A Sensemaking Approach of Corporate Social Responsibility

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KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT LEUVEN

Research Proposal: A sensemaking approach of Corporate Social Responsibility

Sophie van Eupen, PhD student Advisor: Prof. Dr. Maddy Janssens

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Research gap & research question.............................................................................. 3 Literature on CSR: previous focus ............................................................................. 5 Literature on CSR: a sensemaking approach .............................................................. 7 Research Design ...................................................................................................... 11 References ............................................................................................................... 16

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Research gap & research question
The relationship between business and society has always been a much discussed topic. Since the mid-1950s scholars have been examining and analyzing concepts and theories concerning the responsibilities of business in society. To these social responsibilities of business we generally refer as corporate social responsibility (CSR) (Secchi, 2007). Besides the abundance of literature on the topic however, there have been formulated strong critiques on the concept of CSR. The concept of CSR is by many scholars regarded as tortured or even worse, as a concept that has failed (Godfrey & Hatch, 2007; Nijhof & Jeurissen, 2006; Rowley & Berman, 2000) . After decades of literature on CSR there still is no consensus emerging on a definition of CSR. In the literature we found several reasons for this phenomenon. A first reason is the ongoing injection of new concepts caused chaos and overlap, without improving the clarity of the concept itself (Godfrey & Hatch, 2007; Kakabadse, Kakabadse & Rozuel, 2007; Rowley & Berman, 2000). A second reason is the industry and context specificity of CSR strategies, which makes the operationalization of the concept rather difficult (Rowley & Berman, 2000). Thirdly, many scholars critiqued this ‘rational’ approach of CSR, which leads to the typical CSR rankings for example (Nijhof & Jeurissen, 2006). That this approach of CSR doesn’t always work, was proved by business cases as Enron and Ahold, which were both considered as best practices because of high CSR ranking (Nijhof & Jeurissen, 2006). A too linear approach of the concept of CSR may end up in handful categorization, but it gives us no insights into the underlying reality of how people make sense of CSR within the organization. It seems we have to take this uniqueness of CSR strategies more into account (Basu & Palazzo, 2008; Rowley & Berman, 2000; Smith, 2003). Smith (2003) emphasizes also the importance of this uniqueness:

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“Clearly, a firm’ s social responsibility strategy, if genuinely and carefully conceived, should be unique, despite the sameness of the growing number of corporate reports on CSR. As well as a fit with industry characteristics, it should reflect the individual company’ s mission and values and thus be different from the CSR strategy of even its closest competitors”. Therefore we will focus on CSR from a rather new perspective. By taking a sensemaking approach we can increase our understanding of how CSR strategies are influenced by the context specific sensemaking processes of an organization. By looking at the underlying sensemaking processes and investigating how people think, speak and tend to behave regarding CSR, we then can explore the unique nature of CSR within an organization (Basu & Palazzo, 2008). We will combine the sensemaking theory of Weick (1995) and other scholars (Mills & Wheaterbee, 2006; Mills, Wheaterbee & Colwell, 2006; Basu & Palazzo, 2008) and the discussed literature on CSR into qualitative case study research. Using a qualitative approach enables us to take the industry and context specific elements into account, and respect the uniqueness of CSR.

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Literature on CSR: previous...
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