Let us talk about sexual abuse of minors for a moment. It is an uncomfortable topic, made even more uncomfortable by the fact that the sex abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic church broke after two decades of sex abuse being known in communities and by the church. What happened? Knowing the answer is useful for protecting the vulnerable in society and for understanding how societies and communities interact.
Recent research published by Alessandro Piazza and Julien Jourdan in Academy of Management Journal provides important answers. Their approach was intuitive and important. If members of the same large organization (the Church) are responsible for the same kind of abuse in many communities, but this is kept quiet in some communities but not in others, maybe it is valuable to find out what kind of communities protects the organization and lets its employees victimize its vulnerable members?
What they found is depressingly familiar to anyone who studies organizations and communities. Communities who identify with the organization protect it – so although a majority Catholic community would have many more potential victims and families reporting abuse, a greater proportion of Catholics in the community actually protected the church against having misconduct made public.
Well-organized communities also protected the Church. Many voluntary associations and informal meeting places indicate a community capable of much joint social action and self-improvement. In the case of abuse by local clergy, this positive community characteristic instead turned negative. Rather than acting to reveal the abuse, the communities showed inaction.
Finally, community homogeneity also predicted communities that protected the abusers and the Church. Specifically, ethnic homogeneity (for example, nearly all White) was an indicator of communities that would be unlikely to making public cases of sex abuse.
Why did this happen? Homogeneity, organization, and identification are characteristics of communities that are capable of a great deal of organized action, but in the abuse case, they instead seemed to display organized inaction. But let us not make a theory of grand conspiracies of communities against vulnerable members: a simpler explanation is probably correct.
Speaking out is costly. It is especially costly when the complaints are sensitive, as in sex abuse. It is even more costly when the accusation is directed at a highly respected pillar of the community, as when the abuser is clergy. The costs increase when community homogeneity and organization create the suspicion (and often, reality) that others will organize against the whistle-blower, and when community identification with the organization makes such counter-organization a near certainty.
So, parents would be quiet, journalists would not write stories, editors would not allocate space in newspapers, and the Church would quietly reassign and sometimes defrock the perpetrators. For decades. We need to understand this because the processes are general, and they can happen for similar or different kinds of abuse, and for similar or different organizations.
Piazza, A., J. Jourdan. 2023. The Publicization of Organizational Misconduct: A Social Structural Approach. Academy of Management Journal forthcoming.
If you have visited France and are like me, you have been completely impressed by the amazing French bakeries. Truly artisanal artistry with a great lineup of baked goods. You likely have also failed to notice that there are two kinds of them. One is the original kind where the baker handles every step of the process. The other is a modern kind using pre-mixed flours and fixed recipes from one of a few major brands—in other words, French artisanal franchise breads and pastries.
What makes this a case of competition across generations? That’s the topic of research by Laura Dupin and Filippo Carlo Wezel published in Administrative Science Quarterly. The idea is that both kinds of bakeries make the same kinds of goods, but the modern kind is standardized across locations rather than unique. Why should customers – and bakers – care about the difference? Well, the customers may be better at tasting the difference than I am. And the bakers may care more, because the modern kind know that they are giving up uniqueness and “personality” for an easier way of doing business.
What does that mean for competition? Bakeries are the kinds of businesses that care deeply about location, because the business (at least in France) involves the baker getting up crazy early to make breakfast-style goods, which nearby customers buy and carry home or to work. I have certainly walked past bakeries in France to get to a better one farther away, but there are limits to how far I will walk, and there are also limits to how far a local customer will walk. So, bakers want to be near to customers, and they may also want to be away from each other.
Bakers also think of how distinctive they are, and that’s where things get interesting. The modern style think they are less distinctive because, well, they are less distinctive. The traditional ones think they are more distinctive. That introduces an interesting dynamic. The modern kind wants to be located away from all others and, if possible, in the same place as an earlier (failed) modern kind. The traditional baker is more likely to be fine with locating near a modern one because they know they are distinctive and think that gives them an advantage.
Does this matter for other kinds of businesses? It should. Customization gives distinctiveness, and so do brand names. As goods move around more and more easily, industries become “nearer” all the time. In the modern age of easy comparison of products on platforms and in online reviews, the branded good may become more powerful than ever.
Dupin, Laura and Filippo Carlo Wezel. 2023. Artisanal or Half-Baked? Competing Collective Identities and Location Choice among French Bakeries. Administrative Science Quarterly, forthcoming.
This blog is devoted to discussions of how events in the news illustrate organizational research and can be explained by organizational theory. It is only updated when I have time to spare.