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Identity, storytelling and the philanthropic journey

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mairi Maclean, Professor Charles Harvey



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This paper develops theoretical understanding of the involvement of wealthy entrepreneurs in socially transformative projects by offering a foundational theory of philanthropic identity narratives. We show that these narratives are structured according to the metaphorical framework of the journey, through which actors envision and make sense of personal transformation. The journey provides a valuable metaphor for conceptualizing narrative identities in entrepreneurial careers as individuals navigate different social landscapes, illuminating identities as unfolding through a process of wayfinding in response to events, transitions and turning-points. We delineate the journey from entrepreneurship to philanthropy, and propose a typology of rewards entrepreneurs claim to derive from giving. We add to the expanding literature on narrative identities by suggesting that philanthropic identity narratives empower wealthy entrepreneurs to generate a legacy of the self which is both self- and socially-oriented; these ‘generativity scripts’ propelling their capacity for action while ensuring the continuation of their journeys.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Maclean M, Harvey C, Gordon J, Shaw E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Relations

Year: 2015

Volume: 68

Issue: 10

Pages: 1623-1652

Print publication date: 01/10/2015

Online publication date: 28/04/2015

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

Date deposited: 27/11/2014

ISSN (print): 0018-7267

ISSN (electronic): 1741-282X

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/0018726714564199


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Funder referenceFunder name
RES-593-25-0008Economic and Social Research Council, UK