Recent academic articles point to an increased vagueness and overlap in concepts related to business ethics and corporate responsibility. Further, the perception of these notions can differ in the small-business world from the original academic definitions. This article focuses on the cognition of small-business owner-managers. Given the impact of small-business owner–managers on their ventures, corporate responsibility and ethical issues can take a different route in SMEs. The small-business owner–manager is able to shape the corporate culture and to enact values other than profit. Adopting a cognitive perspective, we have identified how the small-business owner–manager makes sense of notions linked to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics. The concept of sensemaking has recently been applied to CSR (Basu and Pallazzo, 2008, Cramer et al., 2006). Applying a cognitive perspective to small-business owners may help in explaining specific phenomena found within small-business ownership. For this research, the Repertory Grid Technique (RGT) is used, a method that has not previously been widely applied in the business and society field. Our findings to an extent invalidate the confusion in terminology found in the academic literature. Small-business owner–managers, pragmatically and rather clearly, differentiate among the various concepts related to corporate responsibility and business ethics but, at the same time, they recognise the interrelationships and interdependencies of these concepts. These findings contribute to a better understanding of how small-business owners think and integrate corporate responsibility and ethical issues into their decision-making.
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