Small Business Social Responsibility: A Critical Multilevel Review, Synthesis and Research Agenda

Vivek Soundararajan, Dima Jamali, Laura Spence

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Small business social responsibility (SBSR) related research is rapidly increasing in quantity but is found in divergent literatures and disciplines. It is time to offer a comprehensive review that identifies, synthesises, and integrates previous research, and highlights the knowledge gaps and the way forward. Our methodical search of the literature helped identify 115 multidisciplinary peer-reviewed academic articles appearing in high quality journals over the 1970-2016 period. Using a systematic and in-depth content analysis technique, we reviewed the articles and identified the theories used, the national contextual focus, and the methodological orientations in these articles. We also identified the predictors, outcomes, mediators, and moderators of SBSR at the institutional, organisational, and individual levels of analysis. Our review helps identify significant knowledge gaps in terms of the theoretical orientation, the national contextual focus, the core content under study, and the methods used. We offer numerous suggestions across these topics to help address the knowledge gaps and raise important questions for future research. The primary contributions of this paper are: delineating and summarising a multilevel analysis of an emerging literature on SBSR; integrating contributions from a wide range of management disciplines and geographical contexts; extracting the potential theoretical contributions in this field; and informing directions for future research. We propose a research agenda that is theoretically relevant and innovative, and calls for context- and size-aware research on SBSR using small business-specific methodologies and measurements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)934-956
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Management Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date6 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2018


  • small business social responsibility
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Multi-level review
  • Research methods
  • Theory
  • Research agenda
  • SBSR

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