A sociological approach to the problem of competing CSR agendas

Jill Timms

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


CSR as both a concept and a practice is of immense interest to the social sciences, being situated within the realms of the business-society relationship. Questions of how commercial and societal interests interact, and the consequences, have been a focus of sociology since the formation of the discipline. CSR can be seen as a recent move within this dynamic relationship, with the ‘social’ element of CSR stubbornly remaining fundamental to its character. To date though, sociological contributions to understanding CSR and its potential have been limited. This is changing, however the potential contribution of the social sciences is vast given the theoretical, methodological and empirical insights to be drawn on. This chapter focuses on the contribution sociology can offer and does so mainly by addressing a key concern associated with CSR, that of competing agendas. These arise from the diverse claims made about what CSR does or should aim to do, and result in conflict that draws energy away from and creates barriers to sustainable change. How can a sociological approach help to understand this contested nature of CSR, and improve the possibility of a CSR that unifies rather than divides? Drawing on sociological research into the mobilisation of CSR by groups engaged with the responsibilities of business, four categories of competing agendas are offered: professional, political, activist and corporate. From this, CSR is seen as a battleground and the terrain of the struggle is made more visible. A sociological perspective identifies rival pressures and power relations within these competing agendas and makes concrete the challenges that must be addressed in order to develop a dominant approach to CSR that all can positively engage in for the betterment of society. Sociological analysis of how CSR activity is extending globally into ever more spheres of activity, including policy and development arenas, also demonstrates how vital it is for competing agendas to be unpacked and conflicts addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCorporate Social Responsibility: Academic Insights and Impacts
EditorsS. Vertigans, S. O. Idowu
Place of PublicationHeidelberg
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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