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Organizational Event Stigma: Typology, Processes, and Stickiness

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What do events such as scandals, industrial accidents, activist threats, and mass shootings have in common? They can all trigger an audience’s stigma judgment about the organization involved in the event. Despite the prevalence of these stigma-triggering events, management research has provided little conceptual work to characterize the dimensions and processes of organizational event stigma. This article takes the perspective of the evaluating audience to unpack the stigma judgment process, identify critical dimensions for categorizing types of event stigma, and explore the role of the stigmatizers’ aesthetic, emotional, and cognitive reactions as well as their practical considerations in producing what we call “sticky stigmas.” Our event stigma typology provides clarity regarding how stigmas differ based on the types of events and audiences’ reactions and why some event stigmas are stronger and more long-lasting than others. We highlight the role of emotions and aesthetics in stigma formation and the various ethical dilemmas that influence stigma stickiness.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
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Journal of Business Ethics
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-022-05173-3
ORIGINAL PAPER
Organizational Event Stigma: Typology, Processes, andStickiness
KimClark1· YuanLi1
Received: 3 October 2020 / Accepted: 31 May 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. 2022
Abstract
What do events such as scandals, industrial accidents, activist threats, and mass shootings have in common? They can all
trigger an audience’s stigma judgment about the organization involved in the event. Despite the prevalence of these stigma-
triggering events, management research has provided little conceptual work to characterize the dimensions and processes
of organizational event stigma. This article takes the perspective of the evaluating audience to unpack the stigma judgment
process, identify critical dimensions for categorizing types of event stigma, and explore the role of the stigmatizers’ aesthetic,
emotional, and cognitive reactions as well as their practical considerations in producing what we call “sticky stigmas.” Our
event stigma typology provides clarity regarding how stigmas differ based on the types of events and audiences’ reactions
and why some event stigmas are stronger and more long-lasting than others. We highlight the role of emotions and aesthetics
in stigma formation and the various ethical dilemmas that influence stigma stickiness.
Keywords Organizational event stigma· Stigma stickiness· Stigmatizers· Bystanders· Stigmatization· Emotion·
Aesthetics
Introduction
Stigma has received increasing attention in organization
studies. As a negative social evaluation, stigma captures
an important aspect of organizational reality. Following
Goffman’s (1963) pioneering research on the experience of
the stigmatized, most research to date has focused on how
organizations manage core stigmas, or stigmas that are cen-
tral to the organization’s identity (Devers etal., 2009; Hud-
son, 2008). These studies take the perspective of the stigma-
tized and seek to understand their conditions and strategies
(Hampel & Tracey, 2017; Helms & Patterson, 2014; Hudson
& Okhuysen, 2009; Vergne, 2012). In contrast, little concep-
tual work has been devoted to understanding the related phe-
nomenon of event stigma, or stigma caused by an episodic
event (Hudson, 2008).
This lack of conceptualization of organizational event
stigma may impede theoretical development and practi-
cal understanding of a widespread empirical phenomenon.
Organizational stigma is often conflated with organizational
illegitimacy, which has raised doubts about the utility of this
organization-level construct (Helms etal., 2019). There is
also a lack of understanding of the relationship between core
stigma and event stigma, and this makes it difficult to con-
nect the two distinct streams of research. Qualitative case
studies on stigma tend to focus on how organizations deal
with stigmas at the expense of how stigmas are formed in
the first place, thus limiting the construct to a static property
instead of a dynamic, variable process. Without construct
clarity, organizational stigma research may remain frag-
mented and underdeveloped, which not only hinders knowl-
edge integration and advancement, but also deters practition-
ers from contributing to and making use of this research.
Organizations are stigmatized by a wide range of events, and
some events have only fleeting effects on the organization
while others leave a permanent mark. Without a systematic
mapping of stigma-triggering events and an examination of
the event stigmatization process, we would know little about
how events create and perpetuate organizational stigma.
In this article, we take the perspective of the evaluating
audience to unpack the event stigmatization process and
Kim Clark and Yuan Li contributed equally to this work.
* Yuan Li
yl4@stmarys-ca.edu
Kim Clark
kjc6@stmarys-ca.edu
1 School ofEconomics andBusiness Administration, Saint
Mary’s College ofCalifornia, 1928 St Mary’s Rd, Moraga,
CA, USA
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