A Pragmatist Stance on the Practice and Maintenance of Organisational Values in the Small Firm Context

Simon Oldham, Simon Oldham

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Values play a key role in shaping the culture, identity and purpose of organisations. However, while the previous literature has evidenced the salience and role of large firm organisational values, little research has focused on gaining an enhanced understanding of the practice and maintenance of organisational values in the small firm context. Previous small firm research has often relegated values to secondary importance or taken a monistic view of values; overall, leading to an obfuscated view of the importance and influence of small firm organisational values. Accordingly, this thesis seeks to provide greater comprehension of the nature, role and enactment of small firm organisational values as well as, importantly, how values are maintained, particularly in the face of external pressure and challenge. A Pragmatist stance, informed by John Dewey’s work on Pragmatist ethics, is taken to theoretically frame the research. Pragmatist ethics seeks to move away from a singular normative position divorced from the influence of context and is sympathetic to the lived experience of morality.

Empirical data was collected in the context of micro and small alcohol production and independent retail firms in the South West of the UK via semi-structured interviews with senior managers. Interviews focused broadly on the nature and practice of organisational values while employing a critical incident technique to garner examples of where organisational values came into dispute with external stakeholders. Beyond highlighting a number of salient organisational values, the findings suggest that such organisational values play a vital role in determining a range of habituated small firm moral practices and norms which permeate a wide range of everyday operations, concerns and relationships within such firms. Nevertheless, the means by which firms conceptualise values, and their associated practices, is heavily determined by institutional, organisational and relational context. Disruption to such values and practice through external stakeholder challenge prompts a process of active moral reflection on the part of senior managers to navigate an appropriate response to such conflicting demands while maintaining value fidelity.

Overall, beyond contributing to an understanding of the influence of small firm organisational values, this thesis seeks to simultanousely highlight and consider the relevance and merit of the application of Pragmatist theory to research within the domain of business and society. This is achieved through examination of both the contribution that Pragmatism could provide as a valuable theoretical tool as well as the potential for a re-positioning of the field towards a Pragmatist paradigm.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Spence, Laura, Supervisor
  • du Gay, Paul, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 May 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Apr 2021


  • Small and medium sized enterprises
  • Values
  • Pragmatism
  • Business Ethics
  • Qualitative

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