Small Business Social Responsibility Communication: Towards a Foucauldian Conceptualisation

Mette Morsing, Laura J. Spence

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


    Purpose: Corporate social responsibility communication by small and medium sized enterprises is theorized to form the concept of Small Business Social Responsibility (SBSR) Communication.
    Design/methodology/approach: This is a conceptual paper that draws on Foucault’s theory of governmentality to develop a theoretical explanation for SBSR communication.
    Findings: Our analysis conceptualizes the ‘governmentality dilemma’ as SBSR managers face two simultaneous and potentially counterproductive expectations: responding to externally prescribed expectations, norms and standards such as branding, codes of conduct and CSR reporting (i.e. CSR as a “regime of truth”, Foucault) and an internally prescribed ethos of a personal philosophy of ethics and norms such as family identity and employee values, concern for local community and legacy of the company (i.e. CSR as personally held values). We contribute to conceptualization of SBSR communication as we develop a framework which suggests a spectrum of disciplining effects of social responsibility in relation to implicit and explicit CSR. We analyse these from the perspectives of surveillance, examination and normalization.
    Research limitations/implications: The conceptualization of SBSR communication would be enhanced by in-depth, nuanced empirical research.
    Practical implications: This paper has policy implications for those seeking to understand CSR among SMEs using formal communication mechanisms as a metric and control. Our paper suggests this to be an inadequate approach and we propose for SME managers to investigate Foucault’s notion of “care of the self”.
    Originality/value: We conceptualize how SBSR is caught in a ‘governmentality dilemma’ where simultaneous expectations to govern others (e.g. through standards) and the self (e.g. through intrinsic motivations) are confronting owner-managers’ ethos. We explain theoretically how small business managers respond to the challenge when they are required to formalize and display for external surveillance that which would otherwise be informal and part of the non-public or private sphere.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationConference Proceedings of the 3rd International CSR Communication Conference
    EditorsUrša Golob, Klement Podnar, Anne-Ellerup Nielsen, Christa Thomsen, Wim Elving
    Place of PublicationLjubljana
    PublisherFaculty of Social Sciences. University of Ljubljana
    Publication date2015
    ISBN (Print)9789612357436
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventThe 3rd International CSR Communication Conference 2015 - Ljubljana, Slovenia
    Duration: 17 Sept 201519 Sept 2015
    Conference number: 3


    ConferenceThe 3rd International CSR Communication Conference 2015
    Internet address


    • Corporate social responsibility
    • Communications
    • Small and medium sized enterprises
    • Governmentality
    • Small business social responsibility

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