The Moral Relationality of Professionalism Discourses: The Case of Corporate Social Responsibility Practitioners in South Korea

Hyemi Shin, Charles Cho, Marion Brivot, Jean-Pascal Gond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


Building a coherent discourse on professionalism is a challenge for corporate social responsibility (CSR) practitioners, as there is not yet an established knowledge basis for CSR, and CSR is a contested notion that covers a wide variety of issues and moral foundations. Relying on insights from the literature on micro-CSR, new professionalism, and Boltanski and Thévenot’s (1991/2006) economies of worth framework, we examine the discourses of 56 CSR practitioners in South Korea on their claimed professionalism. Our analysis delineates four distinct discourses of CSR professionalism—strategic corporate giving, social innovation, risk management, and sustainability transition—that are derived from a plurality of more or less compatible moral foundations whose partial overlaps and tensions we document in a systematic manner. Our results portray these practitioners as compromise makers who selectively combine morally distant justifications to build their own specific professionalism discourse, with the aim to advance CSR within and across organizations. By uncovering the moral relationality connecting these discourses, our findings show that moral pluralism is a double-edged sword that can not only bolster the justification of CSR professionalism but also threaten collective professionalism at the field level. Overall, our study suggests paying more attention to the moral relationality and tensions that underlie professional fields.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)886-923
Number of pages38
JournalBusiness and Society
Issue number4
Early online date2 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (


Hyemi Shin acknowledges the financial support provided by the ESSEC Business School PhD program. Charles Cho also acknowledges the financial support provided by the ESSEC Research Centre (CERESSEC), the Erivan K. Haub Chair in Business & Sustainability at the Schulich School of Business, and the Global Research Network program through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A2A2912421).


  • micro-CSR
  • issue professionalism
  • moral justification
  • CSR practitioner
  • South Korea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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