Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 115, Issue 4, pp 665–679 | Cite as

Dialogism in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications: Conceptualising Verbal Interaction Between Organisations and Their Audiences

  • Niamh M. Brennan
  • Doris M. Merkl-Davies
  • Annika Beelitz
Article

Abstract

We conceptualise CSR communication as a process of reciprocal influence between organisations and their audiences. We use an illustrative case study in the form of a conflict between firms and a powerful stakeholder which is played out in a series of 20 press releases over a 2-month period to develop a framework of analysis based on insights from linguistics. It focuses on three aspects of dialogism, namely (i) turn-taking (co-operating in a conversation by responding to the other party), (ii) inter-party moves (the nature and type of interaction characterising a turn, i.e. denial, apology or excuse) and (iii) intertextuality (the intensity and quality of verbal interaction between the parties). We address the question: What is the nature and type of verbal interactions between the parties? First we examine (a) whether the parties verbally interact and then (b) whether the parties listen to each other. We find evidence of dialogism suggesting that CSR communication is an interactive process which has to be understood as a function of the power relations between a firm and a specific stakeholder. Also, we find evidence of intertextuality in press releases by six firms which engage in verbal interaction with the stakeholder. We interpret this as linguistic evidence of isomorphic processes relating to CSR practices resulting from the pressure exerted by a powerful stakeholder. The lack of response by ten firms that fail to issue press releases suggests a strategy of ‘watch-and-wait’ with respect to the outcome of the conflict.

Keywords

Dialogism Interaction Intertextuality CSR communication 

References

  1. Allen, M. W., & Caillouet, R. H. (1994). Legitimation endeavors: Impression management strategies used by an organisation in crisis. Communication Monographs, 61, 44–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashforth, B., & Gibbs, B. (1990). The double-edged sword of organisational legitimation. Organisation Science, 1(2), 177–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bakhtin, M. M. (1973). Problems of Dostoevsky’s’ poetics (R.W. Rotsel, Trans.). Ann Arbor: Ardis.Google Scholar
  4. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). Discourse in the novel, (M. Holquist & C. Emerson, Trans.). In M. Holquist (Ed.), The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin (pp. 259–422). Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bazerman, C. (2004). Intertextuality: How texts rely on other texts. In C. Bazerman & P. Prior (Eds.), What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices (pp. 83–96). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  6. Bebbington, J., Brown, J., Frame, B., & Thomson, I. (2007). Theorizing engagement: The potential of a critical dialogic approach. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 20(3), 356–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beelitz, A., & Merkl-Davies, D. M. (2012). Using discourse to restore organisational legitimacy: “CEO-speak” after an incident in a German nuclear power plant. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(1), 101–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communications. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Benoit, W. L., & Czerwinski, A. (1997). A critical analysis of USAir’s image repair discourse. Business Communication Quarterly, 60(3), 38–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brennan, N. M., & Merkl-Davies, D. M. (2013). Rhetoric and argument in social and environmental reporting: The Dirty Laundry case. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2296793.
  11. Burchell, J., & Cook, J. (2006). Confronting the “corporate citizen”: Shaping the discourse of corporate social responsibility. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 26(3/4), 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell, J. L. (2007). Why would corporations behave in socially responsible ways? An institutional theory of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 67–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carter, S. M. (2006). The interaction of top management group, stakeholder, and situational factors on certain corporate reputation management activities. Journal of Management Studies, 43(5), 1145–1176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Castelló, I., & Lozano, J. M. (2011). Searching for new forms of legitimacy through corporate responsibility rhetoric. Journal of Business Ethics, 100(1), 11–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coombs, T. W. (1995). Choosing the right words: The development of guidelines for the selection of the “appropriate” crisis-response strategies. Management Communication Quarterly, 8, 447–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooper, A. D. (2009). Two-way communication: A win–win model for facing activist pressure: A case study on McDonalds and Unilever’s responses to Greenpeace. Ball State University Indiana: Master of Arts in Public Relations dissertation.Google Scholar
  17. Creed, W. E. D., Scully, M. A., & Austin, J. R. (2002). Clothes make the person? The tailoring of legitimating accounts and the social construction of identity. Organization Science, 13(5), 475–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis, K. (1973). The case for and against business assumptions of social responsibilities. Academy of Management Journal, 16(2), 312–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Tienne, K. B., & Lewis, L. W. (2005). The pragmatic and ethical barriers to corporate social responsibility disclosure: The Nike case. Journal of Business Ethics, 60(4), 359–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Deegan, C., & Blomquist, C. (2006). Stakeholder influence on corporate reporting an exploration of the interaction between WW-F Australia. Accounting, Organisations and Society, 31(4/5), 343–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dionisopoulos, G. N., & Vibbert, S. L. (1988). CBS vs. Mobil Oil: Charges of creative bookkeeping in 1979. In H. R. Ryan (Ed.), Oratorical encounters: Selected studies and sources of twentieth-century political accusation and apologies (pp. 241–252). Westport, CT: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  22. Driscoll, C., & Crombie, A. (2001). Stakeholder legitimacy management and the qualified good neighbour. Business & Society, 40(4), 442–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dunfee, T. W. (2008). Stakeholder theory: Managing corporate social responsibility in a multiple actor context. In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. S. Siegel (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (pp. 346–362). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Elsbach, K. D. (2001). The architecture of legitimacy: Constructing accounts of organisational controversies. In J. T. Jost & B. Major (Eds.), The Psychology of Legitimacy (pp. 391–415). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Fairclough, N. L. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  26. Fassin, Y. (2009). Inconsistencies in activists’ behaviours and the ethics of NGOs. Journal of Business Ethics, 90(4), 503–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Foster, D., & Jonker, J. (2005). Stakeholder relationships the dialogue of engagement. Corporate Governance, 5(5), 51–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Garriga, E., & Melé, D. (2004). Corporate social responsibility theories: Mapping the territory. Journal of Business Ethics, 53(1/2), 51–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ginzel, L. E., Kramer, R. M., & Sutton, R. I. (2004). Organisational impression management as a reciprocal influence process: The neglected role of the organisational audience. In M. J. Hatch & M. Schultz (Eds.), Organisational Identity (pp. 223–261). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Gioia, D. A., Schultz, M., & Corley, K. G. (2000). Organisational identity, image, and adaptive instability. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 63–81.Google Scholar
  31. Gray, R. H., Owen, D. L., & Maunders, K. T. (1987). Corporate Social Reporting: Accounting & Accountability. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  32. Hearit, K. M. (1994). Apologies and public relations crises at Chrysler, Toshiba, and Volvo. Public Relations Review, 20(2), 113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hooghiemstra, R. (2000). Corporate communication and impression management—New perspectives why companies engage in corporate social reporting. Journal of Business Ethics, 27(1), 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Humphreys, M., & Brown, A. D. (2008). An analysis of corporate social responsibility at Credit Line: A narrative approach. Journal of Business Ethics, 80(3), 403–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jacobs, G. (1999). Self-reference in press releases. Journal of Pragmatics, 31(2), 219–242.Google Scholar
  36. Johansen, T. S., & Neilsen, A. E. (2011). Strategic stakeholder dialogues: A discursive perspective on relationship building. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 16(3), 204–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Joutsenvirta, M. (2011). Setting boundaries for corporate social responsibility: Firm-NGO relationship as a discursive legitimation struggle. Journal of Business Ethics, 102(1), 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kuhn, T., & Deetz, S. (2008). Critical theory and corporate social responsibility: Can/should we get beyond cynical reasoning? In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. S. Siegel (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (pp. 173–196). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Lee, M., & Kohler, J. (2010). Benchmarking and transparency: Incentives for the pharmaceutical industry’s corporate social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 95(4), 641–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lindblom, C. K. (2010). The implications of organizational legitimacy for corporate social performance and disclosure. In R. Gray, J. Bebbington, & S. Gray (Eds.), Social and environmental accounting (pp. 51–64). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Lotila, P. (2010). Corporate responsiveness to social pressure: An interaction-based model. Journal of Business Ethics, 94(3), 395–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Melé, D. (2008). Corporate social responsibility theories. In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. S. Siegel (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (pp. 47–82). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Milliken, F. J., & Wolfe Morrison, E. (2003). Shades of silence: Emerging themes and future directions for research on silence in organisations. Journal of Management Studies, 40(6), 1563–1568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Millington, A. (2008). Responsibility in the supply chain. In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. S. Siegel (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (pp. 363–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. O’Riordan, L., & Fairbrass, J. (2008). Corporate social responsibility (CSR) models and theories in stakeholder dialogue. Journal of Business Ethics, 80(4), 745–758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schultz, F., & Wehmeier, S. (2010). Institutionalisation of corporate social responsibility within corporate communications: Combining institutional, sensemaking and communication perspectives. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 15(1), 9–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shannon, C. E., & Weaver, W. (1949). A Mathematical Model of Communication. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  48. Slembrouck, S. (2011). Intertextuality. In J. Zienkowski, J. O. Östman, & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Discursive Pragmatics (pp. 156–175). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  49. Sleurs, K., & Jacobs, G. (2005). Beyond preformulation: An ethnographic perspective on press releases. Journal of Pragmatics, 37(8), 1251–1273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Titscher, S., Meyer, M., Wodak, R., & Vetter, E. (2000). Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  51. Tsoukas, H. (1999). David and Goliath in the risk society. Organization, 6(3), 499–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Van Dijk, T. A. (1984). Dialogue and cognition. In L. Vaina & J. Hintikka (Eds.), Cognitive Constraints on Communication (pp. 1–17). Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Van Dijk, T. A. (2007). Discourse, context and cognition. Discourse Studies, 8(1), 159–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ware, B. L., & Linkugel, W. A. (1973). They spoke in defense of themselves: On the generic criticism of apologia. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 59, 273–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wood, D. J. (1991). Corporate social performance revisited. Academy of Management Review, 16(4), 691–718.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niamh M. Brennan
    • 1
  • Doris M. Merkl-Davies
    • 2
  • Annika Beelitz
    • 2
  1. 1.Quinn School of BusinessUniversity CollegeDublinIreland
  2. 2.Bangor Business SchoolBangor UniversityBangorUK

Personalised recommendations