The Construction of Corporate Irresponsibility : A constitutive perspective on communication in media narratives

Abstract: Stories in which corporations are revealed as irresponsible are frequently published and broadcast in journalistic media. These media stories, as well as stories from other stakeholders, contribute to the formation of counter-narratives that consequently stand against corporate narratives with a focus on responsibility. Since corporate irresponsibility is a value judgment attributed by others, narratives about corporations in the media can have particular importance for meaning construction. The aim of this study is accordingly to explain how corporate irresponsibility is constituted in these narratives, by focusing on how corporate irresponsibility is constructed in media stories. The study takes its theoretical departure in the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) perspective and consequently sees communication as the primary constituent of corporate irresponsibility. A narrative approach is also added by highlighting narratives as a particularly powerful form of communication. The empirical starting point for the study is two long-running media stories that are analyzed qualitatively based on material gathered both from print and broadcast media and from interviews. The findings show that the construction of corporate irresponsibility in media stories can take different forms, in this study represented by chronic irresponsibility narratives and acute irresponsibility narratives. By understanding how these two types of narratives differ from each other, it is recognized that meaning construction is not a given and can take various forms depending on the underlying negligence or irresponsibility issues. The study shows that it is in the meetings of the narratives in particular that opportunities for discussion and dialogue arises. It is consequently suggested that it is when narratives collide that communicative events, in which the meaning of corporate irresponsibility is negotiated and re-negotiated, most likely appear. This study therefore concludes that when arguing that communication is the primary mode through which the organization is constituted, narratives told about the corporations, by media and other stakeholders, should also be included in the analysis. The study thus contributes to the CCO perspective by applying the ideas of constitutive communication to narratives told neither inside nor outside the organization. Based on the results of the study, it is argued that the formation of narratives has consequences for understandings about corporate irresponsibility, both for the corporation in the media limelight and for society in general. 

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