Symbolic responses

“Second, we aim to nuance the distinction between ‘symbolic’ and ‘substantive’ firm strategies, which the DILC-model borrowed from Mahon and Waddock (1992, p. 27), who defined these concepts as follows: “Symbolic action involves attempts to ‘frame’ an issue. (. . .) Substantive action, in contrast, involves definitive moves that attempt to actually change or deal with the existing situation in specific, identifiable ways. It often demands the expenditure of resources (money, equipment, personnel, etc.) to minimally show progress in resolving the actual problem identified”. The current DILC-model assumes that firms initially give more emphasis to symbolic actions (phases 1 and 2) and gradually shift towards more substantive action (particularly technological innovation) when problem-related pressures increase (phases 3–5). This paper aims to nuance this conceptualisation by recognizing that technological development can also be used for symbolic purposes (e.g. enhancing public reputations) and political purposes (e.g. showing that certain options are unfeasible or that regulations are not necessary) in early phases.
(Penna and Geels, 2015: 1032)

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