Enacting a Grand Challenge for Business and Society: News Media Discourse and Institutional Response to COVID-19 in Three National Contexts

Bennet Schwoon, Dennis Schoeneborn, Andreas Georg Scherer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic challenges businesses and societies around the world. Despite the pandemic’s character as a ‘brute fact’, even in countries with similar political and media systems the identification of a public crisis and the development of political responses differ widely. To understand differences in speediness, mixture, and escalation of institutional responses to COVID-19 in this study we aim to examine the ‘social problem work’ around the pandemic, i.e. how and why social problems become identified as such via processes of social construction, particularly in news media. In recent years management studies have increasingly focused on grand challenges (GC) conceiving of GC largely as given phenomena. However, this booming literature tends to neglect
the communicatively constructed character of social phenomena and has yet to explore how and why certain phenomena are conceived as social problems. To understand differences in institutional responses, we explore social constructions around COVID-19 by investigating public discourse through an analysis of articles from leading traditional newspapers from the UK, Germany and Switzerland focusing on the time frame between the first official mentioning of SARS-CoV-2 on Dec. 31, 2019 until first respective lock-down decisions in March, 2020. In our empirical study, we identified “Perceived degree of affectedness”, “Individualism vs. collectivism”, “Coping with uncertainty”, and “Discourse quality” as mechanisms of ‘social problem work’ which help to
understand and explain differences in speediness, mixture, and escalation of institutional responses across the three countries. Our study extends current literature on GC by addressing how GC arise and find recognition as such in
the first place. These mechanisms might help to explain initial difficulties to cope with other GC and help to explain difficulties regarding issues that are currently largely in a latent or emerging stage such as demographic change, genetic modification of non-human entities or the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event45. Workshop der Kommission Organisation 2021: Verband der Hochschullehrer für Betriebswirtschaft - Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
Duration: 22 Sept 202124 Sept 2021
Conference number: 45


Conference45. Workshop der Kommission Organisation 2021
LocationLeuphana Universität Lüneburg


  • Grand challenges
  • Social problem work
  • COVID-19
  • Pandemics
  • Media discourse
  • Crisis

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