Corporate Social Responsibility under Construction : Ideas, Translations, and Institutional Change

University dissertation from Uppsala : Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Abstract: Although ideas about the social responsibility of business have a long history, the debate over corporate social responsibility (CSR) has escalated worldwide during the past decade under the label of CSR. This thesis contributes to new-institutional organizational approaches by exploring how and why CSR has been constructed into a widespread idea and by introducing a discussion on the interrelationship between ideas and institutional change. Using interviews, documents, and participant observation, the thesis explores actors and activities that contributed to the formation and circulation of CSR. In particular, the study examines actor groups mobilizing CSR, the expansion and presentation of CSR in the media, the development of CSR consulting, and CSR conferences.The findings demonstrate that CSR was translated in field-wide processes involving multisectoral actor groups. CSR was collectively mobilized in interplay and contestations among actor groups that translated it in accordance with their disparate interests. In this way ambiguous forms and meanings for CSR were created, resulting in non-clarification over time. The findings suggest that translation processes are set in motion through contestations that draw attention to an idea.It appears from these results that CSR developed from criticism advanced by various actor groups in the corporate environment into a management idea developed by corporations. The idea embodied new assumptions about the scope of corporate responsibilities that both reinforced and challenged the institutional model of the corporation. The results suggest that management ideas that appear to be short-lived fads may have long-term consequences, partly because they are historically rooted and partly because of their potential to elicit fundamental debates that challenge taken-for-granted assumptions about corporate behavior. The thesis concludes that management ideas should be taken seriously, as they can be part of long-term processes of incremental and consequential change.

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