Between Smoke and Crystal: CSR Communication in Hypermodern Yimes

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Responsible corporate behavior is not defined once and for all. Rather it develops as society and organizations interact, learn and change. It has convincingly been argued that in the area of CSR, there is a particular need for organizations to keep the definition of CSR open and inclusive to new issues on labor rights, human rights, corruption or environmental protection because new areas of risk and unethical behavior emerge and develop in unpredictable ways (Rasche, Morsing and Moon, 2017; Christensen, Morsing and Thyssen 2017). The broadness of the concept has led to critique that CSR is a fuzzy, ill-defined and vague concept that means everything and hence nothing. Prior research has demonstrated how organizations are inclined to want to develop communicative practices that make them look good, and some research has pointed to that organizations simultaneously depend on looking slightly better than they are. Importantly we suggest how hypermodernity challenges and pressures organizations to build up CSR and “do good” activities as a form (rather than an object) instead of focusing on the CSR practices and targets themselves being the reference point. Our framework draws attention to how CSR research has prioritized a modern approach to the study of CSR in its emphasis on how CSR communication must be aligned with CSR practice. Such prioritization downplays the performativity of strategic ambiguity. In this paper we argue that research on CSR has a tendency to focus its critique on the CSR form rather than the CSR function, i.e. critiquing the organizational work to achieve a desirable CSR image rather than achieving the CSR substance. We argue that this dichotomy is misplaced and misses the point. In this paper we attempt to demonstrate that CSR is about a continued balancing act between image and substance and most importantly it is a balancing act in which ”image” and public relations may drive organizations to improved “substance”. With reference to Odysseus, we label this a balancing act between the Scylla of crystal and the Charybdis of smoke.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventInternational Public Relations Research Symposium (BledCom) - Hotel Golf Bled, Bled, Slovenia
Duration: 5 Jul 20177 Jul 2017
Conference number: 25


ConferenceInternational Public Relations Research Symposium (BledCom)
LocationHotel Golf Bled


  • CSR
  • Communication
  • Hypermodernity
  • Image-substance

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