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Boston College, United States

Are we on the same boat? Socially responsible investing, impact investing, and category co-optation


This study examines the emergence and evolution of socially responsible investing and impact investing in the U.S. financial services industry. Using a novel mixed-methods approach that combines computational techniques and grounded theory on extensive amount of press release data between 1980 and 2018, I find that mainstream investment firms and wealthy private foundations successfully co-opted the meaning of SRI and unobtrusively maintained their status-quo by creating an alternative category—impact investing—which serves similar goal yet with different means that conflicts much less with their conventional investment strategies. This paper shows how category creation could act as a potential mechanism through which high-status incumbents engage in category co-optation.


Ju Young Lee is a doctoral candidate in the Management and Organization department at Boston College. His research lies at the intersection of institutional change and sustainability with a particular focus on intentional changes that address social problems. He explores these phenomena by weaving insights from diverse theoretical traditions at different levels, ranging from institutional theory and collective identity to motivations and meaningful work, and by employing various methods including inductive field study, computational content analysis, survey methods and scale developments. For his dissertation, he is currently studying the emergence of socially responsible and impact investment in the U.S.

Ju Young Lee

Ju Young Lee