Enacting a Grand Challenge for Business and Society: Theorizing Issue Maturation in the Media-based Public Discourse on COVID-19 in Three National Contexts

Bennet Schwoon*, Dennis Schoeneborn, Andreas Georg Scherer

*Corresponding author for this work

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While today it is universally acknowledged that COVID-19 has generated immense challenges for businesses and societies worldwide, public perceptions varied significantly at the time of the pandemic’s initial appearance, even among democratic societies with comparable media systems. The growing scholarship on grand societal challenges in management and organization studies, however, tends to neglect the initial social construction of issues as complex, uncertain, evaluative, and widespread. We address this shortcoming by exploring the initial communicative enactment of COVID-19 in the media-based public discourse in Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. By applying a social problem work lens, we identify three mechanisms that explain the maturation of COVID-19 into a grand challenge, further showing how these are contextually dependent on differences in discourse quality. We add to research on grand challenges, issue maturation, and framing dynamics by theorizing how issues become constructed and acknowledged as grand challenges in the first place.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness & Society
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)869-919
Number of pages51
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Published online: July 28, 2022.


  • COVID-19
  • Discourse quality
  • Framing dynamics
  • Grand societal challenges
  • Social problem work

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