Department of Management

Anne Ellerup Nielsen

Reviewing CSR management and marketing communication research: A discourse approach

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review

To judge from the rapidly growing body of research in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) management and marketing communication, there is an increasing interest in exploring the role of communication along with the transmission from implicit towards explicit CSR in the European context (Matten & Moon 2008). Many corporations today are concerned with gaining legitimacy through integrating the expectations of their stakeholders (employees, customers, NGOs, activists, government institutions, institutions of international governance) in the overall company strategy. This also includes stakeholders in or around business units established in developing countries and emerging markets (e.g. Jamali 2010; Reimann 2012). Along with the growing pressure on corporations to engage in CSR a seemingly growing number of these are concerned with disclosure, reporting, reputation, etc. issues, and act on them through different CSR communication initiatives, channels and technology, e.g. mass media and social media. However, in spite of the growing attention on adopting CSR communication strategies and tactics, there does not seem to be a common understanding and consensus of how and to which extent CSR communication may contribute to influence stakeholders’ perception of corporations’ CSR performance. At best, some studies hold that there is a general recognition of CSR communication as a potential reputation enhancer, but also that if addressed inappropriately, CSR communication cause more damage than glory to a company. Other studies focus on CSR communication as inevitable hypocrisy (Christensen et al. 2011) and as an embedded ‘promotional dilemma’ emerging when stakeholders claim CSR information, while rejecting companies who practice it as overly self-promotion (Coombs & Holladay 2012). Consequently, CSR management and marketing communication research contains understandings that point in different directions, calling for more substantial explorations of the underlying discourse arsenal that CSR researchers and practitioners draw on.
Institutional theory is one way of investigating how companies deal with social change processes such as the insisting concern with CSR communication. According to institutionalists, corporations are social institutions that require institutional legitimacy in order to survive. Within an institutional framework, organizational change is addressed as a product of institutions’ pressure on companies to adopt similar practices in a given societal context (DiMaggio & Powel 1983). Considering CSR communication under the lens of insitutional theory opens for understanding the diversity and dynamics of CSR (Brammer et al. 2012).Moreover, the institutionalizing processes of CSR and related concepts enables us to explore emerging discourses, institutionalized through research and best practices of CSR. Accordingly, we address how the emergence of discourse from CSR as accountancy and transparency invites and legitimizes a new social order in which CSR is addressed as a forum for mutual understanding, recognition, negotiation and co-creation amongst stakeholders.
The aim of this paper is thus to investigate the discourse construction of CSR communication on the basis of how researchers frame corporations’ CSR doings and saying within marketing and management streams of CSR research. The purpose of this investigation is to analyze how the role of communication and interaction is conceptualized in specific social contexts such as managing and marketing corporations through CSR.
Many researchers argue that CSR communication is likely to increase stakeholder engagement, corporate reputation and value creation (e.g. Porter & Kramer 2006; Du et al. 2010). By looking at the rapidly growing body of research in the field of CSR management and marketing communication, the paper focuses on the positions, arguments, conflicts and actors of CSR communication across specific CSR topics and initiatives e.g. disclosure, reporting, reputation, message, channel, etc. This research is evaluated from an organizational and critical discourse analysis (CDA) perspective in which discourse refers to social structures of power-knowledge relations encompassing both linguistic and non-linguistic communication and the social practices in which they are embedded (Heracleous and Hendry 2000; Fairclough 2003). Our motivation for applying this approach is that the study of organizational discourse and CDA allows us to understand the way in which the notion of interaction is constructed and made meaningful for CSR researchers and practitioners and to examine the underlying institutional context of CSR communication to explain this.
The data for study are based on international peer-reviewed articles on CSR management and marketing communication research papers published during the last 10 years and drawn from the EBSCOHost (Business Source Complete) database.
First, the paper reviews the concepts of CSR management and marketing communication issues (disclosure, reporting, reputation, etc.), relating these to CSR communication initiatives, channels and media. Being framed within institutional theory and a discourse perspective, the review answers the call for CSR communication research to probe the role of business in society by investigating relations with various publics, as these are reflected in and constituted by communicative processes. The paper provides a series of reflections on CSR communication issues and on corporation’s CSR communication as social change. The arguments provided are based on a review and an analysis of the CSR communication literature.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventInternational Communication Association preconference "CSR and Communication. Extending the Agenda" in London on 17 June. - Cass Business School, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 Jun 201317 Jun 2013


ConferenceInternational Communication Association preconference "CSR and Communication. Extending the Agenda" in London on 17 June.
LocationCass Business School
CountryUnited Kingdom

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