A Chance at Doing the Right Thing. Discursive Strategies of Dutch Business and the Construction of 'CSR', 1971-2004
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Why could a pro-CSR global environment suddenly arise in the 1990s? Scholars have recently argued that companies took an active lead in spreading ideas and practices associated with ‘corporate social responsibility’, in order to defend their business interests against political threats, or to legitimize neoliberal reforms. However, current research lacks a rigorous contextualized analysis of the arguments with which business actors sought to convince the rest of society of the plausibility of CSR, i.e., of their voluntary socialization. This thesis researches the ideational role of business firms in legitimizing CSR as a means of social regulation in the Netherlands between 1971 and 2004. It approaches arguments found in the publications of Stichting Maatschappij en Onderneming – an inter-firm organization – as contextualized ‘discursive strategies’ which communicated specific ‘story-lines’. This thesis argues that Dutch business contributed significantly to legitimizing CSR in two distinct phases. Business firstly contributed to laying the argumentative foundations for the concept by justifying it as a ‘probational’ measure to give business a ‘chance at doing the right thing’ (1971-1983). After this more argumentative period, business focused on the subjectivation of government officials and business actors in accordance with the social-neoliberal regulatory ‘package’ it had started promoting (1983-2004). To this end, it also aimed at developing useful management concepts to facilitate the voluntary socialization of firms. Tensions between free enterprise and socialization nevertheless persisted in the ‘balancing of interests’ which CSR demanded of business managers.