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Economic rationality, embeddedness and community: A critical study of corporate social responsibility among small to medium sized enterprises

Brooks, Simon 2008. Economic rationality, embeddedness and community: A critical study of corporate social responsibility among small to medium sized enterprises. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.

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The research question addressed by this thesis is whether corporate social responsibility is constructed and practiced as an economically rational phenomenon by small to medium sized enterprises. Corporate social responsibility is a deeply contested concept, with ongoing debates over its legitimacy that in turn inform a literature preoccupied by definitional problems and characterized by the search for a link between responsible practice and firm performance. My thesis critiques this approach to CSR and takes an approach more suitable for small to medium sized enterprises. It also seeks to address calls for more critical thought in the fields of business ethics and the sociology of economic behaviour. The qualitative evidence presented here shows that, in contrast to the dominant picture from the literature (dominated by large firm studies), small to medium sized enterprises rarely construct or justify their social responsibility in rational economic terms. Indeed, in many cases their social engagement is not described in terms of corporate social responsibility at all and seems to be legitimized more by the firm's relationship with community. This invites reflections on Karl Polanyi, and cautiously suggests Alastair Maclntyre's pessimism about a 'society of strangers' may be premature. In this study, corporate social responsibility spring from personal contacts and preferences among staff and managers, and could best be described as 'emergent'. Furthermore, I also found that some practitioners questioned the very efficacy of using societal engagement as a managerial intervention in the first place. The raises the question of whether the predominant CSR discourse is making a fundamental mistake in proposing that corporate social responsibility could be an instrumental tool of management at all. This may be uncomfortable news for those in the academy engaged in the search for the elusive link between corporate social responsibility and firm performance since around 1972. I argue that the focus on the 'performance link' has allowed rational economic thought to colonize the academic discourse and has foreclosed debates based on morality as a result. I also argue that my study shows how, in the main, social engagement is legitimized through relations with community rather than with reference to economic performance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
ISBN: 9781303196874
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2018 21:59

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