Sustainability discourse and capitalist variety: A comparative institutional analysis

Klaus Weber, Sara B. Soderstrom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is closely tied to the rise of the public corporation as a central institution of Western capitalism. CSR promises to ameliorate the potential negative social impact of the pursuit of profit by appealing to norms of stewardship, responsibility, and charity (see, e.g., Freeman and Liedtka 1991; Jacoby 1998). The idea of CSR evolved in the specific historical context of twentieth century North American market liberalism and, in the postwar period, became increasingly defined in relation to the rising legal doctrine and normative discourse of shareholder primacy. CSR retains the voluntaristic and contractarian premises of liberal market capitalism in that it proposes moral and normative rather than regulatory checks on corporate behavior. Notwithstanding its idiosyncratic origins, the idea of CSR has, since the 1980s, become part of an international discourse on the role of corporations in society that is promoted by global elites and other agents of world society, such as multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), intergovernmental organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations, and civil society and social movement groups (Smith 2001; Lim and Tsutsui 2012; Zhang and Luo 2013). An important contemporary motivator and justification for corporate CSR efforts is the concept of sustainability that was theorized in the international development community. Sustainability justifies CSR in terms of self-interest rather than on strictly normative-moral grounds. Proponents of sustainability argue that contributing to social well-being and environmental preservation is necessary for the long-term realization of economic goals (Brundtl and and World Commission on Environment and Development 1987; United Nations Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Global Sustainability 2012). Sustainability as an ideological underpinning for CSR practices therefore goes beyond the moral discourse of traditional CSR to provide a theorization for CSR that draws on scientific and instrumentally rational forms of authority (Meyer, Boli, Thomas, and Ramirez 1997).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCorporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9781316162354
ISBN (Print)9781107098596
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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