Innovator or Troublemaker? The Co-evolution of Ethical Controversies, Legitimation and Institutionalisation of the Ridesharing Firms in China

Journal of Business Ethics 186 (4):723-737 (2023)
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Abstract

The ethical controversies of firms in the sharing economy (SE) have recently drawn attention and caused debates. Ridesharing firms violate laws in many countries, but how they become legitimised remains underexplored. We apply the co-evolutionary perspective to examine how ethical controversies, legitimation and institutionalisation co-evolve in the ridesharing segment in the dynamic and changing institutional environment of China. We conducted a case study on Didi using firm-institution dual-level analysis based on stakeholder salience theory (SST) and the Orders of Worth framework. Our findings uncover ethical controversies among stakeholders with different levels of salience. We also reveal a dynamic interplay between the legitimacy work of Didi and the institutional-level market regulations on ridesharing firms. We develop a process model demonstrating the co-evolution among the changes in ethical controversies, new market category emergence and legitimation of ridesharing firms. These findings shed light on the application of the co-evolutionary perspective in analysing ethical controversies among multiple stakeholders’ evolving interests in the SE context.

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