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Discourse and power in the institutionalisation of corporate social responsibility (CSR): A comparative perspective
Stockholms universitet, Sociologiska institutionen.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7094-7297
(English)Article in journal (Other academic) Submitted
Abstract [en]

This article examines how companies use discourse in corporate social responsibility (CSR) self-reporting to construct their engagement in social issues. Discourse is examined through the lens of ‘interpretative repertoires’ used in the reporting, which appear as recurrent habitual sets of explanations that are constitutive of CSR’s meanings. Using an innovative perspective that combines discursive institutionalism with Foucault’s notions of knowledge, power and discourse, the article examines how interpretative repertoires are used in self-reporting and how this has social consequences. The contribution to CSR research is both theoretical and empirical. Beginning with the assumption that context is an important aspect of how discourse is constructed, the empirical material includes company self-reporting from two emerging economy contexts (South Africa and Mauritius) and two advanced welfare states (Sweden and the UK). The analysis reveals the ways in which interpretative repertoires reflect how the versions of CSR are anchored in institutional contexts. How these repertoires are constructed also reveals how companies exercise power by constructing the conditions, and setting the boundaries, for company engagement in social issues.

Keyword [en]
context, corporate social responsibility, discourse analysis, discursive institutionalism, Foucault, interpretative repertoires, power, self-reporting
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-23196OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-23196DiVA: diva2:1061313
Available from: 2016-11-28 Created: 2017-01-02 Last updated: 2017-01-02Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Contextualising Constructions of Corporate Social Responsibility: Social Embeddedness in Discourse and Institutional Contexts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Contextualising Constructions of Corporate Social Responsibility: Social Embeddedness in Discourse and Institutional Contexts
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

‘Corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) and ‘socially responsible investment’ (SRI) have become predominant frameworks connecting business to society that have spread across the globe. They comprise a shared set of ideas and practices, such as those promoted in global reporting standards and by international organisations such as the UN Global Compact. Nonetheless, both are constructed and reproduced by companies in relation to context-specific social institutions, including norms and conventions shaping company engagement in social issues. Using a neo-institutionalist theoretical framework, the thesis examines constructions of social responsibility in discourse and within institutional contexts, across regions that are not often compared in the research terrain: two West European welfare states (Sweden and the UK) and two emerging African economies (South Africa and Mauritius). The purpose of the thesis is to add to the literature on CSR and SRI with a sociologically informed perspective that is comparative and connects institutional theory with social constructionism and a Foucauldian perspective on power. The thesis analyses how perceptions of CSR and SRI are constructed in relation to the social institutions that encase companies’ engagement with social issues, such as national level welfare configurations and the institution of financial investments. The main argument in this thesis is that CSR and SRI need to be seen as contextually constructed, in discourse and practice, in ways that draw the boundaries and set the conditions for company engagement with social issues.

The thesis comprises three articles. Article 1 is a content analysis of company self-reporting on CSR and the article examines how the content given to CSR relates to broader welfare configurations and as such differs in four national settings across the divide between emerging African economies and Western welfare states. Article 2 is a discourse analysis that examines interpretative repertoires occurring in company self-reporting across the same set of four countries. The interpretative repertoires are analysed as discursive practices where power intersects with the production of knowledge on CSR. Article 3 focuses on SRI and examines responsible investing as a form of institutional work that institutional investors engage in. Based on an interview study with institutional investors in Sweden, the article analyses institutional work as a process that has the effect of both institutional creation and maintenance and it connects these institutional processes to the construction of meaning on SRI. In its entirety the thesis contributes a sociological perspective on how prevailing understandings of corporate social responsibility come into being and are reproduced.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2016. 37 p.
, Stockholm Studies in Sociology. New series, ISSN 0491-0885 ; 64
corporate social responsibility; CSR; institutional theory; Foucault; context; embeddedness; institutions; new institutionalism; institutional complementarity; discursive institutionalism; institutional work; responsible investment; SRI; social constructionism; discourse; power; qualitative content analysis; self-reporting; abductive approach; interpretative repertoires
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-23142 (URN)978-91-7649-630-5 (ISBN)978-91-7649-631-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-01-20, William-Olssonsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2017-01-02 Created: 2016-12-22 Last updated: 2017-01-02Bibliographically approved

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