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Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 34, Issue 2, Summer 2015

Manfred Max Bergman, Klaus M. Leisinger, Zinette Bergman, Lena Berger
Pages 165-193
DOI: 10.5840/bpej20157728

An Analysis of the Conceptual Landscape of Corporate Responsibility in Academia

Most corporate stakeholders agree that Corporate Responsibility (CR) ought to be part of modern business management and practice. Academic work has been seminal to a fruitful and collaborative relationship between business and society. A closer examination of the contemporary academic narratives on CR, however, reveals a plethora of positions orbiting this complex construct, rendering it and its applications opaque, amorphous, and contested. The bewildering array of conceptualizations and applications leads not only to unintended consequences but also to concrete negative outcomes for most stakeholders. In this study, we map the conceptual landscape of CR in academia by systematically analyzing 120 audio and video recordings of university sponsored or endorsed CR-focused workshops, business meetings, interviews, lectures, conference presentations, roundtable events, and debates deposited at the media repository iTunesU and held between 2010 and 2014. The recordings were analyzed using Content Configuration Analysis, a qualitative analysis method related to content and thematic analyses. Our results show how business ethics in academia are often debated in opposition to or independent from business and economic concerns. We highlight seven major shortcomings within this conceptual space, relating to conceptual disunion, Eurocentrism, lack of specificity with regard to domains, stakeholder bias, areas of application, and normativity. Recommendations to overcome some of these shortcomings are presented to develop policy-relevant and change-oriented approaches to CR, which would make academic work on business ethics more applicable to globalized business and business practices, as well as to further develop collaborative partnerships between academia, business, and society.