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Instrumental and/or Deliberative? A Typology of CSR Communication Tools

Abstract

Addressing the critique that communication activities with regard to CSR are often merely instrumental marketing or public relation tools, this paper develops a toolbox of CSR communication that takes into account a deliberative notion. We derive this toolbox classification from the political approach of CSR that is based on Habermasian discourse ethics and show that it has a communicative core. Therefore, we embed CSR communication within political CSR theory and extend it by Habermasian communication theory, particularly the four validity claims of communication. Given this communicative basis, we localize CSR communication as a main means to receive moral legitimacy within political CSR theory. A typology of CSR communication tools is advanced and substantiated by a review of case studies supporting the categories. Thus, we differentiate between instrumental and deliberative, as well as published and unpublished tools. Practical examples for the literature-derived tool categories are provided and their limitations are discussed.

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  1. 1.

    We searched for case studies of CSR that deal with its communication using the terms “CSR” and “case study” in the following journals: Business Ethics Quarterly, Business Ethics: A European Review, Journal of Business Ethics, Long Range Planning, Journal of Management Studies, California Management Review, Strategic Management Journal, Sloan Management Review, Organization, Organization Science, Organization Studies, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Perspectives, Academy of Management Review, Harvard Business Review, Business & Society, Business & Society Review, Management Communication Quarterly, Business Communication Quarterly, Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Additionally, we consulted the Business Source Premier, EconLit, and Communication & Mass Media Complete databases with the same search terms in order to identify other relevant case studies of CSR and communication. We did not limit the search by time. After a closer examination of the relevant articles by the authors, we identified 14 relevant case studies that we included in every section of the typology chapters.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Guido Palazzo for helpful comments and suggestions for developing the theoretical framework. The research for this paper was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (FSNF), grant no. 150296.

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Seele, P., Lock, I. Instrumental and/or Deliberative? A Typology of CSR Communication Tools. J Bus Ethics 131, 401–414 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2282-9

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Keywords

  • CSR communication
  • Communicative action
  • Credibility
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Habermas
  • Legitimacy