COVID-19, Societalization and the Future of Business in Society

Steve Brammer, Layla Branicki, Martina Linnenluecke, Tom Smith

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COVID-19 is profoundly affecting almost all aspects of economic and social life globally. Governments have closed borders, banned mass gatherings, and enforced social distancing, generating a new normal for businesses and individual citizens. Measures taken to protect public health have threatened the global economy, necessitating economic stimulus in most countries, and reconfiguring the role of business in society. We ask: Will the role of business in society return to normal after COVID-19, or will it be reconfigured in enduring and impactful ways? We use Alexander’s (2018, 2019) theory of societalization to examine how socially disruptive extreme events affect the role of business in society. To evidence this, we apply societalization to the revelatory example of COVID-19 and evaluate its impacts on society. Our analysis of the societalization of COVID-19 in the United States shows that concern regarding pandemic disease has moved from the governmental inside to the civic outside, placing strain on society, leading to regulatory response, and a significant societal backlash. We discuss three scenarios regarding the long-run impacts of COVID-19 on the role of business in society, suggest that societalization provides useful insights into other socially disruptive extreme events, and identify implications for future business and society research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-507
Number of pages15
JournalAcademy of Management Perspectives
Issue number4
Early online date16 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020


  • sustainability
  • Business and society


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