Creating Common Ground: A Communicative Action Model of Dialogue in Shareholder Engagement

Fabrizio Ferraro, Daniel Beunza

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Despite growing empirical evidence on the effectiveness of dialogue between activists and corporations in stakeholder engagement, scholars have not fully accounted for the mechanisms that explain its success. We address this gap by leveraging Habermas’s theory of communicative action. In our longitudinal qualitative study, we explore the dialogue on climate change between the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of faith-based investors, Ford, and General Motors. We find that communicative action can emerge from strategic action as a result of three cycles of interaction: establishing dialogue, framing, and deliberation. Our study contributes to the literature on shareholder engagement by integrating communicative and strategic action, thereby offering a new interpretation of how reputational threat and dialogue come together to produce a common ground between activists and companies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1187-1207
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Published online: 8 Oct 2018


  • Social responsibility
  • Sustainability/corporate environmentalism
  • Corporate governance
  • Qualitative research

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