Identity, storytelling and the philanthropic journey

Mairi Maclean, Charles Harvey, Jillian Gordon, Eleanor Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


This article develops theoretical understanding of the involvement of wealthy entrepreneurs in socially transformative projects by offering a foundational theory of philanthropic identity narratives. We show that these narratives are structured according to the metaphorical framework of the journey, through which actors envision and make sense of personal transformation. The journey provides a valuable metaphor for conceptualizing narrative identities in entrepreneurial careers as individuals navigate different social landscapes, illuminating identities as unfolding through a process of wayfinding in response to events, transitions and turning-points. We delineate the journey from entrepreneurship to philanthropy, and propose a typology of rewards that entrepreneurs claim to derive from giving. We add to the expanding literature on narrative identities by suggesting that philanthropic identity narratives empower wealthy entrepreneurs to generate a legacy of the self that is both self- and socially oriented, these ‘generativity scripts’ propelling their capacity for action while ensuring the continuation of their journeys.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1623-1652
Number of pages30
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number10
Early online date28 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2015


  • generativity
  • identity narratives
  • identity work
  • narrative identity
  • philanthropic journey
  • storytelling

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