Alex Cowan & Sons Ltd, Papermakers, Penicuik: a Scottish case of Weber's Protestant Work Ethic

Sam McKinstry, Ying Yong Ding

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This study examines Weber's Protestant Work Ethic and its power in explaining the business ethos and progress of a leading Scottish papermaking firm, Alex Cowan & Sons Ltd. of Penicuik, which existed independently from 1779 to 1965. Beginning with a summary of the Protestant Work Ethic, as outlined in Weber's thesis of 1904-06, a review of key debates around it is given, followed by details of some recent works which demonstrate its continuing relevance for historical scholars as well as the shortcomings of some recent studies which have sought to test it in detail. A brief outline of the business progress of Cowan's papermaking business then follows, after which key aspects of Weber's thesis are tested against the firm's experience. The study concludes that Weber's thesis adequately describes the motivation and progress of the firm and its owners, providing detailed empirical evidence which supports the Weber thesis and justifies further detailed studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-739
JournalBusiness History
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013


  • Protestant Work Ethic
  • calling
  • predestination
  • family business

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