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Doctoral Dissertation_Alan Brejnholt_Navigating Plurality_the State and Corporate Social Responsibilities.pdf (2.37 MB)

Navigating plurality: the state and corporate social responsibilities

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posted on 2023-05-24, 08:40 authored by Alan BrejnholtAlan Brejnholt

Typically, the understanding of corporate social responsibilities is limited to the conceptualised abbreviation of CSR (corporate social responsibility) confined to a private sector phenomenon and scarcely related to the public sphere. This so-called dichotomised perspective of CSR, often complemented by value creation presumed (pursued) for private ends, has arguably contributed to fuelling polarised perceptions: one that represents an optimistic pro-business angle proclaiming CSR to add shared value superior to public provision by the state; another representing the critical angle denouncing CSR as a means to distract from concurrent irresponsibilities and at best to offset negative externalities. 

What is common for either of these positions is the tendency to reduce CSR to a business-centric activity disregarding corporate social responsibilities as a multidisciplinary and systems-level phenomenon. This, I argue, risks marginalising a multi-faceted perspective of corporate social responsibilities consisting of a plurality of logics related to cross-sectoral configurations further embedded in different forms of political economies. It may manifest in the more optimistic positionality to aggravate the increasingly compulsive self-indulged corporate obsession with signalling coupling of a subset of narrowly selected CSR promises and practices. Conversely, the critical positionality, counterintuitively, seems to inspire a self-fulfilling prophecy for corporate disengagement in CSR due to its susceptibility of corporate mistrust. 

In this dissertation, I seek to break away from the dichotomous view and examine a more multi-faceted, yet blurry, boundary of CSR that connects public and private spheres, giving meaning to the role of the firm and its corresponding corporate social responsibilities. In the course of three chapters I give attention to this research domain by focusing on the state and its interaction with CSR. I further argue that CSR in its conceptualisation holds particular state-business relations that may or may not be congruent with different political economies where the state holds a more persistent role in the private sphere. Thus, the first chapter takes a comparative perspective theorising on the state and CSR. In the second chapter, through an empirical study, I apply the conceptualisations of the state and CSR from chapter one by drawing on the context of Brazil and what may be referred to as a state-led economy. In third chapter, I empirically examine the implications of the second chapter and its interaction with the transnational level. 

Based on the empirical evidence through thematic qualitative data analysis of 34 semi-structured interviews and two field trips the dissertation largely contributes to the theoretical fields of different government regimes, type of state and its presence in CSR, institutional configurations and corresponding social and environmental outcomes. The unit of analysis is predominantly Brazilian multinational companies nested in close state-business relations often carrying public responsibilities and challenging conventional conceptions of the dichotomous view of CSR. Whilst chapter two is mostly concerned with the national-state, the third chapter is mostly concerned with the conjunction of how transnational CSR policies interact with the broader (permeated) role of the state; the latter being contingent on different public and private actors and institutions related to the national-state apparatus, including fluctuating government regimes, as I argue in the second chapter; the former being contingent on the incongruences of logics between multi-sectoral political trajectories in the state-led economy with what I refer to as ‘universal’ CSR, often business-centric, as I argue in the third chapter. 

Ultimately, what stands out for the outcome of CSR, at least in the state-led economy, is an interdependency on a permeated state role in corporate conduct beyond central government. This sustains a form of local accountability despite a business-centric CSR transition stemming from ‘universal’ pressures, as well as withstanding domestic politicisation. From a managerial perspective this underscores the importance of appreciating comparative institutional configurations of CSR and the role of the state. From a policy perspective, I assert, the role of the national-state remains a pivotal mediator for the implementation of transnational governance principles for corporate best practice - not limited to a regulatory agent, intermediation or through direct intervention, but by a combination of dynamic directive and facilitative state orchestration.


Loughborough University



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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University. This is a Ph.D. by publication.


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Jukka Rintamaki ; Gerhard Schnyder

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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