In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Approaches to Social Responsibility

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals

Management Approaches to Social Responsibility
Kellie C. Liket, Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0037


In its most narrow sense, “social responsibility” (SR) refers to corporations going beyond their legal and economic obligations to better society. However, SR is used as an umbrella term to refer to many (inter)relating concepts such as corporate social responsibility, corporate social performance, corporate citizenship, and sustainability. The SR literature does not compose an autonomous field of theorizing. It relies on various disciplines to supply it with theories and methodologies, such as economics, psychology, sociology, and management. Therefore, it can best be understood as a field of application at the intersection of a variety of social–scientific approaches. The interdisciplinary nature of SR research harbors opportunities for cross-fertilization, but it also comes associated with several forms of “collateral damage,” including a lack of conceptual clarity and insufficient delineation of research paradigms. In the extant SR literature, two broad branches can be identified. First, there is an instrumental branch, which seeks to demonstrate how investments or expenditures on SR can contribute positively to corporate performance or other self-set corporate goals. Second, there is a normative branch, which seeks to identify the extralegal and extra-economic duties and obligations that rest on corporations.


Despite the generally unstructured landscape of academic and practitioner books on the topic of SR, there are a number of useful textbooks addressing the SR of companies. These books typically contain a historicizing account of the SR concept, an overview of the various stakeholder groups associated with corporate or entrepreneurial activity, a categorization of the foundational theories or contributions to the SR concept, and a number of conceptually adjacent applications of SR thought. In one contribution, Vogel 2006 lays out the argument that a market for SR exists, but is incomplete by definition. Carroll and Buchholtz 2012 is one of the few undergraduate-level textbooks on SR, while Crane, et al. 2008 is more suited to graduate students.

  • Carroll, Archie B., and Ann K. Buchholtz. Business and Society: Ethics, Sustainability, and Stakeholder Management. 8th ed. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2012.

    One of the very few undergraduate-level textbooks on SR. The book is somewhat US focused, but its strengths lie in the fact that it offers a non-value-laden approach to SR, is based on a broad reading of the SR literature, and provides a useful synopsis of all available analytical tools and models.

  • Crane, Andrew, Dirk Matten, and Jeremy Moon. Corporations and Citizenship. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511488542

    A useful SR textbook, but best reserved for graduate students. It uses the concept of citizenship, both as a metaphor and as a direct application, to understand the social and political role of corporations in civil society.

  • Vogel, David. The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2006.

    David Vogel argues that there is a “market” for SR, in the sense that corporations are likely to voluntarily engage in SR behaviors in response to stakeholder blowback, but this market is necessarily incomplete. Political solutions are therefore needed to further regulate the social impact of business.

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