The ESG Discourse Is Neither Timeless Nor Stable: How Danish Companies ‘Tactically’ Embrace ESG Concepts

Henrik Nielsen, Kaspar Villadsen*

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

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During the last decade, ESG has become a globally widespread doctrine of good investment principles. ESG defines investing for broader, extra-financial goals by the use of “environmental, social and governance” (ESG) factors. While commentators generally agree that ESG has become a crucial arena for defining responsible investment, research is so far scarce on the conceptual development of the ESG discourse as well as how companies articulate it in their public communication. By analysing ESG concepts, this article combines methods derived from corpus linguistics with dispositional analytics, inspired by Michel Foucault. The data material consists of 281 annual reports, which contain the self-representation of 24 Danish large-cap companies, including how they communicated their ESG policies from 2010 to 2021. The analysis displays the proliferation of specific ESG keywords as well as changes over time in their frequency, proportional to each other. We supplement the quantitative analyses with dispositional analytics, considering how the dispositives of law, discipline, and security condition Danish companies’ adoption of ESG. We also discuss how companies use ESG concepts ‘tactically’ to navigate a context, in which the dispositives ‘over-determine’ urgent environmental, social, and governance issues.
Udgave nummer3
Antal sider26
StatusUdgivet - feb. 2023


  • ESG
  • Annual reports
  • Discourse
  • Foucault
  • Corpus linguistics
  • Dispositives
  • Danish companies