In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Corporate Social Responsibility and Communication

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Approaches toward CSR
  • CSR in Context: The Contested Nature of CSR
  • CSR and Consumer Perspectives
  • Critiques of CSR

Communication Corporate Social Responsibility and Communication
Urša Golob, Klement Podnar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0178


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a relatively new area of academic research firmly established in the early 1990s, although the idea behind CSR can be traced even as far back as the late 19th century. At first, skeptics among scholars and professionals tended to dismiss the idea of CSR as a mere fad. Even recently, several critical perspectives can be found in the literature. However, due to the changes in the globalized world that have been reflected in changing social values and rising stakeholder expectations, CSR has become an idea that has gained overall recognition and value. This is reflected by the fact that CSR (and its complementary variations such as corporate performance, citizenship, and sustainability) has been widely recognized and promoted by such institutions as the European Commission, the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and others. CSR represents a stream of thought, activities, and research related to the notion that companies play a significant role in society. CSR, as an umbrella term, thus concerns itself with the relationships between businesses and society in general and different stakeholders in particular. The basic notion that guides CSR and is most often expressed in the literature can be explained using the analogy of the famous line by the English poet John Donne “no man is an island,” which reflects the idea that no organization can operate in isolation from or in opposition to the society. In their research, scholars, coming from such different academic fields as business, management, sociology, political science, and communication, are studying CSR from various perspectives and traditions, and they use a plethora of theories and approaches aimed at explaining the notion of CSR. Thus, there is neither a common definition nor a set of core principles for CSR. Increasingly, scholars are arguing that CSR is a concept that is highly contextual and dependent on the institutional environment, which also affects how it is practiced and implemented in practice. One of the most important groups of stakeholders concerned with CSR are, according to various research studies, consumers, who tend to express their expectations about CSR through their purchasing behavior and activism. To find ways to engage them (and other stakeholders too), practice and academia are more and more interested in communication aspects related to CSR.

Core Texts

The multitude of issues, aspects, and approaches to studying the extensive CSR field is exhibited in the selected core texts. A useful start to studying CSR is the CSR encyclopedia Visser, et al. 2007, which offers a comprehensive reference to CSR. A good source to deepen CSR understanding is Rasche, et al. 2017. This textbook is an eclectic mix of approaches to CSR from a global perspective addressing critical issues of CSR and identifying the opportunities it creates. Another valuable general overview is presented in the textbook Crane, et al. 2014, which represents an interesting approach of introducing readers to the core of CSR by thinking through selected readings of some of the most prominent authors in the field. Comparable to Blowfield and Murray 2014, which provides a strong managerial touch to studying CSR, Werther and Chandler 2014 focuses on the strategic perspective, as the title of the book indicates. It combines theoretical reasoning about how and why CSR should become an integral part of organizational strategic thinking and how to best implement it in practice. The authors of Crane, et al. 2008 wanted to broaden the perspective on CSR beyond a business and managerial one. Their volume indicates that CSR is in fact a concept co-shaped by different discourses that are emerging outside and beyond the business sphere. The handbook Idowu, et al. 2015 discusses different perspectives and practices of CSR through examining the varieties of CSR across Europe, indicating the importance of institutional contexts in which CSR is developing. May, et al. 2007 is a collection of contributions approaching CSR in multidisciplinary ways. A notable part of this collection is dedicated to the emerging critical perspectives that emphasize the constitutive role of talk in CSR. The comprehensive handbook Ihlen, et al. 2011, which covers a variety of communication approaches to studying CSR, could be understood as a further indication of how essential communication is for CSR, not just in terms of communicating about CSR but also in terms of constructing and construing the meaning of CSR. For readers who want to familiarize themselves with the challenges and opportunities for communicating CSR in the digital era, the handbook Lindgreen, et al. 2018 is the source to examine.

  • Blowfield, Michael, and Matthew Alan Murray. 2014. Corporate responsibility: A critical introduction. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The second edition of this textbook offers a historical and interdisciplinary overview of the CSR field. This edition also extensively covers CSR in developing countries, and small and medium-size companies. The authors provide comprehensive coverage of the field, examining it from an interdisciplinary and critical perspective, adding a practical managerial touch. Additional materials for lecturers and students are provided together with the textbook.

  • Crane, Andrew, Dirk Matten, and Laura J. Spence, eds. 2014. Corporate social responsibility: Readings and cases in a global context. 2d ed. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge.

    The editors of this textbook put together twenty readings on different aspects of CSR written by reputable scholars. The book gives the readers a comprehensive insight into several important topics related to CSR. Each chapter begins with editors’ very compendious introductions to the readings. In this second edition the editors also wrote three interesting cases, which can help readers to see how the theory in the book turns into practice.

  • Crane, Andrew, Abagail McWilliams, Dirk Matten, Jeremy Moon, and Donald S. Siegel, eds. 2008. The Oxford handbook of corporate social responsibility. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This handbook explores the changing relationship between businesses, society, governments, and natural environment. It focuses on such broad issues as social and ethical dimensions of management, corporate governance, changing values and political systems, globalization’s impact, as well as stakeholder roles and activism, and discusses how companies can embrace and respond to these new imperatives. The book also includes critiques and future outlook for CSR.

  • Idowu, Samuel O., René Schmidpeter, and Matthias S. Fifka. 2015. Corporate social responsibility in Europe: United in sustainable diversity. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-13566-3

    The newest in a series of books that contains a collection of different perspectives on CSR across Europe. A rich overview of the understanding and progress on CSR in different European countries also shows a European contribution to developments of the CSR field as we know it today, both in theory and practice.

  • Ihlen, Øyvind, Jennifer Bartlett, and Steve May. 2011. The handbook of communication and corporate social responsibility. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118083246

    One of the handbooks that addresses the “communication-related niche” in the CSR literature and the most comprehensive book on CSR communication to date. It represents a rich research collection of various multidisciplinary contributions on how different aspects of CSR communication can contribute to better understanding and better management of CSR-related issues in organizations.

  • Lindgreen, Adam, Jöelle Vanhamme, François Maon, and Rebecca Mardon, eds. 2018. Communicating corporate social responsibility in the digital era. London and New York: Routledge.

    This research anthology offers a pioneering and comprehensive thinking on two influential forces of our time: digitalization and corporate social responsibility. It mostly draws on marketing, management, and communication disciplines, and examines the role of digital platforms in communicating CSR from various perspectives, including the challenges and opportunities for communicating CSR via digital platforms, inclusiveness and effectiveness of communicating CSR in the digital environments, and digital activism.

  • May, Steve Kent, George Cheney, and Juliet Patricia Roper, eds. 2007. The debate over corporate social responsibility. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    One of the first handbooks that offered a broad and comprehensive overview of the practical and theoretical approaches to CSR. The handbook includes perspectives from various disciplines and different examples of practices from all over the world. The book has two strong contributions: one is the overview of the past discussions and definitions of CSR, and the other is exploring how CSR can also be constructed through communication.

  • Rasche, Andreas, Mette Morsing, and Jeremy Moon, eds. 2017. Corporate social responsibility: Strategy, communication, governance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This textbook provides a fresh approach to CSR in a global context, combining themes such as governance, strategy, and communication and including several relevant CSR-related issues such as human rights, labor rights, and sustainability. Featuring some of the most visible authors from this field, the book guides readers fluently through various themes supported with case studies, questions, and reflection chapters.

  • Visser, Wayne, Dirk Matten, Manfred Pohl, and Nick Tolhurst, eds. 2007. The A to Z of corporate social responsibility: A complete reference guide to concepts, codes and organisations. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

    This collection of short texts provides definitions of CSR concepts written by various experts in the field both from academia and practice. It also includes a glossary of abbreviations and codes, standards, and legislation.

  • Werther, William B., and David Chandler. 2014. Strategic corporate social responsibility stakeholders in a global environment. 3d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    The textbook is a very comprehensive guide on CSR and strategy. After introducing an overview of the core concepts and practical challenges, it walks readers through several strategy-related issues and cases on CSR. This is one of the textbooks that offers a clear and valuable perspective on how CSR could be embedded into the strategic thinking in organizations.

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