledging the stigma and interacting with the stigmatized components of their
activities in strategic ways, be it by hiding, blurring or drawing attention to them (Helms &
Patterson, 2014; Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012). Our model of organizational
destigmatization suggests the opposite: the stigmatized organization refuses to accept any
wrongdoing or shame about its activities, and instead focuses on why it is virtuous.
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Second, organizational destigmatization involves interacting with stigmatizers in a highly
political way in order to turn them into supporters. Our model suggests that, initially, the
organization isolates its stigmatizers by depicting them as a misguided minority and provocatively
questioning their character. Over time, however, the organization switches tack and allies with its
stigmatizers by ingratiating them and by trying to affiliate with their peers. This differs from existing
approaches, which suggest that organizations should either avoid stigmatizers or try to soften their
resistance (Hudson, 2008; Vergne, 2012). For example, men’s bathhouses tried to shield themselves
from critics, arms companies tried to avoid media attention by divesting from contested activities,
and mixed martial arts organizations tried to reduce the disapproval of politicians by removing their
most offensive practices (Helms & Patterson, 2014; Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012). By
contrast, our model suggests that organizational destigmatization involves direct engagement with
stigmatizers by confronting opposition and challenging stigmatizers to re-evaluate the organization.
Audience-level Processes: Constructions of Stigma and Moral Legitimacy
While our study is focused on the organizational actions that underpin destigmatization, a
particular strength of our dialogical model is that it sheds light on interesting audience-level
processes that have been largely overlooked in the organizational stigma literature. Specifically, we
develop a number of important insights into how audiences construct stigma and why these
constructions may change so that stigmatized organizations come to be viewed as legitimate.
Turning first to the question of how audiences construct stigma, our case illustrates the role of
fear as a potent driver of stigmatization. While discontent or confusion about an organization may
lead audiences to quietly disapprove of or ignore it, fear has the capacity to rile audiences into
actively and vociferously stigmatizing it (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994; Smith, 2011; Zuckerman, 1999). In
our case, the establishment press stirred up fear of Cook’s travel agency among the elite. It did so by
framing Cook’s activities as a threat to the elite’s position and as an attack on the British class
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system that safeguarded the prevailing social order. This sense of fear mobilized the elite to oppose
an organization that it came to perceive as standing in opposition to British society. As is evident in
more recent examples – such as online dating firms which some conservative groups initially feared
would undermine family life – fear about moral degradation and social disintegration is a powerful
force that can induce audiences to stigmatize organizations.
An intriguing aspect of our analysis is that it highlights the role of institutional intermediaries
– such as the Victorian press – as “moral entrepreneurs” (Becker, 1963) that quite deliberately seek
to invoke moral panic (Cohen, 1972) which then spreads throughout an audience. In sociology, the
concept of morality has become influential as a way of explaining the construction of social and
cultural boundaries (Ben-Yehuda, 1985, 1986). Consistent with these ideas, we find that
intermediaries may strategically frame issues in moral terms to construct stigma. This can be
interpreted as a way of asserting social control: the intention is to prevent the spread of undesired
practices. By stigmatizing the travel agency the establishment press not only sought to show its
profound disapproval of mass travel, but also to eradicate or at least seriously undermine it. To do so,
newpapers printed moral allegations designed to resonate with wider issues and concerns. In Cook’s
case, the moral panic whipped up by the press resonated with the elite’s fear of proletariat uprisings.
Thus our analysis suggests that it is the association of an organization with a broader moral issue that
is the root cause of the fear that underpins audience constructions of organizational stigma.
Interestingly, our analysis also shows why audiences may abandon a stigma and come to
view organizations that they previously stigmatized as legitimate. As noted, we are concerned
specifically with moral legitimacy, defined in our setting as normative approval. Existing research
has suggested that audiences will not endow deviant organizations with moral legitimacy unless they
admit that their aberrancy is misguided, apologize for it, and conform with expectations (Elsbach,
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1994; Lamin & Zaheer, 2012; Pfarrer et al., 2008). This suggests that audiences only accept
stigmatized organizations if they stop deviant behavior and become “normal” (Warren, 2003).
By contrast, our findings suggest an alternative path: stigmatized organizations may be
rewarded with moral legitimacy precisely for maintaining their deviance. However, to do so
audiences need to perceive that the organization is not a threat to their welfare or to a broader system
of morality; only then will the fear that the organization engenders start to fade. In our case, the elite
came to perceive the travel agency as respectful of it and the class system it so cherished, despite the
continuation of group trips and other “deviant” practices. However, alleviating fear, in itself, is not
enough: for audiences to change their evaluation of a stigmatized organization they must also come
to believe that it plays a positive social role. In other words, to exhibit positive deviance –
“intentional behaviors that depart from the norms of a referent group in honorable ways” (Spreitzer
& Sonenshein, 2004:828). We found that the elite originally denied the travel agency legitimacy on
normative grounds. However, when it came to perceive the travel agency as promoting the national
welfare, Cook’s apparent deviance was viewed positively.
In order for audiences to see deviant practices in a positive light, our analysis suggests that
they need access to new group categorizations that promote identification between the stigmatizers
and the stigmatized. This requires that audiences have access to new evaluative criteria: the British
elite only dropped the stigma it attached to Cook once it linked the travel agency with the national
interest using the criteria of “education” and “international relations”. Thus we found that audiences
may be willing to consider new, more inclusive group categorizations, evidenced by the fact that the
elite came to accept Cook’s agency even though it continued to host the lower-class travelers to
which the elite had previously objected. This played a fundamental role in reshaping audience
evaluations of the travel agency, because it oriented the stigmatizing audience away from an “us
against them” mentality rooted in a strict class identity, to a frame of reference that embraced the
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idea that “we are all in this together” and emphasized a shared national identity that rose above class
divisions. Thus the shift from a concern with narrow interests and in-group identification, to a
superordinate identity that transcends divisions between groups and promotes the idea of collective
welfare, is at the core of the audience-level processes that underpin the transition from stigma to
legitimacy (cf. Argote & Kane, 2009; DeJordy, 2008; Dovidio, Gaertner, Niemann, & Snider, 2001).
Class Work: How Organizations interact with Social Class
Social class is one of the most powerful forms of categorization (Weber, 1976). Members of
the same class “possess a set of common properties” (Bourdieu, 1984:101), share a class identity,
and often struggle to interact with other classes. Class structures have proved remarkably enduring in
Western societies (Petev, 2013), although contemporary sources of class distinction differ in some
respects from the Victorian period: while then economic status (i.e., source and level of income)
primarily defined social class, today “cultural tastes” based on cultural knowledge and preferences
also structure class hierarchies (Bourdieu, 1984; Lamont & Lareau, 1988). Nonetheless, it is clear
that social class continues to shape profoundly social interaction, behavior, and decision making
(Côté, 2011; Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013; Palmer & Barber, 2001).
Our study affords a favorable vantage point from which to illuminate the relationship
between organizations and social class given the clearly defined and visible class dynamics in
Victorian Britain (Mitchell, 1996). In particular, we show how innovation – even a seemingly
apolitical innovation such as organized travel – can challenge and alter prevailing class structures.
Indeed, in our case Cook could be viewed as a kind of class warrior who made travel, an activity that
was previously only possible for the elite, available to working class people: he was a defender of the
interests and rights of the working class
5
. Crucially, we show that organizations that introduce
5
In this regard, our work resonates with Munir and Phillips (2005) and Leung, Zietsma and Peredo (2014) who illustrate
how new products and practices can challenge and alter gender roles.
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innovations that challenge class structures may have to confront class dynamics in order to gain
approval. Specifically, they may have to engage in class work, which involves strategically
positioning the organization relative to different social classes. In doing so, organizations may have
to interact with social class in a seemingly paradoxical way by simultaneously challenging and
reinforcing prevailing class structures. Thus they may first have to widen the boundaries of their
activities to include members of classes who have not usually been associated with them, and second
to be seen to support, and even reinforce, existing class distinctions in order to reassure consumers
from dominant classes on whose backing they may depend.
In our case, Cook’s agency opened Continental travel to wide swathes of the middle class. To
placate the elite, Cook tacitly reinforced the British class system by publicly supporting the
monarchy and the prevailing class hierarchy. This combination allowed new classes to engage in
travel without alienating traditional user classes. We suggest that such two-dimensional class
interactions are relatively common. For example, prestigious US professional services firms have
started to espouse meritocracy and hire from non-traditional classes to rebut potentially damaging
accusations of elitism, while at the same time appealing to elite stakeholders by emphasizing that
their employees have a high-class “pedigree” (Rivera, 2015).
In sum, while more research is needed to explain how organizations oppose, support, and
interact with social class, our study suggests that organizations can have a profound influence on the
dynamics of social class.
Boundary Conditions
Given the distinctive dynamics that we uncovered in our study it is important to consider
whether there is something specific to our case which means that Cook’s destigmatization was
somehow more straightforward than for organizations featured in other studies and whose stigma
remained in place. Certainly, from a contemporary perspective – given the taken for granted position
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of the travel agency – it could be argued that our case features a moral issue that caused less offence
to stigmatizers than, say, men’s bathhouses in 21
st
century America because the sense of moral panic
it engendered was less extreme. However, we believe that such a view does not take into account the
role of the class system in Victorian Britain. Social class was the dominant institution of social
control at the time, and the elite’s concerns about proletarian radicalism were profound (Lawrence,
1992). The Victorian elite used its authority to ensure that other classes remained subordinate;
actions that were rooted in fears that the social order would break down (Thompson, 1981).
Seen in this context, we do not think that the destigmatization of the travel agency in
Victorian times was straightforward. Moreover, one of the advantages of adopting a historical
perspective is that we are able to examine a complete cycle of stigmatization and legitimation. More
broadly, a historical perspective highlights that morality is a relative concept that can shift
dramatically over time (Fukuyama, 1999). Thus even though our theoretical framework was
developed from a single case from a different era, we believe that it has transferability to other
contexts which share key characteristics with our empirical setting (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
Specifically, we propose two boundary conditions for our model. The first concerns whether
a stigmatized organization causes harm – our model does not apply to organizations that are clearly
harmful to users or other stakeholders. Although the notion of harm is partly socially constructed, we
posit that some stigmatized organizations are able to challenge or reframe the idea that they cause
physical, material, or psychological harm, while others are unlikely to be able to do so given the
nature of their activities. For example, although not yet fully destigmatized, needle exchanges for
drug users have contested their stigmatization by arguing that they protect existing drug users, rather
than entice new users to harm themselves. By contrast tobacco firms are unlikely to be able to show
that they do not cause harm given overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary.
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The second boundary condition concerns the point in an organization’s life that
stigmatization occurs. In our case stigmatization happened early in Cook’s lifecycle. We think this
was significant: early organizational life is often precarious, so stigmatization makes survival doubly
fraught. Our model involves a set of tactics that inevitably exposes the leaders of stigmatized
organizations to fierce and sustained public condemnation, and requires those leaders to be prepared
to be scrutinized by an often scathing media. Entrepreneurs may be more willing to endure such
scrutiny, because the very survival of their venture depends on it. By contrast, for leaders of more
mature organizations the risks of fostering public debate and defying their critics – prerequisites for
destigmatization in our model – might be deemed too great as doing so could jeopardize other
organizational activities that are not subject to stigmatization. As a result, these leaders may turn to
alternative stigma management strategies. In our case Thomas Cook (especially during the stigma
reduction phase) and his son John (especially during the stigma elimination phase) were prominent
public campaigners, despite cutting personal attacks (Brendon, 2004). More recently, the leaders of
many emerging marihuana dispensaries continue to publicly campaign for their organizations despite
similarly aggressive public denigration. In contrast, in the face of fierce public criticism of its pricing
policy for drugs in developing countries, the new CEO of GlaxoSmithKlein – Andrew Witty –
radically changed the company’s stance in 2008, making the firm a pioneer for affordable medicine.
Limitations and Future Research
Our study has several limitations that offer opportunities for future research. First, we focus
on the role of the press as the key institutional intermediary in Victorian Britain. Recently the rise of
social media has enabled any actor with a Twitter or Facebook account to engage in direct
communication. While Cook used what could be considered the social media of his time by, for
example, launching his own magazine to counter the hostile press, today’s social media could
nonetheless affect the study of organizational stigma as it affords new, more inclusive interaction
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channels for both stigmatizers and the stigmatized: Cook had little choice but to engage with the
press given the lack of alternatives, but comtemporary organizations can undertake legitimation work
via social media and side-step critical mainstream media channels, at least to an extent. The flipside
is that organizations have to accept a broad array of social media interlocutors and may face
challenges from actors with a strong social media presence. It would be interesting to study how
social media intermediaries may alter processes of stigmatization and destigmatization.
Finally, our focus on archival data that detailed the public interactions between Cook and the
press has some limitations. Most notably, we were only able to draw on those documents that
survived the passage of time – there may have been other data that were destroyed and would have
shed different light on our findings, although this limitation is partly counterbalanced by the
remarkable Victorian record keeping of the British Library. In addition, we were not able to explore
any informal interactions between the parties that may or may not have taken place, and that could
have affected the stigmatizers’ views of Cook. It would be interesting to study how private lobbying
by marked organizations, such as bitcoin firms, can affect the stigma held by audiences.
CONCLUSION
Starting from the puzzle of how Thomas Cook’s travel agency moved from immoral pariah to
respected pillar of society, we developed a dialogical model to explain how an organization can
purge its stigma and become legitimate. While our case is a historical one, the interplay between
stigmatization and legitimation has clear relevance for many contemporary organizations. For
example, some organizations, such as online dating firms, are transitioning from stigma to
legitimacy, while others, such as tobacco companies, are traveling in the opposite direction. As the
attribution of stigma and legitimacy in different contexts continues to evolve, organization theorists
have a vital role to play in explaining the processes underpinning such consequential transitions.
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APPENDIX
Table 1: Timeline
Table 2: Data Overview
Data Category Data Type Quantity Source
Historical
Records
Press Articles 369 British Library Newspaper Archives
Cook's The Excursionist Magazine 155 British Library, Thomas Cook Archives
Thomas Cook Documents 18 Thomas Cook Archives
Competitor Documents and Magazine 26 British Library, Thomas Cook Archives
Sources
Books 26 Bibliography of British History; Hist. Abstracts
Scholarly Articles 20 Bibliography of British History; Hist. Abstracts
Interviews 9 Archivist (2) and Period Historians (7)
Year Event
1861-1871: Overt Hostility
1861
Thomas Cook opens travel agency in London amid attacks by the establishment press
1863
Cook starts offering regular trips to France and Switzerland
1868
Cook introduces hotel coupons
1870-1877: Reduced Hostility
1871
The establishment press reduces hostility and Cook gratefully acknowledges this
1872
Leading establishment newspapers, such as The Times, print Cook's reports about the Middle East
1873
Cook organizes a much-publicized trip around the world
1876
The Excursionist becomes a brochure amid increasingly favorable coverage by the establishment press
From 1877: Approval
1877
Cook gains acceptance and organizes trips for luminaries, such as Queen Victoria's grandson
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Table 3: Dimensions, Themes, Categories and Quotes
Second-Order Themes
and First-Order
Categories
Representative Quotes
Overarching Dimension: Stigmatization based on Fear
1. Anxiety about users
A. Tourists as uncouth A1. [W]e fear very much (…) [for] people so ignorant and helpless as to require
such an uncouth mode of conveyance (Pall Mall, 1865:9).
A2. The British tourist is a most irrepressible being and the tourists who patronise
Mr. Cook’s Excursion office, are, it seems, no exception to the rule (Observer,
1870).
B. Fear overrun travel
destinations
B1. A correspondent of a contemporary loyally complains of the rush to Wildbad
after the Prince and Princess of Wales. (…) [T]houghtless and idle people from
England are on their track to run them into a corner (…) No wonder that the Queen
is addicted to Balmoral. When she last ventured abroad, the snobs pursued her also
in force, and were only shamed into some sort of decent conduct by special appeals
(Daily News, 1869:4)[.]
B2. Any number of disobliging descriptions were applied to the invaders of
Switzerland. They were a ‘low, vulgar’ mob, ‘an irregular procession of
incongruities’, a ‘swarm of intrusive insects’ (Brendon, 1991:89).
2. Fear for social position
C. Fear demise of
exclusivity
C1. Cook’s tourist system itself was really to blame. It encouraged people to travel
above their station, to climb socially by climbing the Alps (…). However, the PMG
indicated, geographical mobility was no way to social mobility. Indeed, promotion
via locomotion was a fraud (Brendon, 1991:90).
C2. [I]n some peculiarly constituted British minds there is a prevalent impression
that what are called the “Superior Orders” or the “Upper Classes” are entitled to a
monopoly of travelling on the Continent of Europe” (ILN, 1880:299).
D. Organize travel for
money
D1. I shall close this controversial chapter by a few words in reply to Mr. Pratt’s
complaints to my commercial aims in seeking “pecuniary profit” and “an
honourable livelihood”. (…) I am free to confess that in trying to serve the public I
so laid my plans and framed my calculations as not to suffer pecuniary loss. (…)
This is not the first taunt I have had through the public press of being actuated by
mere mercenary motives (Excursionist, 1868 (1st February):8).
D2. [T]he associated tourist (…) is a poor, weak, helpless sort of creature (…) who
is contracted for, and made into money by others (Russell, 1869:322).
Overarching Dimension: Deflect Attention from Stigma
3. Combine accepted
practices
E. Offer individual
travel
E1. Instead of booking and rebooking at the various stations abroad, he purchases in
Fleet-street a little book of coupons. The guard on each line, instead of asking for a
ticket, tears off one of these quite in the regular way of business, and the traveller
makes one payment for the whole of his travelling expenses before leaving town.
(The Star, 1869:np).
E2. The phrase “hotel coupons” calls for a word of explanation, Mr. Cook has (…)
contracted with certain hotels on the Continent to board and lodge every one who
elects to carry his coupons (…). This arrangement extends over the leading places in
Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy (Daily News, 1869:5)[.]
F. Offer high-culture
destinations
F1. From Geneva, a day’s extra journey leads right into the district rendered famous
by Mont Blanc and the valley of Chamouny. (…) Here, too, are the glorious
surroundings of ancient and modern history, which seem to shed a halo of intense
interest over the brilliant scenery (Excursionist, 1863(11th July):3).
F2. There is no part of the world, excepting Palestine, that possesses greater charms
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to the man of knowledge, taste, and feeling, than that boot-shaped strip of earth (…)
where all that has been great in arms, beautiful in art, or sweet in song, has had its
home (Excursionist, 1868(2nd March):6).
4. Show respectability of
users
G. Liken tourists to
travelers
G1. Never had Mr Wood a more appreciative party, and never were a company of
intelligent and cultivated visitors more enriched and delighted by the information
given to them (Excursionist, 1874 (1st October):2).
G2. [M]y "personally-conducted" parties are generally the best behaved of English
tourists, their social compact tending to rub off asperities and teaching them
practical lessons in good manners (The Spectator, 1871:16)[.]
H. Stress support in
destination countries
H1. Many very interesting incidents marked this hasty tour, not the least of which,
to ourselves, was the accidental falling in with a Florentine Countess, accompanied
by two lovely children, and a courteous invitation from her ladyship to visit the
Palace of a Minister of State in Florence (Excursionist, 1863 (30th September):1)[.]
H2. We have already assurances that such a party of English Ladies and Gentlemen
will meet with a hearty reception from the enthusiastic Italian population
(Excursionist, 1864(6th June):2)[.]
Overarching Dimension: Isolate Stigmatizers
5. Depict stigmatizers as a
misguided minority
I. Attack stigmatizers
as exclusive
I1. He would reserve statue and mountain, painting and alike, historical association
and natural beauty, for the so-called upper classes (…). I see no sin in introducing
natural and artistic wonders to all (Excursionist, 1865(3rd April):5)[.]
I2. There is in this column (…) utter ignorance of the character and behaviour of the
class of travellers conducted to Italy under our personal arrangements; whilst the
same spirit of exclusiveness attempts to bar the door of lovely and classic Italy
against all save the privileged few influenced by the narrow sympathies of official
dogmatism and editorial cynicism (Excursionist, 1865(1st May):4)
J. Seek public censure
of stigmatizers
J1. [To Foreign Secretary The Earl of Clarendon] So far from the ladies and
gentlemen constituting my large parties being the rude and uncouth boors (…), they
have proved, generally, the most prudent and cautious in their intercourse with
foreigners, and have given the highest evidence of intellectual capacity, courteous
behaviour and generous sympathy (Cook, 1870:51).
J2. “A Dreamer on the Rigi” tried his hand at defamation of our parties in The
Spectator, the Editor of which respectable journal promptly inserted the following
note (Excursionist, 1871(1st November):2).
6. Attack character of
stigmatizers
K. Portray stigmatizers
as disingenuous
K1. [O]thers following in their wake may think it mightily fine that they can, by
side-winds or back-handed blows create annoyance and distrust; but our motto will
still be ‘onward’ and strong in the assurance that our arrangements to promote cheap
and general travelling are approved by those best capable of forming an opinion, we
can well afford to simile composedly (Excursionist, 1865(10th September):4)[.]
K2. Facts demonstrate the imaginary idealism of the ugly picture which he has
sketched. First, a hundred of "Cook's personally-conducted tourists" have never
been up the Rigi together during the season. The highest number was about sixty,
who made the ascent with myself in July, and I would venture to back any one of
the threescore for good behaviour and polite manners against this libeller of his
countrymen. Secondly, there was no "personally-conducted" party of mine up the
Rigi in "the early days of last month." (…) How often do such dreamers fabricate
facts which belong to the "region of imagination" (Spectator, 1871:16)!
L. Portray stigmatizers
as lacking genuine
nobility
L1. [W]e are not convinced that the veneration of some of them [Cook’s critics] for
either high art or high nature is one whit more profound than that of an average
Cook’s excursionist (The Star, 1865).
L2. In designating me as a “bear-leader”, he places me above the brutes committed
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to my leading; and in describing my travellers in Italy as “bears”, “drove bulls”,….
and other such like characteristics, he earns for himself the reputation of as foul-
mouthed and vile a slanderer as ever wielded a dirty pen (Cook, 1870:52).
Overarching Dimension: Demonstrate Service to Society
7. Highlight support of
worthy groups
M. Enable teachers and
ministers to travel
M1. Hard-working, worthy representatives, the party are of the great army of
educational toilers of our country – poorly-paid professors from out-of-the-way
colleges, principals of common schools, a small sprinkling of reverends who mingle
with their diviner office that of instructor of youth (…) seventy-eight of the school-
teaching sisterhood (Excursionist, 1873(22nd September):3)[.]
M2. Amongst the party we recognised not less than a dozen clergymen of the
Church of England; several ministers of other denominations; medical gentlemen of
professional repute; brethren and sisters from foreign lands, as well as from every
section of Great Britain (Excursionist, 1860 (18th July):1).
N. Simplify travel for
deserving people
N1. Within eight months I have paid six visits to Italy, with the view of clearing the
way for those who otherwise might never see the famed and famous places which
have for ages attracted the privileged classes (Excursionist, 1865(3rd April):6)[.]
N2. Our thoughtful and intelligent man of business, the hard-worked literary man,
no less than the merchant, the tradesman, the clerk, and the mechanic, have learned
to appreciate the superior economy and advantages possessed by the tourist system
of Mr. Cook and to make an ever increasing use of it (Excursionist, 1868 (1st
October):9).
8. Construct superordinate
identity
O. Promote peace with
neighbors
O1. We firmly believe that such visits are welcome to the Parisians, and that they
materially assist the cause of international friendship and peace (Excursionist,
1871(19th July):7).
O2. [W]e now feel assured from what we have been enabled to observe (…) that a
better and clearer understanding prevails between the American and the English
people, and that John Bull and Brother Jonathan will associate on happier terms
than they have hitherto experienced. To promote this end is an object of the
extension of the facilities afforded (Excursionist, 1874(21st April):4)[.]
P. Educate the British
population
P1. [W]e have also done our utmost to render these tours a valuable means of
practical education. For this purpose we secured the services of the very best
archaeological expositor of ancient and modern Rome, who entered upon the work
in a spirit of enthusiasm (Excursionist, 1875(6th November):np)[.]
P2. Above all, it is greatly assisting the work of national education. An Englishman
passing a few days in Scotland will learn more of that romantic country than he
would by years of reading. The thousands of tourists who have availed themselves
of the facilities afforded by Mr Cook for visiting the land of Burns and Scott have
invariably returned delighted with their tour, and more than ever disposed to regard
with affection a country so largely abounding in the romantic and picturesque
(Excursionist, 1868 (5th September):6).
Overarching Dimension: Ally with Stigmatizers
9. Ingratiate stigmatizers
Q. Supply press with
foreign news
Q1. Sir, As the would-be travelling public are necessarily alarmed and deterred
through supposed difficulties of communication arising through the war, I shall be
glad if you can find room for the following letter just received from Mr. Thomas
Cook, dated Naples, Oct. 7. Yours truly, John M. Cook (Morning Post, 1870:7).
Q2. Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son (Ludgate-circus, Fleet-street) write to us: “(…)
we have this day received a telegram, sent under official authority from Cairo,
stating that quarantine is now reduced from ten to five days (Daily News, 1875:6)[.]
R. Share event details
with press
R1. Encouraged by the great courtesy of the Editor of the Times, seven letters were
addressed to that leading European paper, six of which were published, (…) [and]
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received, everywhere, with the most cordial approbation (…) (Cook, 1873:v)[.]
R2. Mr Thomas Cook has received a telegram from Jaffa, announcing the safe
arrival there of the fifty tourists with whom his agent is at present travelling in the
East (Pall Mall, 1872:973).
10. Affiliate with
stigmatizers’ peers
S. Help stigmatizers’
peers in crisis
S1. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, A.C. Tait, was told by his doctors that he
must recruit his health by spending the winter on the French Riviera, Cook
volunteered to organize the entire journey (Brendon, 1991:117).
S2. Even our last visit to Rome was an occasion for the display of tourist kindness,
by which we were enabled to restore to its distressed mother a little child
(Excursionist, 1865(1st May):5).
T. Design services for
stigmatizers’ peers
T1. One great objection urged by the Athenaeum against the proposed tour is, that
sufficient time is not afforded the Tourists to properly inspect all the objects
mentioned in the programme. If this principle were to be generally acted on, nine-
tenths of the visitors to the National Gallery and British Museum ought to stay away
(Excursionist, 1872(21st September):2).
T2. The deputation of the English Catholics, headed by the Duke of Norfolk and
composed entirely of noblemen and commoners of ancient families, which last year
waited upon the Pope was pioneered from London to Rome by Mr John M Cook
(Telegraph as cited in Excursionist, 1872(20th April):2).
Overarching Dimension: Approval based on Social Value
11. Gain confidence
U. Feel reassured about
travel agency
U1. About a fortnight ago, we had the honour of conducting through a portion of
Scotland, Prince Heinrich (grandson of Her Majesty Queen Victoria) who was
accompanied by fifty officers and cadets of the Prussian navy (Excursionist,
1877:3).
U2. [W]e could produce and publish thousands of letters as testimonials from
distinguished Americans, Earls, Dukes, and Lords and Ladies of the English
Nobility, the Emperor of Brazil, (…) (Excursionist, 1879:3).
V. Regard tourists as
harmless
V1. And, again, we may admit that the domestic tourist is frequently an amiable
and, for a time, an amusing companion (Saturday Review, 1873:306).
V2. You will meet kindly, friendly, well-informed English ladies and gentlemen
(ILN, 1880:299).
12. Embrace
superordinate identity
W. Praise education
through travel
W1. Cook's Tourist Agency (…) has done within the last thirty years, an immensity
of moral and social good. The organisation has opened up, not only to the London
middle-class Cockney but to the remotest provincial, countries and cities which, but
for the "personally conducted" tour, they would never have dreamt of visiting. The
devout have been able, by means of Cook, to make pilgrimages in the Holy Land;
the humble student of archaeology has had Italy and Egypt thrown open to him
(Sala, 1895:86)[.]
W2. The educational potential and promise of travelling under Cook’s arrangements
became an integral part of its appeal and lure (Newmeyer, 2008:14).
X. Praise better
international
relations
X1. The grand civiliser, indeed, is Fellowship, the powerful peace-maker also, the
gracious nurse of culture, the wise and beneficent teacher, whose lessons all may
study with never-failing delight, and the certainty of manifold advantage. (…) It is,
indeed, true that what the Messrs. Cook now are able to do, and are actually doing,
may be fairly reckoned among the marvels of the ages (Art-Journal, 1873:299).
X2. I have been told that one of the most illustrious of English statesmen has been
heard to say that he regards Mr. Thomas Cook and Mr. John Hullah as two of the
most important social benefactors that this age has seen (ILN, 1880:299).
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Table 4: Comparison of Approaches to Organizational Stigma
Approach Shielding Straddling Co-opting Destigmatization
Empirical
example
Hudson &
Okhuysen
(2009)
Vergne (2012) Helms &
Patterson (2014)
This paper
Organizational
management of
stigmatization
Manage
organizational
boundaries
Blur categories
to dilute stigma
Use stigma to
gain attention
and soften
negative views
Show
organization as
beneficial and
non-threatening
to society
Response to
stigma
Acknowledge its
existence
Acknowledge its
existence
Acknowledge its
existence
Refuse to
acknowledge its
existence
Interaction
with
stigmatizers
Avoid as much
as possible
Reduce to
minimum
Use to gain
attention and
soften views
Engage
proactively and
assertively
Organizational
consequences
Less disapproval
if organization is
shielded well
Less disapproval Less disapproval
by critics and
support by new
audiences
Widespread
approval among
old and new
audiences
Existence of
stigma among
critics over time
Continues with
same strength
Continues with
same strength
Continues with
reduced strength
Disappears from
discourse
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Figure 1: Data Structure
1st order categories 2nd order themes
A. Tourists as uncouth
B. Fear overrun travel destinations
C. Fear demise of exclusivity
D. Organize travel for money
E. Offer individual travel
F. Offer high-culture destinations
G. Liken tourists to travelers
H. Stress sup port in destination countries
I. Attack stigmatizers as exclusive
J. Seek public censure of stigmatizers
K. Port ray stigmatizers as disingenuous
L. Portray stigmatizers as lacking nobility
M . Enable teachers and ministers to travel
N. Simplify travel for deserving people
O. Promote p eace with neighbours
P. Educate the British p opulation
Q. Supp ly press with foreign news
R. Share event details with press
S. Help stigmatizers' peers in crisis
T. Design services for stigmatizers' peers
U. Feel reassured about travel agency
V. Regard tourist s as harmless
W Praise education through travel
X. Praise better international relations
Aggregate theoretical
dimensions
1. Anxiety about users
2. Fear for social position
3. Combine accept ed practices
4. Show respectability of users
11. Gain confidence
12. Embrace superordinate
identity
5. Depict stigmatizers as a
misguided minority
6. Att ack character of
stigmatizers
7. Highlight sup port of worthy
groups
8. Construct sup erordinate
identity
9. Ingratiate stigmatizers
10. Affiliate with stigmatizers'
peers
Deflect Att ention
from Stigma
Ally with
Stigmatizers
Isolate
Stigmatizers
Demonstrate
Service to Society
Approval based
on Social Value
Stigmatization
based on Fear
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Figure 2: A Dialogical Model of Organizational Destigmatization
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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES
Christian E. Hampel (ch547@cam.ac.uk) is a PhD Candidate on the Innovation, Strategy and
Organisation track at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. His research explores how
organizations manage reputations with a particular focus on fighting stigmatization, reviving
legitimacy, and altering institutions.
Paul Tracey (p.tracey@jbs.cam.ac.uk) is Professor of Innovation and Organisation and Academic
Director at the Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.
Between 2011 and 2013 he was an Economic and Social Research Council Mid-career Fellow. His
research interests include social innovation, regional innovation, and institutional change. He
received his Ph.D. from the University of Stirling.
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... These insights were quickly followed by two key studies, one providing a general theory of organizational stigma (Devers et al. 2009), one providing an empirical illustration of core stigma and stigma transfer (Hudson and Okhuysen 2009), that appeared side by side in Organization Science. These early works were soon followed by a number of empirical papers (i.e., Vergne (2012), Carberry & King (2012), Hills, Voronov, & Hinings (2013), Durand & Vergne (2014), Helms & Patterson (2014), Roulet (2015), Tracey & Phillips (2015), Piazza & Perretti (2015), and Hampel & Tracey (2017)), that provided significant insight into various aspect of organizational and industry stigma. ...
... The second moment of stigmatization is unveiled by Hampel and Tracey (2017). They found that the establishment press of Victorian England conducted a sustained media campaign stigmatizing the Cook Travel Agency that catered to working and lower middleclass clientele. ...
... Furthermore, stigma may exist in the absence of significant sanction and without being internalized by major stakeholders but still be felt by an organization. As Hampel and Tracey (2017) showed, when Cook's travel agency was seen as a destabilizing force for Victorian Britain's social order, the organization experienced the stigma through negative media and hostile reporting, despite appealing to a wide audience. ...
Article
Full-text available
Since its introduction as a concept, organizational stigma has become central to explaining how organizations or industries become tainted, and how they overcome and manage such taint. In this introduction to the Special Issue on organizational stigma, we start by exploring the origins of the concept, providing basic definitions and reviewing the existing research on stigmatization, stigma transfer and experienced stigma. The papers in this issue flesh out our understanding of what causes organizational stigma and its implications at different levels. The remainder of this introduction takes stock of this recent work to explore future research opportunities around the micro‐ and macro‐foundations of organizational stigma, the links with scandals, controversies and other negative social evaluations and research methods. As the concept of organizational stigma reaches a new stage, we argue that its explanatory power can be harnessed to explore new and increasingly relevant phenomena and contexts.
... Stigmatized firms are commonly regarded as morally objectionable and thus elicit negative stakeholder reactions (Devers et al., 2009). Accordingly, research to date has focused primarily on what organizations can do to manage stigma (Zhang et al., 2021), such as avoiding negative attention (Hudson & Okhuysen, 2009), getting involved in non-stigmatized industries (Vergne, 2012), and using stigma to leverage the support of critical stakeholders (Hampel & Tracey, 2017;Helms & Patterson, 2014). In each case, the baseline assumption is that stigma is a liability that organizations need to work hard to overcome and, to the extent possible, leverage to their advantage (Roulet, 2020). ...
... Indeed, much of the literature to date has assumed that stigma is a liability that firms need to actively manage (Hampel & Tracey, 2017;Zhang et al., 2021). In particular, research to date has largely focused on the strategies firms can use to mitigate the liability of stigma. ...
... Accordingly, those who seek to rely on the 'free hand of the market' to regulate greenwashing may need to reconsider their position when it comes to stigmatized firms. Third, our findings suggest that the strategies firms most commonly adopt for mitigating the liabilities of stigma (see Hampel & Tracey, 2017;Roulet, 2020) can potentially debase its insurance-like properties, which otherwise buffer them from the negative market consequences of misconduct. Counterintuitively, our research suggests that when stigmatized firms are seen to have engaged in greenwashing (and potentially other forms of misconduct as well), they may want to emphasize their stigma -not downplay or distract from it. ...
Article
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Organizational stigma is widely assumed to be a serious liability. However, a small body of research has begun to show that stigma can also lead to positive outcomes. A core assumption of this budding literature is that realizing a benefit from stigma requires firms to take active and strategic measures to turn stigma to their advantage. Shedding new light on this assumption, in the present research we show that stigma has a built‐in insurance‐like quality that buffers firms from the market consequences of their misconduct. Specifically, we demonstrate that when firms are caught greenwashing, organizational stigma protects them from consumer backlash, with no effort required on their part to realize this benefit. Across a longitudinal panel data study tracking 7,365 firms in 47 countries over a 15‐year period, plus an experiment, we show that stigmatized firms are subjected to less market discipline for greenwashing. We further demonstrate that the mechanism driving this phenomenon is a certain ‘boys will be boys’ expectation by consumers that stigmatized firms lack integrity and, by consequence, are given greater leeway to greenwash. In so doing, we move beyond prior research focusing on the strategies firms can deploy to leverage stigma to their advantage, highlighting instead the psychological mechanisms that make organizational stigma more than a liability to be overcome in the marketplace, but also an asset.
... On the other hand, illegitimacy, as an act, process, or ideology, occurs when an institution 'is characterized by policy that is incoherent with practice; where there is a loss of institutional will, when organizational members' practices taint the formal goals of the organisation, and there is also a loss of public confidence as the public begins to lose faith in the organisation's ability to act efficiently and effectively' (Clegg & Gordon, 2012, p. 421). When actors perceive and judge institutions as illegitimate, their attitudes change towards the institution's authority, and legitimate validation becomes unstable (Hampel & Tracey, 2017;Jost & Major, 2001). Lacking legitimacy therefore becomes costly to any institution, especially a government (Brown, 1997). ...
... The literature has shown that institutions can manage the dynamics of their legitimacy by deploying strategies to help them cope when under attack (Hampel & Tracey, 2017). Cooptation as an example, a principle coined by Selznick (1949), can orient a government towards accessibility or legitimisation through the 'process of absorbing new elements into the leadership or policy-determining structure of an organization as a means of averting threats to its stability or existence' (Selznick, 1949, p. 13). ...
... Here, the cooptation phenomenon gives actors the opportunity to provide voluntary associations and publicly participate in conversations, as a means of acquiring control. This allows for neutralisation of institutional opposition to enhance overall legitimacy (Oliver, 1991).This research study expands on legitimacy and cooptation by responding to several calls for more research on how legitimacy attacks impact overall institutional outcomes (Hampel & Tracey, 2017;De Vries et al., 2016;Schwarz et al., 2014;Tost, 2011;Woerter et al., 2017). Specifically, this study explores how actors attack a government's legitimacy, and how such a government can respond to re-legitimise its formal structures and practices 'in a proper and adequate manner' (Meyer & Rowan, 1977, p. 349). ...
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Most institutions adopt deliberate methods of intervention for managing their legitimacy, particularly under conditions of a crisis. Maintaining legitimacy is therefore significant in institutional research, and the question of how social actors defend and protect their institution in the face of legitimacy judgement attacks is empirically significant. This study explores a green technology innovation scheme that engulfed a whole governance system, leading to a financial crisis, deterioration in public confidence, and the collapse of a devolved government. It identifies three types of legitimacy attacks that evolve throughout the crisis, and cooptation strategies institutions can apply to shore up and maintain dimensions of their legitimacy. The institutional analysis of the scheme crisis identifies that legitimacy attacks occur when an institution: (i) morally falters; (ii) relationally disconnects; (iii) instrumentally disregards. The findings, moreover, uniquely identify three institutional cooptation strategies, which can halt and avert threats in the face of such legitimacy attacks. These cooptation strategies include: (i) warranting transparency; (ii) streamlining communality; (iii) accepting responsibility. This demonstrates the inhabited nature of institutions and how they can regain legitimacy in the face of disruptive attacks.
... Additionally, we were able to obtain access to the minutes of the Church's TMT meetings from 1880-1884, and from these sources, we analyzed 432 pages of primary data on the Church's pre-20 th century TMT deliberations. While primary sources are preferable and account for our main form of data, Rowlinson et al. (2014: 264) state that the use of secondary sources, which includes narrative texts, is appropriate in analytically structured history as well (cf., Cole and Chandler, 2019;Hampel and Tracey, 2017). For example, in his study of General Motors, Chandler relied on primary sources when analyzing processes associated with his sensitizing construct of "structure" and secondary sources when analyzing processes associated with his sensitizing construct of "strategy" (Rowlinson et al., 2014, p. 261). ...
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Purpose This paper aims to study the formation and preservation of behavioral integration (BI) in the top management team (TMT) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1844 to the present. Design/methodology/approach An analytically structured history approach within a case exemplar framework is adopted. Theoretical insights are extrapolated from the case study to form a process model of BI formation and preservation in TMTs. Findings The findings reveal that three factors primarily influence BI creation (induction, education and cementation) and that BI is preserved via an iterative process that is driven by CEO conservatorship, intentional mentoring and social modeling. Originality/value This study investigates an unexplored area in upper echelons theory: the process by which BI is formed and preserved in TMTs and presents a process model of BI formation and preservation that shifts attention in the literature from analyses of the effect of BI on various organizational outcomes to how it can be formed in the first place and then preserved.
... For example, in the tobacco industry, tobacco control regulations have been enacted across U.S. states to "express the government's public policy concern that tobacco use is dangerous to health, contribute to a social climate that discourages smoking in public places, and legitimize attempts to bring additional public pressure to reduce cigarette consumption" (Jacobson & Zapawa, 2001). Regulations can, thus, "be interpreted as a way of asserting social control: the intention is to prevent the spread of undesired practices" (Hampel & Tracey, 2017, p. 2200. ...
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Considering recent theoretical discussions about the concept of moral legitimacy, this study advances our understanding of its performance consequences. Specifically, it uncovers the mediating role of moral legitimacy in the relationship between regulations and industry performance. Our analysis of the U.S. state-level data on regulations in a controversial industry between 1994 and 2010 yields four significant findings. The results show that regulations not only decrease performance but also negatively impact moral legitimacy. Moreover, this study provides empirical evidence that moral legitimacy is positively related to industry performance, providing much-needed direct support for this premise. Importantly, the results indicate that moral legitimacy mediates the effect of regulations on performance, but only when regulations are aligned with moral values. Overall, this study extends our understanding of how regulations influence moral legitimacy, and in turn impact industry performance.
... Consistent with Scherer et al. (2013), adopting an isomorphic adaptation strategy is appropriate for firms to maintain challenged legitimacy in stable and unitary institutional fields. Specifically, the above-mentioned stigmatization process showed that culpable actors would have been adequately punished (Hampel & Tracey, 2017). Furthermore, it suggested that firm leaders maintained control of the organization, allowing to convey the idea that the firm would change its course of action by changing leaders. ...
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Stakeholders’ decisions regarding whether to continue to support a firm after it has been perceived as culpable for socially irresponsible behaviour is “coin of the realm” in selecting which firms (or which parts of a firm) will be able to survive a corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) scandal. Our empirical setting is an embedded polar case of audience support, the Parmalat case, following a severe CSI scandal. The scandal represented a “trigger event” that ignited an active reevaluation of the firm on behalf of its stakeholders. We show that, while the firm’s cognitive legitimacy was not harmed by the CSI scandal, two dimensions of legitimacy played a key role in stakeholder evaluations: moral and pragmatic legitimacy. The capacity to manage the interplay between these two dimensions emerged as a key factor underlying stakeholders' support. Finally, we argue that if pragmatic legitimacy is feeble it is unlikely that the firm is able to maintain stakeholders' support. Our study suggests that possessing a sound source of competitive advantage in one (or more) of the businesses in which the firm operates is decisive to maintain the support of independent stakeholders following CSI scandal.
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This study examines whether and when, in a stigmatized industry, firms’ negative publicity can lead to the appointment of their CEOs to the boards of directors of other firms within that sector. Building on research on ingroup identification and on stigma, we propose that within a stigmatized industry, when a firm receives negative publicity, its CEO is more likely to join the board of other firms in the industry, possibly because these other firms interpret the negative publicity as a sign of the social identification of the CEO with the stigmatized industry. We also suggest that this relationship is more likely when the negative publicity reveals information otherwise not available about the CEO. We test our hypotheses using a novel, hand-collected dataset of 408 CEOs in 205 firms in the global arms industry, between 1998 and 2017, and find that within this stigmatized industry, when a firm receives negative publicity, its CEO is more likely to join the board of other firms in the industry, and that lower levels of CEOs’ reputational capital and visibility magnify this effect. Our findings advance the conversations in stigma research about upper echelons, highlighting the importance of internal and external actors and of the type of stigma, when investigating the consequences of stigma for upper echelons’ careers.
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This article synthesizes the large but diverse literature on organizational legitimacy, highlighting similarities and disparities among the leading strategic and institutional approaches. The analysis identifies three primary forms of legitimacy: pragmatic, based on audience self-interest; moral, based on normative approval: and cognitive, based on comprehensibility and taken-for-grantedness. The article then examines strategies for gaining, maintaining, and repairing legitimacy of each type, suggesting both the promises and the pitfalls of such instrumental manipulations.
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This chapter discusses how a shared superordinate identity increases knowledge creation and transfer in firms. It presents evidence, from both the field and laboratory, that sharing a superordinate identity promotes knowledge creation and transfer. It develops theory about the conditions under which a shared superordinate identity is most valuable. It discusses how to build a strong superordinate identity as well as analyses when a superordinate identity is a complement or substitute to other knowledge governance mechanisms. The chapter concludes with a discussion of future research directions on identity and knowledge governance that are particularly promising.
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